It was extraordinary. It was oh so extraordinary. It was the silence of thousands, the slow roll of a golf ball towards a hole, the anticipation of one man. Then the silent thump of the ball falling into the hole, eruption of noise, the victorious scream and fist-pump of El Tigre. At 21, Tiger Woods was the youngest man and first African American to win the U.S Masters.
More than a decade later, extraordinary was no more and ordinary took its place. Oh so ordinary. Lying, cheating, nightclubs, sex. It emerged that the great Tiger Woods had cheated on his wife repeatedly over the years. And just like that, El Tigre fell and Lion Cheetah emerged in his place.
Now, years after the scandal emerged, Tiger has slowly made a comeback as a golfer and sports figure (although never reaching his past level). At 39, there is still time to recapture former sports glory. But to fulfill his father’s prophecy that “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity”—well that’s another story.
Back when Tiger was just beginning to become famous, Sports Illustrated’s Gary Smith responded to Earl Wood’s prophecy by asking: Really? “Your son will have more impact than Nelson Mandela, more than Ghandi, more than Buddha?” The response was a resounding yes. “Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he’s playing a sport that’s international. Because he’s qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He’s the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power” (Sports Illustrated, “The Chosen One,” 1996).
This power emerged as a never-before-seen concoction of skill, charisma, intelligence and race. His father’s prophecy seemed like a stretch, but the variables to affect social and political change were nevertheless present. His mother, Tida, was Thai. His father, Earl, was part African American, Caucasian and Native American. To connect the East and West, however, would require something supernatural. And that’s where golf came into play.
Tiger was considered somewhat of a prodigy, even making an appearance on Good Morning America at age eight to show off his golfing skills. Then he attended Stanford University, winning many amateur U.S. golf titles. After winning the U.S. Masters in 1997, the world began to take serious notice of him. He became marketable. Companies such as General Motors, Titleist, General Mills, American Express, Accenture and Nike signed endorsement deals with him. Although Tiger claimed, “I have no desire to be the king of endorsement money,” a platform for influence had been established. Now, all he had to do was stand at the podium and be a man of a few profound words—and keep winning.
Which he did, winning four U.S. P.G.A. titles, three U.S. Open championships, three Masters and many others. He built a family, marrying longtime girlfriend Elin Nordegren and fathering two children. His fame exploded—which he handled very well—his father had trained him from an early age to handle the media with caution. In the article “The Chosen One,” Gary Smith brings to light a conversation between Tiger and his father.
“Father: Where were you born, Tiger?
Son, age three: I was born on December 30, 1975, in Long Beach, California.
Father: No, Tiger, only answer the question you were asked. It’s important to prepare yourself for this. Try again.
Son: I was born in Long Beach California.
Father: Good, Tiger, good” (Sports Illustrated, “The Chosen One,” 1996).
Tiger was ready to do what he had trained his whole life to do: be the voice of change, morality, and racial connectedness. But to accomplish these things, perfection, or rather more realistically, near perfection, was required.
In 2009, a media whirlwind exposed Tiger’s many infidelities over the years, which came as a shock to the world. Just a few years before, he had said, “If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person’s life in a positive light, and that’s what I want to do. That’s what it’s all about.” But unfortunately, he must’ve thought it was possible to separate his personal and public characters. Or maybe he didn’t, but chose to do so anyway and hope for the best.
His platform for positive influence fell apart. El Tigre became Lion Cheetah. Now the media had something juicy, gossipy, and negative to talk about. His endorsement deals ended, he divorced, was publicly embarrassed, and lost his positive reputation. Following all of this, Tiger took off a couple months from golf, but soon came back.
But he never really came back.
Injuries have followed him and he has recorded some of the worst performances of his career. But he hasn’t quit. He might become a great golfer again and win more Masters and U.S. Opens, but in light of the past, Earl Woods’ proclamation that Tiger is “The Chosen One,” has largely been forgotten.
In 2013, the comeback almost looked as if it had been fulfilled. Almost. That year, Woods posted a five-win campaign, winning player of the year. 2014 began with injuries, yet Tiger’s reputation was back. Fans remained optimistic as they looked forward to his return to the Masters. This was not the case. Backed by multiple poor outings, Tiger took a plummet from number one in golf-rankings in mid-May 2014 to the mid-60s by February of this year.
In a Washington Post article, Neil Greenburg attacked nearly every aspect of Woods’ current game, making note of the fact that the percentage of events in which he finished in the top 10 had decreased from 64.8 between 1992-2009 to 32.3 percent since 2010. Apparently his short game needs the least work. Greenburg contends that Tiger’s driving seems to be the crux of his downfall. As Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee stated in an article via internationalbusinesstimes.com, “He’s not struggling. He’s incapable of hitting those shots right now. He’s incapable of doing the most pedestrian requirements at the highest level.”
Can Tiger recover? At 39, he isn’t getting any younger. According to an article by Joe Posnanski via golfchannel.com, players ages 35 and younger have won over three-quarters of all of the majors since 1960. Under 10 percent of these majors were won by players over 40 years old.
Still, Tiger refuses to give up. In an article via sportingnews.com regarding chip and putt advice, he stated, “It’s a process, and Chris [Como] are working our tails off to try to get this. I want to get this. I want to be ready come Augusta and the rest of the majors, but we still got some work to do.” Greenburg closes the article immediately after this quote with the short phrase “A ton of work.” The once “golden-boy” now proves and easy and juicy target.
It seems a shame that Tiger never was able to accomplish what he and his father believed he would. Such extraordinary moments overshadowed by ordinary lapses…
But, Tiger might find some relief in a past comment. “Well, you know, a lot of people look at the negative things, the things that they did wrong and –which I do. But I like to stress on the things I did right, because there are certain things that I like to look at from a positive standpoint that are just positive reinforcement.”
Tiger inspired many, he awed many, he connected many. He proved ethnicity places no bounds on talent or capability. He proved sports have universal effects. He did many things right.