The Return of Tiger
Pick a Sunday during any major tournament on the PGA Tour. On that day, the odds are that a large group of people are asking this question: Is Tiger in contention? Many of us have been asking that question for years and years, with the answer often being "no" in recent times. Well...Tiger delivered something pretty special to all of us at The Master's in April. Something hit me when he was walking from the 18th green to the clubhouse after winning his 15th major championship. I thought, just for a second, why does watching this event make me so emotional?
Tiger has long been regarded as one of the most mentally tough athletes of all time. The way he dominated the game for years is a direct result of the mentality he held on the course. They've even written books based on how you can think like Tiger on the golf course. Of course I don't know what his particular process was and how he has set his routines, but what was easy to observe was his confidence level. He truly believed that he would win every time he played, and he was so convincing that spectators, commentators, and sometimes even opponents started to believe it, too. This aggressive mentality paid off for Tiger for many years, but then he experienced some major setbacks.
Injuries, issues, and other setbacks took Tiger to a place that he wasn't used to. Instead of being on top of the hill looking down, he was suddenly just another player fighting to get to the top. Anytime it seemed that he was making progress, he would slip and roll back down to the bottom. This relates to the way many athletes operate when recovering from injuries. We all saw this happening for Tiger, over and over, until he started to show some signs of light in the last year. Here are some things that I saw, in The Master's especially, that show a change in Tiger:
- Keeping his emotions in check. The old Tiger played with lots of emotion and celebration, and it worked for him. It seems that the new Tiger is showing a little less emotion, especially negative emotion, which allows us to effectively move on to the next shot.
- Walking with a cadence. Even the way Tiger walked around Augusta made it seem like he was level-headed. He was going to be solid, focus on his own process, and let others make mistakes around him. Again, not particularly the way he would do it in the past, but it seemed to work for him.
- "WE DID IT" After winning the tournament, the cameras caught Tiger hugging his caddie, Joe LaCava, and saying, "We did it!" I don't know Tiger in any way, but I see this as something he never would have done in the past. I think he started to realize that if he were to really make this happen, he needed other people around him. He needed more than caddies and swing coaches, he needed friends that he could trust. It appears that's exactly what he has in Joe LaCava.
The PGA Championship starts today, and I'll be watching closely just like many of you. We're all curious to see if Tiger will continue to dip into the fountain of youth. So let's go back to the original question, why do we all care so much? Why did that Master's victory strike a chord with so many people, golf fans and otherwise? It's because we all appreciate the greatness of Tiger and we aren't ready to see that fade away just yet. I remember watching every minute of round 4 and the playoff of his 2008 U.S. Open victory very well. A lot of people have memories like that one and they are looking for more. Let's be clear, Tiger Woods absolutely does not owe the golf world anything. He may never win another tournament, but he reminds us that greatness never dies. So we can all hope that we hear the roars around Tiger on Sunday and we can be taken back to another time. We can have another "I remember where I was when..." If not, we can enjoy the game that he has helped shape in the last 20 years.