In the fall of 1996, Tiger Woods stormed the professional golf scene like a bat out of hell. Sure, we knew about Tiger about but we didn’t know about Tiger.
There were plenty of skeptics, myself included, who were not sold on the Tiger phenomenon despite his three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles.
There were plenty of skeptics, myself included, who were quickly proven wrong. Tiger won that fall in the Las Vegas Invitational and he would soon destroy the field at the Masters in April 1997 to begin his legendary career.
But while I hopped on board with two feet, thrilled by Tiger’s feats and rooting for guys like Bob May and Chris DiMarco to make him earn it, my father simply shook his head.
I’ll never forget watching the third round of the 1997 Masters, when Tiger hit one of his famous drives and uncoiled that remarkable swing. The swing that started deep in the soles of his feet, included a backswing that even John Daly would envy and concluded with a force that you could feel through the television screen.
My jaw was on the floor. My father’s jaw was tight.
“You can’t do that forever,” he said. “You just can’t.”
For a decade, my father was wrong. It appeared you could do that forever. In a remarkable 11-year stretch unlikely to ever be matched, he won 14 majors. The hallowed 18 that Jack Nicklaus had posted appeared to be going down like every other record in the book Tiger had assaulted.
Instead, Tiger will forever be stuck at 14.
The 2008 U.S. Open will forever be held up as Tiger’s most courageous performance, but it may also be remembered as his dumbest. He pushed his body far beyond its limit for five grueling days on one of the toughest golf courses imaginable – Torrey Pines tuned up to 11 by the USGA.
As he winced and limped around for five-plus rounds, it was obvious that Tiger would not play again that year. It was less obvious that Tiger Woods would never, ever be the same player again.
While so much of the Tiger discussion has centered on his personal life implosion following one of pop culture’s great sex scandals, the real issue with Tiger Woods’ golf game was his addiction to pain pills, not his addiction to females that weren’t his wife.
Who knows how long Tiger’s body had been failing him prior to the 2008 U.S. Open? Tiger’s drive and determination ultimately ended up being his downfall. He played through the pain. He shouldn’t have.
Since his return in 2009, Tiger has shown flashes of his old brilliance – he won WGC events like always, took home the FedEx Cup and contended in multiple majors. But he was never the same. He faltered in final rounds. He finished up majors before the leaders turned for home.
My father wasn’t the only one who believed the audacity and tenacity of Tiger’s swing – his whole mentality – would be too much to sustain over a lifetime of playing golf. Players with the smoothest swings on Earth, think Fred Couples, deal with back trouble. The human spine is not meant to twist that way, that much, that fast, for that long.
Tiger’s incredible swing simply accelerated the damage and the pain.
Today, Tiger Woods announced he will miss the 2014 Masters – the timing of which made many do a double take in hopes of an April Fools’ joke gone awry. It is not.
Tiger Woods will not have won a major championship for six full years when the 2014 U.S. Open rolls around, an event he may or may not be a part of.
We can never discount what Tiger Woods meant for golf and the PGA. The purses have skyrocketed. The television ratings have increased across the board. Just about every tournament concludes on CBS or NBC. His presence raised the profile of Phil Mickelson and shined a light on new stars like Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy.
Something will be missing at Augusta because Tiger won’t be there. We have been waiting on his redemption story for a half-decade now. We will wait forever.
Tiger Woods is done. He may win more tournaments. He will never win another major title.
Like his swing, the greatness of Tiger Woods was simply unsustainable.
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