Thought for the Day
If you want to achieve greatness stop asking for permission
Of all the dramatic and uplifting stories in sports, none can eclipse that of the ageing, past-his-prime champion getting up from the metaphorical canvas and landing a knockout blow. To see the over-the-hill serial winner rouse himself for one last shot at glory stirs something within us. We all love the underdog, particularly if he has climbed the mountain and slid a considerable distance down the other side. Jack Nicklaus did it at Augusta in 1986; Ben Hogan surpassed even that achievement decades earlier, returning from the car crash that almost killed him, and left him with injuries to his legs from which he would always suffer considerable pain.
And now to their number we can add the name of Tiger Woods, whose win at this year’s Masters still ignites a smile and tingle of excitement weeks after it happened.
It was noticeable that a softer, gentler Woods was on show, clearly moved by the victory, the fans reaction to it and in particular to the fact that it was witnessed by his children Sam, 11 and Charley, 10. Tiger said: ‘For them to see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope that’s something they will never forget.’
The man who had climbed so high and fallen so far stood once again at the pinnacle of his sport and it was impossible to witness his victory without at least a tear in the eye, especially as, for the first time ever in a major, he came from behind to win. Victory did not come easily and lacked the spirit-crushing dominance of many of his other major wins but in shooting rounds of 70, 68, 67,70, he looked calm, controlled and in possession of the certainty that he had been there, done that and collected a wardrobe of T-shirts, so knew he could do it again.
Ice-cool Francesco Molinari, who started the last round with a two-stroke lead, for 11 holes looked the same golfing automaton who was paired with Woods in the previous year’s Open Championship and stared him down. But this time he crumbled, hitting into the water at both the 12th and 15th. By the time Tiger marched in triumph up the 18th hole the Augusta crowd – sorry, patrons – were almost reduced to delirium.
Like all of us Tiger Woods has many contradictory elements to his character and behaviour. He can be warm, friendly, funny and engaging, giving of his time and energy, especially in private, and yet cold, hostile, mean-spirited and stingy in public. Like Nick Faldo, those allowed into his inner circle see a markedly different man to the club-throwing, cursing, spitting and scowling figure on our television screens. Yet for a ten-year period he demonstrated an unworldly fusion of athleticism, grace and power, the equal of which has never been seen. I do not believe that homo sapiens are capable of perfection – I consider its definition is to be ‘as near-flawless as it is possible for humans to be.’ For me, human perfection is in a Michael Vaughan cover drive or Roger Federer backhand, the taste of a chocolate éclair, the smell of a baby’s head or the sound of a Clarence Clemons sax solo.
I have only seen golfing perfection up close once in my life. Tiger Woods is well-known for his practice day habit of arriving at the course shortly after dawn, getting in his 18 holes and leaving before most fans have stumbled from their beds. So on a Monday morning in July 2006 myself and a friend and fellow journalist by the name of Bill Robertson dragged ourselves, bleary-eyed, to the Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) course where The Open was to be held that year.
We had the magical Press passes allowing us inside the gallery ropes but were supposed to stay as near them as possible. The grass was still long and wet, having not yet been trampled down by hordes of our colleagues, so we took a punt and stood at the back of the tee (which we were allowed to do) and then followed Tiger down the middle of the fairways (which we were not). As a result we had a ringside view of the greatest golfer of his, or possibly any, generation, working out his strategy for the days to come. He was gloriously magnificent as he perfected the 2-iron stinger shot that many believe was the foundation of his victory.
I have not been Tiger’s greatest fan; his spitting, club-throwing, swearing tantrums leave me cold, and I think he has demonstrated, too often, a willingness to adhere to a one-sided interpretation of the rules that appeared more to be ‘What can I get away with?’ rather than ‘What would be the right, the honourable things to do?’ And then, of course, was his long-time caddy Steve Williams – bumptious, arrogant, aggressive and full of his own self-importance – barking and snarling at anyone who dared breathe within half-a-mile while Tiger was preparing to take a shot.
Yet despite these many reservations, even I was cheering him on down the stretch at Augusta and am delighted that he achieved major number 15. Whether this is a true renaissance or a brief, spluttering flame remains to be seen but over the past year his trajectory has been of steadily increasing success so the omens are positive.
And even if this does turn out to be a moment not to be repeated let us, for now, share his joy.
Quote of the Week
To play well you must feel tranquil and at peace. I have never been troubled by nerves in golf because I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain