What Tiger Woods Can Teach Us
When Tiger Woods joined the PGA Tour there was no one like him. He won his first major in 1997-The Masters-by 12 strokes. Almost a stroke a hole better than the second place finisher. Over the next decade and a half he was virtually unbeatable and was so intimidating that even when he was losing he was a factor because the leaders couldn’t quit thinking about him nipping at their heels.
Then, his father passed away and things changed for him. Perhaps his dad was his anchor in a crazy life that made him the most popular athlete on the planet and one of the world’s most well-known names in any field. After his passing, Tiger seemed adrift. Then there were indiscretions, a very public and humiliating fall. His life came unraveled. His wife left him. The public left him.
Suddenly this formidable athlete that used to be able to win at will couldn’t win any more. He was well on his way to passing Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major tournament wins and then one day he couldn’t win those big ones anymore.
Then, his health left him. Two years ago, he was having trouble getting out of a chair or tying his shoes. He was using his pitching wedge for a cane. He attempted a couple of times to come back to golf but to no avail. It was painful to watch.
The whispers were that he was done. The great Tiger Woods was finished. That was the scuttlebutt.
But an amazing thing happened. Tiger began to change personally. He became less stoic, less intense, at least outwardly. He stepped back out into the public eye to help coach the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup teams. He wasn’t able to play but he decided to do what he could and use his experience and knowledge to help the team get better.
Notice anything? Arguably the greatest golfer of all time is helping others be great. That’s humility with a capital H.
In spending so much time with other players he began, perhaps for the first time, to forge friendships. Before his fall from grace he had very few friends on the tour. He seemed alone a lot of the time and toward the end of his historic run he didn’t seem very joyful. His demeanor in these team events was different. It seemed like he was softening.
Two years ago, he decided to have one more back surgery (that would be his fourth, along with an equal number of knee surgeries). His hope was that he would be able to play with his kids without being in severe pain. No talk of ever returning to the PGA or to the pinnacle where he had spent so much time.
But then, all this good in his life began converging. He found that he could swing a club again, albeit very differently than at any time in his life. The joy of playing golf returned. He had fallen from the number one golfer in the world to somewhere in the thousands. He returned last season with no aspirations except to see if he could walk 18 holes and finish a round. He found that he could do that and more.
In the British Open last year in July he was in the lead on Sunday for a while before finally losing by a few. The next major, the PGA, produced the same. He was magnificent on Sunday afternoon, but wound up losing. No matter. He was proving something to himself. He began to believe that he might be able to win again. Sure enough he did win The Tour Championship in Atlanta last September for his first win in many years.
And, I guess you have heard that he won The Masters on Sunday. Did you see his face after the round? Unbridled joy. As he began his comeback last year, he said that his kids had only heard about how good he was but they had never witnessed it in person. He hoped they could see it at least once. That was definitely part of his motivation. Notice anything? His priorities changed and his goals were about others, people he loved.
His surgically repaired back could go out at any time, but he has already proven to himself that he can do it. His fans, who stepped away when he fell, are back in throngs.
I have to say I shed a few tears on Sunday when he scooped up his son behind the 18th green and they embraced.
Everybody fails. Everybody falls. We are all human, after all. But mercy lifts us.Forgiveness allows us to move on and try again.
As we approach this Easter weekend, remember that you and I are never really done. There’s always tomorrow. It might not hold a green jacket, but it has amazing gifts and trophies for those of us who persevere.
Stay strong. Never give up.