Why Tiger the Golfer Matters

Tiger Woods is the greatest player of his generation, maybe ever, and I discuss why every golfer should root for him.

Thrash TalkIn Billy Casper’s book titled “The Big Three and Me,” Casper talks about his time on Tour and how when a new golfer came onto the scene it was extremely rare that they had a great swing combined with ability to handle pressure. He mentions that sometimes on the range they would see someone with the most beautiful of swings and how he would think to himself “surrender now.” Usually, though, it would come to pass that under pressure that golfer would struggle and that beautiful swing paired with a shaky putting stroke.

Certainly you must admit that the PGA Tour is full of great swings whose trophy case does not match up with their beautiful swings. The players who have both are extremely rare – maybe once-a-generation type players we are talking about here. For my generation I have been lucky enough to get to watch one of these greats, and his name is Tiger Woods.

If we look solely at Tiger’s achievements on the golf course he is matched only by the great of the generation before him – Jack Nicklaus. Fourteen major championships, 78 PGA Tour wins and without question the greatest winning percentage of all time. Tiger has won something close to 30% of the tournaments he has entered! Jack is nowhere close to this kind of winning average. Consider as well that Tiger has only missed nine cuts in his entire career and one has to marvel at how incredible he has been.

On a personal level Tiger is an entirely different animal. His record in his personal life is not as spectacular as his golf record. He does not give very engaging interviews after his rounds. He all too often plays it very safe and says very little to the media. I can say that I would prefer for him to be more likable, but over the past few years I have realized that I probably should not care about that and root not for Tiger the person, but Tiger the golfer.

Great athletes have always been a bit of a mystery off the field. Rarely good role models. Golf has been until now a bit different in that regard. Jack, Byron Nelson, and many other golfing greats have also been great gentleman as well as great golfers. A few might say it, but I would be surprised if the majority of people felt Tiger was a great gentleman off the golf course. All of this though is not the purpose of this article.

Tiger Woods

If we examine Tiger only as professional golfer we are now witness to a greatness that may not be matched for a long time. Understanding that I am lucky enough to witness the greatest golfer of my generation is something that I have come to terms with. I now appreciate what Tiger has done for the game of golf and how I should root for him at every tournament because at this point he is only building on a legacy I will tell my kids and grandkids. My father was not a serious golfer but he told me of watching tournaments when Jack Nicklaus was in the hunt and how he made each tournament better just because he was near the lead. Many people feel exactly the same way when Tiger is in the hunt. He makes the game more exciting.

No one can deny that the 2008 U.S. Open with Tiger on one leg and chasing down Rocco Mediate was not one of the most exciting finishes in a very long time. Watching Tiger’s putt on the eighteenth hole curl into the hole was unbelievable drama. That tournament will become history that will be retold by many of us especially in ten to fifteen years.

So now I root for Tiger. I want him to pass Jack Nicklaus so that I can tell my grandkids I watched the greatest golfer ever. I watched him win all those majors and dominate his sport. In ten to fifteen years, the outside golf stuff will be forgotten and what will remain will be Tiger’s trophies. All the outside golf stuff cannot take away Tiger’s trophies.

I will not tell my grandkids he was a great man. But by that same token I will likely tell them not to look to sports athletes as role models anyways. Tiger is not different in that regard. What one can admire is during an age where money was flowing around golf like water in a storm drain during a thunderstorm Tiger seemed not to care about how much money he won, but how many trophies he collected. Many of the golfers in his generation play it safe, try to finish in the top five so they can collect big checks but not go for the win. Tiger goes for the win, ever time. He grinds, so much so that he rarely misses a cut, when it would be easy to do so. As a golfer he is quite admirable.

Photo credits: © Tracy Wilcox.

21 thoughts on “Why Tiger the Golfer Matters”

  1. Nicely written piece. I also root for Tiger the golfer. I root for Tiger the man to evolve into a “better” human being for the benefit of his family … and for him. The public may also receive benefits of his personal growth.

    As a golfer, his scrambling ability through the years is remarkable. But what is mildly disturbing was the 2013 Memorial, where he could not collect himself or put it together. All of us have those days, or even several days, when nothing seems to go our way. But we are human, and as we are learning, so is Tiger.

  2. As Desmond says, I also hope to see Tiger come around in his personal life. I have two sides of my thoughts on him.

    One I think to myself I wish he would be a Byron or Jack and open up to the media and be the gentleman we’ve come to admire through their years.

    Second, and perhaps not the best way for him to live, is I’d like to see him go nuts and enjoy being himself. He’s a good looking dude, rich as hell, apparently has been blessed and enjoys some of the more carnal pleasures in life. Tiger was a beast on the course while whoring around and cheating on his ex-wife. He’s not married, dating the super hot ski girl, but go nuts! Go pound all the gash he can handle and get back to the pure dominating ways of old!

