Listening to Mason and Ireland, one of my favorite radio sports talk stations on the way home from the gym and they’re, of course, discussing this weekends PGA and Tiger Woods. A caller states that in order for us to say that “Tiger is back!”, demands that he go out and dismember a field of golfers, crush them with his dominance. That’s just an uninformed opinion. And that’s never going to happen, not in our or Tiger’s lifetime. And that is entirely his fault.
For decades golf was dominated by chubby white men. There were exceptions like Gary Player, still a fitness nut; Sam Snead was an athletic freak of nature, Arnie was muscular and physical and Jack was a strong young Midwestern boy…but clearly cornfed. 😉
Thru the 80’s golfers slowly became more fit…and the equipment continued to evolve…and continues to evolve to this day. The clubs, the ball, the shafts, the technology, all designed to make the game more accurate, more forgiving, more specialized. None of that trumped some anomalies like John Daly who swung out of his shoes and often also found his ball…or Calvin Peete, one of the first black touring pros who I believe still holds the PGA record for being the most accurate driver of the ball on the pro tour.
But Eldrick Tiger Woods was the perfect storm. He was a prodigy as a child and only got better. He combined imagination, physical gifts, course analysis and a genius for doing dramatic things at dramatic moments. And he transformed golf world wide. His early success simply compelled him to become stronger, more flexible and he transformed his body from that of a slender athlete to a physical beast. He altered a swing that had already won majors into a new swing that continued to win both majors and golfing events all over the world.
In doing so, he became an avatar to young athletes who might before have turned to baseball or tennis or football and inspired them to emulate his success. Tiger was not a chubby white man. He was black (obviously of mixed ethnicity), but trust me. In this world, either you are white or you are not. His charisma and success enrolled youngsters from Asia and S. America and Mexico and Africa and Australia, both boys and girls. And the fields in modern golf reflect this global melting pot, the LPGA even more so than the mens tour.
Tiger’s ambition and drive transformed modern golf, even more than the equipment’s ongoing evolution. Modern golfers are fit! They have calculated diets, training regimens, sports psychologists, gurus, swing coaches, masseuses. And seldom is seen a chubby white man in the Sunday final groupings.
Unless WW III breaks out and all able bodied men are drafted into armed forces, there will be no latter day Byron Nelsons. A very nice man and a fine golfer…but Lord Byron dominated golf during the years when the very best athletic men were in service to their countries during WW II.
So modern golf has the deepest, most talented fields in the history of the sport…and the richest purses…thanks to Tiger. NO ONE will ever again enjoy the dominant run that Tiger offered us during the past twenty years. So what? He is now approaching 43. Tiger clearly has more fine golf ahead, assuming his body continues to hold up. The hunger is still there as is the will. His strongest attribute in my opinion was always his will. THAT is what struck fear into his opponents hearts, that passionate will! Look in his eyes at those moments and doubt his intentions.
This PGA season, TV ratings are up 70%! Lotta fine golfers out there, new ones arriving daily. Jordan, Dustin, Jason, Justin, Tommy, Ricky…but there is only one reason people who don’t even play the game, tune in to watch. To catch lightning in a bottle. To watch a transcendent sports figure in action. To turn to someone else and say, ‘DID YOU SEE THAT?!!!”
Yeah. Tigers back. 😉