This post was originally written two years ago (May 15, 2007) on Foxsports.com and details my most recent visit to TPC. Hope you enjoy.
I was fortunate enough to score some tickets to this past weekend’s Players Championship at Sawgrass in Jacksonville, Florida. Although the greatest golfer in the world wasn’t in contention on Sunday, as usual his mere presence on the golf course drew fans by the hordes.
Tiger teed off at 9:25 am on Sunday, and began the day +5 for the tournament, twelve strokes behind the eventual winner, Phil Mickelson. But even after a disappointing three-day stretch, Tiger donned his traditional, menacing red shirt and black cap and pulled off one of the best rounds of the day.
I left the people I was with early that morning to follow Tiger exclusively. After all, how many chances does one get to witness one of the most captivating athletes on the planet do his thing only mere feet away? I caught up with Tiger at the par three 8th hole. He was paired with Davis Love III that day, who although one of the more popular golfers on tour, wouldn’t have had near the following unless he were in contention. In fact, when Tiger’s on the course, you can pretty much catch anyone else up close and personal, except for maybe Phil.
As Tiger walked from the seventh green to the next tee box, I got close enough to hear him mutter to his caddy something about “playing the way I’m playing,” in obvious frustration with his three previous rounds and a double bogey earlier that morning.
Then, from 237 yards away, Tiger proceeded to put his tee shot about 18 feet from the pin . He birdied the hole. I followed him intently, as did hundreds of others, like rats following the Pied Piper, drawn in, just hoping to get a peek of his greatness. And we did.
Tiger went on to birdie the ninth hole… then the tenth… and then the eleventh. Four consecutive birdies! Although clearly out of contention, Tiger was putting on a show. Even though he was well behind the leaders who hadn’t even hit the driving range yet, there were thousands of fans fruitlessly calculating any conceivable way that Tiger could make a push for the leader board. He went on to eagle 16, going 7-under-par for his last 14 holes, and finished the tournament at even par. A splendid Sunday indeed.
What’s interesting is, when around Tiger, grown men giggle like schoolgirls, wanting to cheer him on, but at the same time oddly intimidated by his persona, not wanting to say something stupid, as if making him chuckle might suddenly make them best friends and get them an invitation to hang out on his personal yacht, Privacy.
To see Tiger rally off four straight birdies was undoubtedly a thrill. It wasn’t the first time I had seen him play live. I’ve been to Bay Hill a few times, including one of the years he won that tournament. He shot a 30 on the front 9 during one of those rounds, just missing a 29 with a lipped putt on the ninth hole.
But there’s something about Tiger Woods and his greatness that transcends sports. Muhammad Ali was one of the most popular athletes ever, but still was quite polarizing and political in his day. Michael Jordan is the closest thing we’ve seen to a Tiger Woods. The dominance, the charisma and marketability, the intense following of awestruck fans. Tiger is all anyone talks about on the golf course. When someone asks you how he shot, you know immediately who they’re talking about.
But there’s something that differentiates Tiger from all other sports mega-stars.
Tiger represents a multi-cultural phenomenon. The proud offspring of an African-American father and a Thai mother, Tiger’s diverse background is (fortunately) one that most of America has embraced. Arnold Palmer may have had his army, but Tiger has brought an entirely different and diverse crowd to follow, and partake in, his sport. On any given day, there are throngs of people watching him awestruck: black people and white people, men and women, Latinos and Asians, old people and children.
We comprise a nation of grand and profound diversity. Want proof? Unless you’re a Native American Indian, how many of your great grandparents were born here. Although American, and proud to be so, we are ALL different, and that’s okay. Let’s not forget that.
Tiger Woods represents the principles that America was built upon: the melting pot. Racial and cultural diversity is to be celebrated, not frowned upon. Embraced and not feared. Welcomed and not misunderstood. Those weblogs that complain about what national anthems are played prior to sporting events or whether Spanish has become the primary language at certain race tracks or stadiums, while exemplifying one’s pride in their homeland, fail to remember the tenets this nation was founded on.
For these reasons, Tiger Woods is the defining athlete of our generation, his background, his personality, his determination, his desire to be the absolute best. He is already the victor of 57 PGA Tour events and 12 majors (Note: now 66 and 14). Tiger Woods will not be receiving death threats or racial slurs as he approaches one of the more hallowed records in golf, as many of those before him have. And that signifies progress.
For those of you who have never been to a PGA Tour event, I highly recommend you take advantage of the opportunity to witness one of the most compelling athletes of our time.