Vousden on Tiger’s Troubles

Thought of the Day
No masterpiece was ever created by a lazy artist

Surely the end?
Things are beginning to get back to normal. Here in Scotland we can play golf again (and apologies to those of you south of the border who still can’t); the big names on the pro tours, like Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy are coming into form and Tiger Woods is sidelined through injury.

I am really not making fun of his awful accident or its consequences, but it seems that every time over the last 12 years or so that he has begun to get things together on the golf course, events away from it conspire against him. Or does he just have an unconscious self-destruct button that must be pushed every once in a while?

First, came the moment when he crashed into a tree and fire hydrant in his Cadillac SUV, which his wife, understandably, was attacking with a 9-iron at the time. Then came the moment when police officers found him slumped behind the wheel of a stationary Mercedes, so spaced out on pain-killing drugs that he could barely walk or hold a conversation.

Now, any of us with religious beliefs will be praying for his quick recovery, while atheists and agnostics will simply offer all best wishes that he literally and metaphorically gets back on his feet as swiftly as possible, and has a smooth and successful rehabilitation. First, we will want him to regain full strength. Second comes the hope that he can play again the game he so loves. Third, it would be great if he could compete against his peers and fourth, it would be a true fairytale if he could again challenge in the majors.

Frankly, the first three may be manageable but surely, even for this man, who defies all logic and expectation, the fourth is not. Okay, the significant injuries he has suffered are to his right leg, the prognosis for future golf achievements would be much worse if it was his left leg that was so badly mangled. But we need to remind ourselves that he is still recovering from his latest back ‘procedure’ (he seems reluctant to call it an operation) and, when viewed with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, since 2008 this greatest of all champions has been patched up like a 1945 Spitfire, somehow still able to perform. Watching it, however, involves peering between your fingers, frightened that another bit will break down.

Some are already drawing parallels between Tiger and Ben Hogan, because both were involved in horrific, life-threatening motor accidents but such comparisons are fanciful at best. Hogan won nine majors, and six of those were after his crash. His accident happened as he approached his greatest years; Tiger’s are already behind him.

I think a much more meaningful comparison is with Jack Nicklaus. He roared back from near oblivion in 1986 to take his 18th and last major at The Masters. Tiger returned in similar heart-warming fashion to win his 15th and final major in 2019, also at Augusta National. It seems fitting that the two greatest golfers the world has seen, in numbers of majors won, should bow out on the same magnificent stage – one that meant a huge amount to both, for different reason.

It is always dangerous to write off the greatest of champions because one of the characteristics that sets them apart is a seemingly relentless capacity to do what no-one else can. But if we have seen the curtain lowered on Tiger’s major-winning days, or even days of winning anything, isn’t it enough to say we were privileged to watch one of the truly great icons of sport strut his stuff and write his name indelibly into the record books and our memories?

And although it may seem superfluous to say, it is nevertheless incumbent on me to echo the words of Rory McIlroy: ‘Everybody should just be grateful that he’s alive, that his kids haven’t lost their dad.’

I have not always been Tiger’s most enthusiastic supporter – for the way he conducted himself on the golf course and occasionally drove a coach and horses through the ethics and morality of the rules, while not literally transgressing them. But I have always been a fan of his game and if I had grandchildren I would dangle them on my knee and say, with enormous pride: ‘I saw Tiger Woods, up close, when he was the best in the world, and possibility the best there has ever been. I wish you could have been there.’

Footnote: Looking at Tiger’s off-course tribulations, the one unifying factor is motor vehicles. He’s rich. It’s time he got a chauffeur.

Quote of the Week
The best year of my life is when I was eleven. I won thirty-two tournaments that year. Everything’s been downhill since.
Tiger Woods

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