By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
It’s September 23, 2018, and a throng of golf fans convene on the 18th fairway at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Out of this mass of humanity emerges the greatest golfer of all time in his classic Sunday red. What the “experts” said he would never do was about to get done – WIN AGAIN! Arms raised in victory and the golf world left speechless.
They used to say that nice guys finish last – however, that was never really a true statement. In sports, they also say that the champion is the one holding the trophy at the end of play – this is definitely not accurate. In golf, it’s the winner who’s standing on the 18th green holding the big check and kissing the crystal trophy, or in some cases donning the gaudy green blazer.
When I think of champions in golf, I think of one person, Tiger Woods – Captain Obvious you say? What differentiates Tiger from everyone else is that he is a champion even when he’s not the winner. Close your eyes and imagine if you will your once fairy tale life spiraling out of control – your marriage breaks up, you crash your car, get arrested for driving under the influence, and you’re a golfer with a bad back – sound fun? Granted, Tiger has himself to blame for some of these crises, but throw in the towel, did he? Not Tiger.
Over the past few years, when the entire planet wrote him off, and the “experts” in the game said he would never win again, he fought and failed and persevered and failed again, and then he fought some more and returned to form little by little, taking two steps forward and one step back. Well, what do you know? Taking two steps forward and one step back actually gets you to where you want to go, albeit a little slower than most of us have the patience to endure. Most of us aren’t named Eldrick Woods, of course.
Seven months after that day at East Lake, another Sunday afternoon – Tiger’s wearing red, again. Birdies at Augusta’s 15th and 16th holes and Tiger is suddenly on top of the leaderboard. You can never count out the best in the world – Gretzky finding the corner of the net – Jordan hitting from everywhere on the court – Rose slapping that clutch single over the shortstop’s glove extended high in the air. With a par on 17, Woods needed only bogey to win. Arms raised in victory and the golf world was left speechless yet again.
Six months later and the man in the red shirt who broke the hearts of his millions of fans lost endorsement deals, and was never going to win again, WON AGAIN! This time he did it win one arm raised and a black sweater vest over his Sunday red. He won the Zozo Championship in Japan to claim victories in three consecutive golf seasons, Zozo being played in the early part of the 2019-2020 wrap-around season. So much for the experts counting him out.
It’s now six months after that, and there is NO Masters Tournament – COVID is ravaging the planet and annual traditions of all kinds are being canceled. With the future of pro sports up in the air, naysayers start chirping again. How would Tiger react to an extended layoff? Could he mount yet another comeback whenever the Tour is back in action? Doubters are going to doubt and “experts” spew their less than “expert analysis”.
Tiger didn’t win in the summer of 2020 or during the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs or at the September U.S. Open at Winged Foot or at the recent ‘better-late-than-never’ Masters Tournament. But what makes Tiger Woods a champion, regardless of what the leaderboard says, is why I put pen to paper today. Tiger Woods is as legendary in defeat as he is in victory – he has the heart of a champion. Tiger Woods hits the game-winning home run after striking out his previous three at-bats. Tiger Woods kicks the game-winning field goal in overtime after missing the potential game-winning field goal in regulation. Tiger Woods birdies five of the following six holes after carding the highest individual hole score of his career. Tiger Woods is the greatest champion in sports history.
He hit three balls in the water on the 12th hole at Augusta in the first-ever November Masters, writing the number 10 on a scorecard for the first time in his career. Overcoming the septuple bogey and trio of lost balls, he birdied the par-5 13th and settled for par at the 14th. Then he did what not all winners do, but all champions do naturally. Birdie – birdie – birdie-birdie, sinking a lengthy birdie putt to finish the event at one-under-par – no green jacket this time, BUT always the champion we expect, even when the “experts” have written him off.
There are lessons to be learned from Tiger’s Sunday back nine, a microcosm of his past ten years. Knock him down – he gets back up. Count him out – he roars right back. Write him off – he wins again, arms up in victory, Sunday red on his back.