I confess that I get something of a kick out of the fact that Tiger Woods has a son named Charlie. (I knew practically none of them growing up, but apparently, it's become a popular name again.) Twenty-two years and one magazine job ago, I wrote a profile of Woods shortly before he would win his first Masters championship. On Sunday last, he won his fifth. In between them, he battled injuries and he turned his personal life into a circus. In between them, the story I wrote kept coming up, over and over again. (I've written better stories, but that's the post-it note on my career, I guess. I have no gripe there.) After the events of that momentous Thanksgiving night in 2009, people kept calling me to talk about him. Eventually, once the story transformed itself from a police matter into a clangorous and icky family saga, I stepped away from talking to people on television about Tiger Woods.
I remained fascinated by him, however. It looked like he was headed for what perhaps might have been the crash-and-burn of all time. His swing deserted him and so did his body. He tore his right Achilles tendon and then strained his left. He had three knee surgeries. He had one back surgery, and then another, and then another, and then, finally, in 2017, a spinal fusion. In addition, of course, he had murdered the public image that had been so carefully crafted for him by his agents, his shoe company, and the PGA. His father, with whom he had a deep and complicated relationship, passed away. He went through swing coaches the way George Steinbrenner used to go through managers. He seemed completely at sea, as this profile from the great Wright Thompson illustrated.
I remained fascinated at how tough and goddamn stubborn he was. He could have walked away from everything that no longer gave him joy, which was practically everything you could name, and which literally was everything that most people knew about Tiger Woods. But he stayed out there, in the morning fog on the range and in the sunset's long shadows on the putting green. He made cuts and he missed cuts and, in both cases, it was always news. And then, on Sunday, this complex, tough, stubborn sonuvabitch won another Masters, outlasting a field of younger players that fell apart behind him until there was nobody left to challenge him. It was the first time he'd ever come from behind to win a major title. It was a stunning athletic feat.
Let that hang there for a minute because that was all it was, and that's a great deal. Truth be told, it wasn't even the greatest comeback in golf history; I'll still stay with Ben Hogan's winning the U.S. Open at Merion in 1950, eleven months after being turned into a jigsaw puzzle when a Greyhound bus hit his Cadillac on a foggy February night on a road outside Van Horn, Texas. It didn't deserve the thick layer of mayonnaise that was slathered on it by the CBS broadcast crew and, especially, Jim Nantz, the whitest man on the planet. What it deserved was the crowd chanting his name, over and over again. Because, at Augusta National, my dear young fellow, that simply is not done.
When Tiger Woods first came along, golf didn't know it, but golf needed a Jordan-an excellence so vast that it became disruptive. That's what Woods was. He would have been transformative simply because he was great and he was black. But, beyond that, he brought to the game new fans, just the same way Arnold Palmer had. Palmer had brought the steelworkers and the millhands out onto the country club courses to cheer him on. Woods opened up those same bastions of the old order to a new and changing America-younger, browner, and not altogether born here. He never spoke much about it when he was on top-except, of course, when he and Nike could make a buck off it-but it was present in the galleries nonetheless. To say that he didn't own the change he wrought is not to say that he didn't bring it about at all.
That change was what was waiting for him behind the 18th green on Sunday, hugging his son, whose name is Charlie. The crowd shredded the politesse that has been carefully cultivated by the most tight-assed collection of Caucasians in the history of white people. They chanted his name, over and over again, so loudly that the reverent whispers later in the Butler cabin seemed thick with outdated obscenity. Stubborn sonuvabitch won the Masters again, nobody said, but everybody thought it. Tiger Woods is 43 years old.
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