    I while I don’t 100% believe it’s really what he should do, it’s just what I would do; be honest fellas -how would you life your life if you were a rich professional athlete?

  3. Good article, but I question the final thought on telling your kids not to look up to sports figures as role models. Why not? I know not all athletes are positive role models but their are plenty that are positive role models that should be looked up to. With the amount of public exposure that athletes receive it is hard not to look up to one as a child. But I do agree that Tiger the golfer is the greatest of this generation.

  4. Byron and Jack wouldn’t be the Byron and Jack we remember if they had been subjected to the 24/7 news cycle TMZ-style Internet scrutiny that Tiger has been subjected to from day one. Even with much lower scrutiny Jack managed to gt himself in hot water a while back with his arguably racist comments. And I was around for his whole career and honestly do not remember any engaging post-round interviews. Oh wait, that’s right, we never got to hear that stuff directly, it was always the day after, in the newspaper, through the filter of sports reporters who didn’t think of themselves as much other than fans and rooters.

    And where were these “gentlemen” throughout the 60s when the country was undergoing an upheaval in civil rights while golf was still stuck in the 50s? And they were silent.

    Look I am not trying to use these examples to tarnish anyone, I’m just saying that when you look at the past through rose-colored glasses and the present under a high powered microscope the comparison is bound to be a little stilted.

  5. Why should I root for him simply because he is so good. Golf is not going anywhere with or without Tiger Woods. Granted he has grown the PGA a great deal, but its not like it would have shut down if he never existed.

    I like to see Tiger play bad,a 79, that made my day, so sue me…

  6. How many of our “upstanding” public figures have disappointed us with their private lives? I could name dozens. Kennedy, Clinton, Jordan, Sinatra, Martin, just to name a few. It doesn’t take away their accomplishments in whatever profession they succeeded in.
    Watch the man on the course, don’t buy into the sensationalism the media spews out about his personal life.

  7. turtleback,

    Excellent comments. We tend to forget that stuff as time goes by as Michael pointed out in the article. I too watch golf to watch golf, not to judge personalities of the players. I have never met these players, so I cannot form an opinion of them. And I certainly will not take the opinion of the media, who have their own agendas (talking to you Chambliss).

    I watch for the fantastic shots under pressure, the strategy they use to beat the course and the occasion mess up that shows they are human.

    Tiger also makes the players around him play better. They have to or they will never beat him.

  8. Sure, Tiger Woods is the best golfer of our generation, and possibly of all time, but I can’t see myself rooting for any whore chaser.

  9. It has been my experience, when it comes to the topic of Tiger, that many who have such strong distaste for him (on a personal level), are often people who have yet to come to terms with their own shortcomings. Skeletons in the closet some might call it.

    I don’t mean that as a blanket statement, but I think it covers a large group. Some dis-like him because he is not overly friendly or outgoing towards the media and fans, I’m sure you could go on and on with a litany of reasons one or the next may not like him. He has his friends on tour, as well as his rivalries, and yes, some enemies. I have a problem with none of it.

    The part that bothers me when I hear comments from people who clearly are not Tiger fans, is that I think very few of them have ever wondered what kind of people they might be if they had Tiger’s life – particularly from a young age. How guarded do you think you would be if you lived your entire life not knowing whether the people you encounter over time want to “be your friend” because they genuinely like you or because they have some other agenda born from admiration of your ability?

    Who wouldn’t like Tiger to be a little more perfect in the personal department? I think it would be wise to reserve judgment until the story is complete. Consider that if your own mis-deeds over the whole of your life were broadcast to the world, how happy a person you would be, or better yet, how many “fans” you would have.

  10. The unfair part, at least for Tiger’s personal image, is that everyone was able to see all the bad things he did, but no one will see any changes for the better he makes over the coming years, b/c those don’t make headlines on CNN. Say he completely regrets his old ways and goes on to be a loyal husband and fantastic father to his children, all while giving millions away with his charity (which he already does)… will anyone who hates him bc of past transgressions (none of their business anyway) ever change their opinion of him? Probably not, and it’s extremely hypocritical.

  11. I have no problem seeing Tiger the Golfer as separate from Tiger the Private Individual. I don’t see any reason why his personal shortcomings should have any influence on how his professional achievements are viewed.

  12. So, who here thinks that the quality of their golf game is more important than not being an A-hole?

    Should Tiger be any different?

    Even if his game is all that, do I need to root for him?

    And golfers of that calibre actually come round more often than you might think. Vardon was the greatest ever. So was Jones. And Hogan. Palmer. Nicklaus. Now woods. You’d be unlucky not to see 2.

  13. One reason I cannot root for Tiger has nothing to do with his life off the golf course. On the contrary it stems from his conduct ON the course. He spits, he is surly, he whacks his club into the ground when dissatisfied with a shot. His observance of considerate etiquette towards his playing partners is often lacking because of his egocentric attitude. Some role model! Unfortunately, media commentators are sycophantic towards him and rarely voice objections to his conduct. And because the producers of golf TV insist on showing him most of the time – however poorly he’s playing – his demeanor on course is all too visible. It is particularly galling for a non-American who often has to watch Tiger standing doing nothing having played his shot, instead of being shown the shot played meantime by a non-American playing partner. Root for Tiger? You must be joking!

