Saturday, June 12, 2010

Welcoming back Tiger Woods, professional golfer

When I was younger, I tried taking up golf. I went to my first lessons with an incomplete set of golf clubs and a dingy pair of Adidas sneakers, both held together by duct tape. I had to carry those clubs around like a bundle of sticks you pick up in the backyard; it wasn’t pretty, but I wanted to golf. Eventually I would do my best to at least look the part, I got black Nike spikes and a golf bag filled with a brand new sleeve of Nike balls - which I was too afraid to use, I knew that would be the ball I’d send into a marsh - some other scuffed driving range balls, unbroken tees and granola bars. I was the real deal.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize the only real part of the game I enjoyed was putting, and even that can be a drag when it takes about nine shots to get on the green. I wasn’t good, and I didn’t have the patience to get better, so over time I played less and was predictably awful on the rare occasions I did play, which served to remind me why I wasn’t playing in the first place. It was a vicious cycle.

I’m sure there are a vast number of people out there who can say this, but the one reason I ever tried this unwaveringly fickle sport is Tiger Woods. Nearly every golf memory I have revolves around him. I still remember waking up from a nap a few Easter Sundays ago just as he hit the chip at the Masters that twisted, turned and stopped at the edge of the hole, before softly dropping in. I thought I was hallucinating, a pretty normal feeling when watching Woods at his best.

There is no way I would have given golf a chance, either through playing or watching, had he not shown up. He made me like golf, rather his type of golf; the cold-bloodedness and ferocity that he brought to a sport of whispers and soft claps. I watched to see him destroy the psyches of his fellow golfers, and to see those golfers like Rocco Mediate and Y.E. Yang who apparently didn’t get the memo and challenged him, and to see what happened next. He made golf more than the solitary battle against oneself that it is sometimes thought of. He made it a sport, a competition. And frankly, since he took his leave of absence, I could not tell you the name, place or result of any tournament. If there’s no Tiger, who cares? It’s like watching 24 without Jack Bauer, which is just foolish to think about.

Although it seemed like a requirement to write the “Tiger Woods needs to do this and that and this and in this order” column, I tried to avoid writing about the situation altogether for as long as I could. This wasn’t Tiger Woods, Juggernaut, the one that I knew. This was Tiger Woods, Broken. None of it was too much fun to think about; especially for someone who just wanted to see him play golf again.

That’s why, aside from pseudo-advice columnists, today is a good day. Tiger Woods, professional golfer, is playing golf. I don’t have to watch him in press conferences answering Oprah-style questions and I no longer have to write in the past-tense when talking about his career. He’s out there and he’s playing as he reintroduces himself to the sports world, while hopefully taking a step away from the Nancy Grace world. That is not a good world to be apart of.

No one yet knows what this reintroduction process entails for Tiger’s golfing persona. He has talked about wanting to be more respectful of the game by toning his demonstrative actions down a little bit, which is fine I suppose, I’m sure he feels he has to try something.

But after that first long putt drops, or if he is in the hunt on Sunday (please let this happen), I think it will be there, that killer instinct. It is who he was, and why he became Tiger Freaking Woods in the first place; there was never anything about his golf life that needed a change. I can’t imagine him without it. And I can’t imagine The Masters, or golf, without him.

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