My interest in golf has pretty much traced Tiger Woods’ presence. I know I’m not alone, based on golf’s struggles in recent years. I got into it when he burst onto the scene. I played regularly when he was dominating the PGA Tour, and then my interest waned when he stopped winning majors or being around at all. I don’t even know how that works. It’s not like I thought I was going to be Tiger Woods. Or would ever be able to do anything resembling what he could do, even for one shot. But I haven’t played a round in three years and don’t plan to anytime soon. I am one of many to leave the game or never get to it at all.
And it’s not like Tiger made golf “cool,” though I guess he made it somewhat feel more accessible to people who didn’t think it was before. But Tiger was, and is, decidedly uncool. I’m not sure he’s ever had anything interesting to say. If he did, I missed it. Other than after a big putt he rarely showed any emotion, pretty much performing as the brand spokesman automaton he’d been programmed to be since he could walk.
The only time he ever seemed real was after winning the British Open after his father had passed, because we all have grief in our lives. The other was after his last Masters, when he seemed genuinely surprised, appreciative, and reveling in the moment. It was perhaps the first time we had ever seen Tiger actually “enjoy” it instead of doing something that was expected. The only other one I can think of is when he got photographed drunk off his ass with Lindsey Vonn. Been there for sure.
But that hardly makes up for the 20 years of being robot-adjacent. He had bad allergies. He swore a bit too much, but what golfer doesn’t? He hung out with famous people even though he never really looked in place.
Even the story of his downfall isn’t all that interesting. It’s really only because he was the only professional golfer to get caught doing what dozens, if not hundreds, of other professional athletes have done for decades (HBO is currently airing a show about the 80s Lakers, you might have heard) and it all started from a comedic scenario. Not everyone gets caught being chased by their wife with a golf club. It’s how you’d script it out in a sitcom or romantic comedy or a Bugs Bunny episode.
But it wasn’t original or unique. We’d seen it before. So when he won that Masters, the last one, his fifth, it wasn’t really a redemption or great overcoming of obstacles. Most of us wanted to treat it that way, but “wandering peepee” isn’t like a bad medical diagnosis or being attacked by killer bees or something. We all tuned in and were excited Tiger was winning the Masters again because it was Tiger, just like old times.
Even this latest comeback is after a one-car accident that still has some unanswered questions to it. Being able to play a major coming in from the cold on a once-shattered leg is impressive, even if he finished up the track. But it’s not like we have just gotten fascinated with Tiger this weekend. We always were.
And apparently still very much are. ESPN’s Thursday coverage was up 31 percent from the previous year, and there’s only one reason why. I know I tuned in for the only time when I heard he was playing well on Thursday. Then I didn’t bother when I saw the wheels had basically come off after that.
Tiger certainly broke new ground, whether that was ever his aim or not. We tuned in to see things we hadn’t seen before. But even the way Tiger won most of his majors wasn’t all that exciting. He generally just strangled the field, racking up efficient pars where others bogeyed. He opted for not cracking rather than surging. Rarely did he charge from off the lead (only once in fact). But golf is usually about who cracks and who doesn’t, and Tiger never did. At least not on the course.
But we tuned in, because the chase of 18 was still in our minds. Maybe more people, including myself, wanted to play golf more just to appreciate how hard it was, what Tiger was doing. Maybe we’re still interested because we saw him “crack” off the course and it made him more human. Though again, a rich famous guy seeing all the places he can plow it isn’t all that new. Or maybe it’s a comment on just how bland the rest of golf was, and still is, that he’s still the only one who stands out (unless you’re a raging dickhead like Bryson DeChambeau or say something galactically stupid like Phil Mickelson. And even those are just for an instant). We tune in now. Every other golfer feels the same, except to the hardcore fans. Tiger doesn’t, maybe just because we know more about him.
I’ll tune into the next major he plays in. I still won’t really know why.