  14. marmite, you must not root for anyone, as virtually every golfer is occasionally surly, whacks a club on the ground, and yes, even spits on the golf course (never mind that to most people, spitting on the golf course is hardly an offense given the number of times they’ve used the trees as a commode).

    The fact that you’re looking at Tiger through tinted glasses reveals itself with your later comments about how the media “rarely voice objections to his conduct.” Open your ears and your eyes – you’ll either realize that you’re wrong, or you’ll cease to be a fan of virtually anyone on the PGA Tour.

    And yes, it’s completely Tiger’s fault that they don’t show his playing partner, who has fallen ten shots off the lead. It’s completely rational to blame Tiger for that too.</sarcasm>

  15. On the contrary, it’s only Tiger whose every shot we have to see when he is ten or more shots off the lead. His playing partner can be higher up the leader board and still not shown if he’s not flavor of the month or from the wrong country. I concede, however, that that is not Tiger’s fault; the Tiger-obsessed media are to blame for that. Incidentally, there are still plenty of golfers around who don’t spit – an unpleasant habit that has no physiological justification whatsoever. I’ve played golf for 40 years (in the UK) and have never seen a playing partner spit on the course.

  16. Marmite, kindly take off whatever colored glasses you’re wearing and realize that you’re quite literally wrong. We don’t see “every shot” Tiger hits when he’s ten shots out of the lead. Heck, we were joking about it in the chat room that Tiger would go several holes without us getting a peek at him at the last few majors.

    The spitting on the course argument’s been hashed out many times in the forum. You’re in the minority if you oppose spitting on the course, and in a group of about one that has never seen someone spitting in 40 years. Heck, I’ve seen dogs pooping and taking a leak on golf courses in Scotland, so…

  17. Erik, I have great respect for your opinions but I think we have to agree to disagree on this one. I too have seen dogs relieving themselves on courses, as well as men following the call of nature and peeing on the course, usually discreetly behind a tree, but that is a million miles away from openly spitting on the course. I’m not sure whether our different attitudes to spitting are based on the generation of people we belong to and play with, or the countries we play in, but nothing will convert me to the idea that spitting is acceptable, unless a fly goes into your mouth. Perhaps I am hypersensitive to seeing Tiger when he’s not in contention but I am convinced he gets more than his fair share of coverage. In the Open last Sunday I accept that he was in contention for much of his round but even the BBC made the cardinal error of showing most of his shots while largely ignoring Mickelson (who was ahead of Tiger pretty well all day) until the last few holes. I thought Mickelson was hugely impressive both in the Open and the Scottish Open the previous week, and a much better role model than the man you urge us to root for. I rest my case, but thanks for your interest and especially for all your great contributions to golf discussion and the stack and tilt forum.

  18. Marmite, there’s no need to agree to disagree. It’s a fact. You can be proven wrong that many people spit on the golf course, including the majority of PGA Tour players. If you want to think it’s the worst of the worst behavior, that’s fine, but I’m accurate in calling you biased if you want to turn a blind eye to the same behavior done by many, many other people.

    And Tiger was in contention at the British Open and we still missed the first two shots he hit on several par fours, his tee shots on par threes, etc., again when he was within three of the lead.

    Perhaps the BBC has a bigger fascination with him than we do – but that’s somewhat understandable since the BBC doesn’t broadcast most of the regular PGA Tour events in which he plays, so they’ve got to “get their fill” of Tiger in less time.

    But marmite, your biases are obvious, and a fair and level-headed assessment of things like “when he’s on TV” and “who spits among PGA Tour players” would reveal those to you.

  19. Erik, right up until the last few holes we saw practically nothing of Mickelson, and that includes when he was ahead of Tiger. But, as you say, that’s the BBC’s fault and not Tiger’s. Oddly enough, here in the UK, while there is a celebrity cult following of Tiger, as often as not by non-golfers, it’s pretty rare amongst my generation of golfers. I’m 69 and play mainly, but not exclusively, with people aged 50 or over, and the vast majority are pretty fed up with media coverage of Tiger. As far as the spitting is concerned my impression from watching both American and European golf on TV is that the habit is more prevalent in USA, although it appears to be catching on over here too, especially among the younger generation – we see it regularly with professional footballers. I still regard it as disgusting. I am a doctor with a long memory of peering down a microscope at sputum samples and seeing the acid-fast bacilli that carry tuberculosis. Perhaps that partly explains my dislike of a habit that has absolutely no physiological justification. If that’s a bias, at least it’s a healthy one. Thanks again for taking the trouble to reply my earlier comments.

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