Growing up in South Florida, my brother, many of my friends, and friends’ dads played golf religiously. I was too busy playing basketball and watching Michael Jordan. Then, Tiger Woods came on the scene. Like many casual golf fans with Tiger fever, I didn’t care much about the sport unless he was in the hunt on Sunday. When he was, it was must-see TV.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in my teens and college years watching two of the greatest international sports stars of all time — Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
These two men had many similarities: dominant, arrogant, cocky, killer-instinct, and unstoppable. At their peak of dominance, social media didn’t exist. Sports stars were loved and idolized for the success on the court or greens, and we knew little about their personal lives. Now, it’s tough to respect and root for athletes, because we’re often able to peer into their personal lives whether we like it or not.
In November 2009, the infamous incident of Woods crashing his Cadillac outside of his home was the beginning of a downward spiral. Multiple reports surfaced of his infidelity with multiple women, infuriating his Swedish model wife, Elin Nordegren. Speculation began that his car incident wasn’t a fluke accident, but rather a domestic dispute between him and Elin. The two divorced the next year, but marriage woes didn’t stop Tiger’s dominance, his body did. From 2014 to 2017, Woods underwent multiple back surgeries, coaches, tweaks to his swing, and struggled with prescription drug addiction due to his chronic back pain.
He hit rock bottom in May 2017 when he was arrested for falling asleep while in his car one night in Jupiter, Florida due to a cocktail of prescription drugs he had taken. We all remember that mug shot of Tiger looking ragged, defeated, and washed up.
I remember saying to myself, “This is it, he’s done.” And I think many others thought the same thing.
Then yesterday, in true Tiger Woods fashion, he made history. He won The Masters for the first time in 14 years at the age of 43, marking a comeback that will be talked about for decades. I was glued to the TV to see if it would happen, much like I was for majors on Sunday in the late 90s and early 2000s.
But afterward, I questioned whether I should be rooting for him. Was it right to be happy for someone who had a reputation in the past of being ruthless and cruel to the media, his fans, and his colleagues? Was it right to root for someone who’s known to have cheated on his wife multiple times? I don’t know if it’s right, but it feels right because this Tiger Woods seems different.
This Tiger was broken several years ago. He’s more humble, he’s more gracious, his temper doesn’t flare as much, and he seems to be more appreciative of the talent he possesses and the family he was given. He high-fived fans and embraced his competitors. This was a different Tiger. When he won in 1997, the iconic moment was him hugging his dad. This time, he was the dad hugging his son, and it felt like a man who knows that hitting rock bottom made him a better, stronger man.
I often wonder if my deepest, darkest secrets and private life moments were exposed to the rest of the world, would the public forgive me? Would I get a chance to redeem myself? I needed to witness what Woods did at The Masters because it reinforces my belief that no matter how hard life can be, and no matter how hard I fall on my face, there’s always a chance to redeem myself. No circumstances are too hard to overcome. It’s easy to dismiss what Woods did by remembering his flawed character and sins of the past. But, would you want to be judged that way on your way back to redemption?
In a post-match interview, Tiger admitted that he was successful because he was able to control his emotions. He was patient, calculated, and didn’t let his temper take over. This Tiger was more mature. He experienced one of the biggest falls from sports greatness. And now he’s crafting one of the biggest stories of redemption in sports history.