Twenty-two years ago, in a brilliant ad campaign from Nike, dozens of multi-hued, multicultural boys and girls were pictured playing golf or carrying clubs. The youngsters were filmed on golf courses and city streets, looking into the camera or looking into the distance. Several made a bold proclamation:
“I am Tiger Woods.”
The message was clear. They were inspired to follow the lead of Woods, a 19-year-old phenom whose “Hello World” commercial and $40 million Nike contract — not to mention his wildly successful amateur career — suggested he could be a force for a long while.
But neither those children nor marketing executives, neither pro golfers nor golf fans, imagined Woods would go through everything he’s endured to wind up again in the winner’s circle at age 42 after a five-year drought.
None of us is Tiger Woods.
And I’m not sure, notwithstanding his fortune, we’d want to be.
“Probably the low point was not knowing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again,” Woods told reporters Sunday after his victory at the Tour Championship gave him career win No. 80. “I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg. That was a pretty low point for a very long time.”
The pain of public embarrassment was nothing in comparison. With each passing Thanksgiving, the 2009 holiday weekend loses its sting.
Cheating spouses and failed marriages are all around us. Few make as many headlines as Woods‘ affairs generated, but he has moved on from life with Elin Nordegren. The former husband and wife are focused on raising their children, like so many other divorced couples.
The kids have cheered at various tournaments this year during their dad’s latest comeback attempt. It’s been a long time coming. In 2014, his first back surgery caused him to miss the Masters for the first time since 1994. He had two more back operations in 2015, six weeks apart.
His last procedure was the most drastic, as doctors fused two lower-back vertebrae into a single structure.
After all of physical pain he tolerated, winning another tournament is a cherry on top.
“Just to be able to compete and play again this year, that’s a hell of a comeback,” Wood said. “Forget the elite level. Just to be able to play golf again and enjoy being with my kids and living that life. Then, lo and behold, I’m able to do this and win a golf tournament.”
He still creates a stir like no one else on tour, even though he played only 19 tournaments from 2014-2017 and hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. You could argue that Woods doesn’t just move the needle in golf; he IS the needle.
The boisterous crowd that trailed him to the 18th green Sunday was reminiscent of the throngs he drew in his heyday. Fans have anxiously waited for another final round like this, Tiger holding a trophy and wearing a red shirt. They have been joined by newcomers who are drawn by Woods‘ arch of human drama — unbelievable success, followed by a tremendous fall, leading to a climb back up the ladder.
Who can’t relate to that?
Woods said his kids are too young to remember the effect he had on golf courses. They got a taste at the British Open this year, when he shot a five-under 66 in the third round to surge into contention before finishing tied for sixth. He didn’t win, but he held the lead at one point and the world seemed like it used to be, which was a new experience for his children.
“I think they understand a little bit of what Dad does now,” Woods said. “A lot of times they equated golf to pain because every time I did it, I would hurt, and it would cause me more pain. And so now they’re seeing a little bit of joy and seeing how much fun it is for me to be able to do this again.”
If there was any doubt that Woods is wired differently than normal human beings, his quest to be atop a final leaderboard again is the closing argument. Imagine the temptation we’d face, and likely succumb to, given a chance to walk away and enjoy a Woodsian lifestyle. Instead, he kept grinding — literally in his back’s case — painfully subjecting himself to unnecessary failure and ridicule, or shame and pity.
Woods won’t overtake Jack Nicklaus for most major victories. He won’t recapture the form that captivated the world and pulverized the field. He won’t ever live down the fire hydrant, the voicemails or the DUI mug shot.
Fortunately, he doesn’t have to. Nothing is, or will ever be, the same. Winning the Tour Championship doesn’t change that fact.
But the victory proves that he’s still Tiger Woods.
And elements of his story are still worthy of emulation and admiration.
• Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.
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