By Greg Estabrooks, Staff Writer
Ahh, golf. Often dubbed as a gentlemen’s game because of its strict etiquette and emphasis on good mannered play between its participants, golf has traditionally struggled as a spectator sport.
Although it has had its stars in the past, such as Hogan, Nicholas, and Palmer, golf always seemed to be in search of a catalyst that would make it exciting and bring the sport to prominence. And then finally, along came Tiger.
As a kid growing up in the 2000s during the height of the Tiger Woods era, I always had a golf club in hand. Something about watching Tiger Woods hit an impossible shot out of the rough, or draining a long, breaking putt into the cup, inspired me to head out into my backyard where I would try to copy him as best as I could.
I would spend hours chipping golf balls into buckets and coolers, and took so many practice swings that my lawn still does not grow in some places. My game never evolved into quite that of Tiger’s, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
Tiger Woods was everything that golf could have dreamed of, and then some. His effect on a sport is perhaps only comparable with what Michael Jordan was to basketball, although, basketball was already fairly popular before he arrived. Tiger drew millions of viewers to their televisions on Sundays, many of those who would not otherwise watch golf, or who would only flip it on to see who was winning.
During Tiger Woods’ dominant run from 1997 to 2008, when he would win 14 major tournaments, placing him 2nd all-time behind the 18 of Nicholas, it was often him versus the field.
Nobody else, besides maybe Vijay Singh for a short stint, or Phil Mickelson, especially at the Masters tournament, ever truly challenged him as the number one golfer in the world.
And then, in late 2009, that all changed. Tiger Woods was exposed in the media for having multiple extramarital affairs, and announced that he would be taking “an indefinite break from professional golf.” Woods and his wife divorced the following year, and several of his major endorsements cut their ties with him.
Tiger issued a televised apology after completing a 45-day therapy program in 2010, in which he called his behavior foolish and wrong. Some of his fans would never forgive him. He would return to golf in 2010, but his form faltered, and several injury-plagued seasons would follow.
A brief flash of excellence in 2013 where he won several events and PGA Tour Player of the Year, but no majors, was overshadowed by 4 back surgeries over the next few years and a DUI arrest in 2017. Many sports writers contended that Tiger Woods would never win again on the PGA Tour.
On September 23rd, 2018, after 1,876 days without a win, Tiger proved that he wasn’t finished just yet. After several close calls throughout the season, where his game looked solid but he never could quite keep it together over the weekend, Tiger Woods emerged victorious on Sunday at East Lake by winning the Tour Championship.
The scene at East Lake as Tiger walked up to the 18th green was like nothing I have ever witnessed as a sports fan. Thousands of crazed spectators were allowed onto the course to follow him as he walked up the fairway.
They cheered wildly and chanted his name as Woods smiled and was visibly emotional.
It encapsulated the end of a long journey full of disappointment, frustration, and heartbreak, and showed just how much Tiger Woods means to the sport of golf.
No other player could have created such a scene, as the story of Tiger Woods is unique, and the excitement he creates for fans of golf will forever be unmatched.
Welcome back Tiger, golf has missed you.
PHOTO COURTESY: THE RINGER