In July 2010 I was enjoying the company of an old family friend Dan, who as a sports journo was over this side of the Pond to cover the summer events in the UK. His way to prepare for this was tried & trusted. Two weeks in London for Wimbledon, then a 10 day jolly around England & Ireland reacquainting himself with some decent golf courses, before pitching up at St Andrews for the Open Golf. All at the expense of his employer du jour, originally Sports Illustrated, then Golf Digest. Nice work if you can get it.
Having won all bets that day, Dan was in his usual expansive – 2 large & very dry martinis to the good – early evening trash talk mode & challenged me to double or quits for the money on the table. Tiger Woods, he said, would never win another Major championship. He was finished, a busted flush, with no coming back from the various sex scandals in which he was embroiled & which had demolished his wholesome All-American hero’s image. Additionally his physical injuries would prevent him from ever competing, let alone win, at the top level. Privately I agreed with him, but perversely took the bet.
The golf Majors – the US Masters & US Open, The Open, & the USPGA – are the only tournaments that truly define the history of the game & every player of ambition wants to win. Tiger himself has always been aware that his legacy in the game would revolve around these four tournaments. In 2008 whilst playing on one leg – his knee had ruptured – he had almost unbelievably won the US Open. This was his 14th Major triumph. By this stage, Woods was four victories short of the bar set by Jack Nicklaus, & still a young man. He was the games’ first true athlete, its’ first mixed-race superstar, & a seemingly unstoppable winner.
All through his Twenties, Woods had redefined the sport of golf, bulking up in the gym to become fitter & stronger than any of his contemporaries, dominating tournaments with his power, short game & produced the finest last day performances ever seen. He was world number 1 for the most consecutive weeks (281) & total weeks (683). The son of a hard driving African-American Green Beret (whose exploits were legendary in the dirty unofficial Cambodian campaign during the Vietnam conflict) & a Thai-Chinese mother, Woods became sports’ first billionaire in the era of globalisation. He was the player every tournament sponsor – from Gulf States rulers to Chinese oligarchs – wanted. But the fall of Woods, from the very pinnacle of the game, was simply astounding. In August 2009, Woods had just narrowly finished runner up in the USPGA. A few months later his world literally fell in. He crashed his car in the early hours outside his home, in the aftermath of his wife challenging him about his serial infidelities when playing away from home (sic), and additionally the reports of local waitresses alleging Woods was constantly looking & paying for rough sex. The media circus picked up on this, partly as payback for being kept at arms distance for so long by the Woods entourage, & Woods was duly exposed as a sexual adventurer & extreme narcissist : less a clean living sponsors dream of a family man, rather a pumped up sex addict. If this were not bad enough, his long term injuries to knees & back combined to make him seriously consider the rest of his life in a wheelchair rather than on the golf course.
For a long time, it did seem that Woods was finished. I’d like to say I always thought that he would be back, but must admit deep down I didn’t think it possible. His advantage over other competitors was eroded when a new crop of players emerged, all gym bunnies, aspiring to push the bar of excellence in the game above that raised by Woods. Last season however, a revitalised Woods, pain free for the first time in 25 years after spinal fusion surgery, worked his way back into the top 20 in world rankings, was leading the Open deep into the final round, & amidst hectic scenes in Deep South Georgia won his first tournament since 2013.
It’s always poignant to watch a virtuoso on the last phase of a career, & it’s no different with Woods. His raw power is much reduced, as a result of a newly modelled swing action designed to take the strain off his much operated on back & knees, his hair is receding fast, but he’s still the games first true world superstar – the one guy who can get the galleries whooping & by merely confirming his entry to a tournament can triple tickets sales overnight. In 1986, the great Jack Nicklaus stunned the golfing world by winning the US Masters at the age of 46. Woods is now 43 & deep into preparation for this years Masters,a Major he’s already won 4 times & is desperate to win again. Can he do it ?Can he win another Major so late in his playing career ?
Sadly my bet on this will never be settled. Dan died last month – at a good age – but I’d like to think he’ll be looking on at Augusta this coming Sunday, hopefully with a very large dry martini in hand, toasting my winnings.
© DJM 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file