It was the year 2000, at the AT&T Pebble Beach National pro-am, and a man stood over his ball with a wedge some 110-yards out — 15th hole, second shot. The crowd, dead silent. As everyone locked in on the young golfer preparing to take his swing, the cameras zoomed in on his intense, ambitious face. He stepped over the ball, took a 70 percent back-swing, whipped the clubhead through as nonchalantly as anybody ever could and struck the ball flawlessly, taking a fat divot of real estate out of the perfectly manicured fairway. The ball leaped up into the sky, making a beautiful parabola, headed for the center of the green. The athlete’s facial expression remained static. As the ball fell to Earth, it struck the green softly and took a bounce 90 degrees to the left. One high bounce, one low bounce, then the ball disappeared into the little white cup. The deafening silence transformed into an even greater deafening roar. The camera panned back to the man in a baggy red, long-sleeve as he gave the spectators his iconic fist pump. Some say this was the first glimpse at who would turn into, debatably, the best athletic tenure of my generation. This athlete’s name? Tiger Woods. This is my tribute to his legacy:
As a golfer, I could not appreciate Tiger Woods enough. He’s just too transformational. The fantastically frustrating, evil, beautiful game of golf was changed forever by his name. Tiger made people who hate golf watch it anyway. Growing up, I hated golf as well. I found it boring, pretentious and slow. However, I can vividly remember finding myself immersed in the TV screen as the Players Championship showed, when Tiger took down the Spaniard Sergio Garcia. Looking at his sheer power, control and intent over the ball perplexed me. Thus, I decided to pick up a club. Five years later, I’m obsessed with the game. Golf is filled with intricacies, mysteries, problems, demons and angels that all come from your own mind. It’s such a unique game in that it’s you versus the course. It takes a true genius to master the game like Tiger does. Why is he so gifted? I believe that it’s a four-part combination: athleticism, effort and intelligence, a mysterious gift from God. Watching a player like Tiger conquer the course is a sight like nothing else. It’s exciting, frightening, intriguing and perplexing. And I have to say, I hate it. I hate how a man like him can make such a brutal game look so simple. And because I hate it, I absolutely love it.
I’m not really sure what it is about the Stanford student, but something about him is special. He has fight. He has enough fight to do seemingly impossible things on the golf course. From the period of 1997 to 2008, Tiger Woods won 14 Major championships. That’s one or more Major wins a year (barring 1998). His first Major: the 1997 Masters, where he won by a casual 12 strokes. In addition to this plethora of Major victories, he has 38 top-10 finishes on tour and 31 top-five finishes. This is unspeakable. Tiger has built his legacy off of two things: winning and excitement, two things he knows very well.
Personally, I want Tiger to be “back.” Of course I do. Why? Because as a 19-year-old kid, I haven’t gotten the chance to watch legends like Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan, Arnold Palmer or Pele. Sure, I get LeBron James, but I hardly care about the NBA. Michael Phelps is great to watch, but swimming is such a subjective sport, subjective to those who swim or watch the Olympics every four years. I want to see Tiger be Tiger purely so I can tell my kids about him. I remember vividly a story my uncle told me about Tiger. As a rough-neck Greek who boxed and wrestled, the last thing my uncle cared about was golf. He thought it was stupid and slow. However, he told me that there was a time when he and all of his other friends (none of whom liked golf) were huddled around the TV at a bar, wide- eyed. On the screen stood Tiger with a driver in his hand. As much as they hated golf, they just couldn’t look away. He is too mesmerizing to look away. Other athletes who did this to spectators: Herschel Walker, Brian Bosworth, Johnny Manziel, Usain Bolt, Cristiano Ronaldo. You catch my drift. As for this list of mesmerizing athletes, I’d have no problem putting Tiger Woods right at the top of it.
This Sunday, Tiger sunk a par putt that would rattle the entire world. When the ball hit the bottom of the cup, it solidified his fifth Masters victory. Watching him this weekend was like nothing I’ve ever seen. On certain shots, I felt like it was 2008, or 2006 or even 1997. The fact that I can watch this athlete and he can take me back in time, addicts me to his game. As long as Tiger continues to compete, he will turn back the clock. And that is something that I find absolutely captivating.