One of our great modern-day poets, LL Cool J, once said the following:
Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years
I’m rocking my peers
Puttin‘ suckers in fear
Tiger Woods personifies this thought in ways that became crystal clear this weekend. 11 years since his last major win, Woods won “The Masters,” in a way that confirms so many things that we know, but we choose to ignore.
First of all, America loves a redemption story; and in the end, all that matters is that you’re the greatest at what you do. If you truly sit back and think about how far Tiger Woods had fallen 10 years ago it is staggering to then absorb what he has accomplished. Tiger was scandal ridden. He was a serial adulterer with hookers and porno stars, he was hooked on pain meds, he was arrested for DUI, and he was exposed as a broken human being, despite seemingly being on top of the world. He gave an awkward attempt at a public apology, went to rehab for a variety of things, and returned to golf injured, leading to years of high expectations never met. Expert after expert pronounced his career dead on arrival and gave wonderful soliloquies on why we should just be happy with what we had as sports fans; an amazing 15 years of perhaps the greatest golf of all-time played by one man…but either way, move on and embrace the “next Tiger,” Rory Mcilroy, Jordan Spieth, whoever.
Tiger, himself, said over a year ago that he was unsure if he would ever golf again.
And then Tiger re-emerged for the umpteenth time and, last year, won the Tour Championship, proving he could win again as a professional golfer.
This past weekend, he did something he has never done…he won a major golf tournament when he wasn’t leading after 54 holes. He staved off more than a dozen golfers who, on the final few holes, all were within a shot of his score…and he won one of the biggest, hardest things in sport to win. And he won it because he’s Tiger Woods, which brings us back to LL Cool J. “I’ve been here for years,” speaks for itself. Tiger won his first major in 1997, 22 years ago. In doing so, he fundamentally altered the sports universe forever as he went on to become the best to ever play the game.
“Puttin’ suckers in fear,” is the line of the song that Tiger proved Sunday. For years, we have been told that Tiger, at the age of 43, no longer put his competitors in fear; those his age had watched him crumble, and those half his age, who he was a hero to, had never seen the dominant Tiger that made his competitors wilt in his shadow, and so they were not afraid of him. This, to me, always seemed so stupid and this weekend Tiger proved it so.
There was a moment Sunday when Tiger finally, for the first time all week, took the lead…and systemically, once every other golfer in contention knew that, they fell apart. And they fell apart because they were in awe, and because they knew, deep in their hearts, that they had no chance. And truthfully, despite their desire to become a person in the history of the game of golf, deep down, most of them actually wanted Tiger to win. Not just because he makes the game more popular, raises the ratings, raises the winnings and income and profile of every other golfer but because of something so much bigger. Tiger winning reminds them what it should remind us all; every single one of us can come back from our weakest, most desperate moment, when we feel all is lost. There is no age limit on redemption. There is no physical obstacle that can’t be overcome. All of the “can’ts” are placed on ourselves by us, and Tiger placed none on himself and he has returned to the top of his field in one of the most unlikely comebacks ever.
Except that it wasn’t a comeback. He never stopped putting fear in his peers. The truth is that his peers, along with those of us who follow the game closely, all knew this day would come, we just didn’t know when. There was never a doubt in my mind that we would see this for one simple reason; he’s Tiger Freaking Woods. The greatest of all time in any profession are the greatest because they show us what is possible and what so many of us simply can’t excel to. If Tiger truly ever, deep down, doubted this day would come, it’s a testament to who he is and what he is.
None of this forgives entirely his mistakes of the past. But the truth is, who amongst us hasn’t fallen? The key to greatness is, of course, not the fall, but the get up. Tiger has reminded us all that no matter how far we fall, no matter our age, no matter our station in life, if we’re truly committed and truly talented and truly strong, we can all come back from never truly being gone.Tiger is back, and now the pursuit to win more majors than any golfer in history continues; he needs 4 more to do so. And he’ll do it. OR he’ll literally die trying, because that’s what the greatest do, and they should be revered for being such.