Tiger's Mildly Revealing Walk Down Memory Lane
by Steve Eubanks - March 20, 2017
Nostalgia can be like syrup: The thicker it gets, the harder it is to digest. But last week was the exception. If you grew tired of tributes and reminiscences from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, you might want to engage in some emotional introspection.
Whether it was Arnie in a cart and a cardigan holding court on the driving range at Bay Hill before his “shootout,” the King in his heyday, driving a drop-top Cadillac as long as a school bus and puffing on a Lucky Strike, or that tear-jerker of an ad MasterCard ran where people were doing stellar things because “Arnie would,” the tournament at Bay Hill was a week-long memorial to the great and good that was Mr. Palmer.
The celebration also jogged memories from Bay Hill tournaments past, of which there are no shortage from Tiger Woods’ eight victories. For those too young to remember, Tiger won the 2003 Bay Hill Invitational, his fourth in a row, by 11 shots. He also won by a single shot three times, once draining a long putt at the last and throwing his hat to the ground amid arguably the loudest eruption of the year, and once more by holing an 8-footer on the 72nd hole in the pitch-black dark.
If you haven’t seen the highlights on television, look up the clips on YouTube. Those of us who witnessed him live can’t begin to tell you how different it was.
Which brings us to the next nostalgic tidbit to grace our game. Tiger’s book, The 1997 Masters: My Story, goes on sale today. And for those who want to relive every shot from that historic week; who want to dig into the decision-making of a young phenom trying to win his first major; who want to understand what drove a 21-year-old to rewrite the record books at Augusta National, you’ll find the answers in the detail Tiger provides with co-author Lorne Rubenstein.
There are recollections of conversations Tiger had with his father and how Earl-isms affected Tiger for years to come. “That’s how my dad taught me to answer questions from the media,” he wrote. “If they asked me what I hit into a green, I gave the number of the club. I wouldn’t elaborate and say something like, ‘I hit 7-iron. I was thinking 8 but I felt some wind come up and I didn’t want to take a chance of knocking the ball down and leaving it in the front bunker.’ Nope. I was asked what club I hit and I answered. That was it. I realized this wasn’t the way to become popular with the media but that’s the approach my dad had taught me to employ.”
Your dad was wrong. Plus, Earl himself didn’t behave that way at all. He was one of the great conversationalists, especially if you caught him at home in the afternoons.
If you’re looking for a new, open, come-clean-about-everything tome from Tiger, this isn’t it. But it is an interesting look at an important week in golf.
Tiger takes a more mature and melancholy tone about a few things. He reiterates how sorry he is about turning down Jackie Robinson’s widow, who had asked him to attend an event the week after his Masters win. He acknowledges how he screwed up his marriage in the way a man does: Spartan. Unflinching. Regretful. Hurt. And he recounts the post-Masters fiasco with Fuzzy Zoeller, where Fuzzy made a racially insensitive joke with a CNN camera rolling, as a man looking back on a situation that a 21-year-old wasn’t experienced enough to handle.
The book confirms one admirable trait. Those who have known Tiger for decades – and I’ve known him as well as any journalist since he was winning U.S. Amateurs, which is to say, I haven’t known him well at all – always have been struck by how colorblind he always has been. Never once has anyone seen him judge a person based on race. Tiger has always been about merit and he remains bewildered by all the societal attention to skin color. That message comes through loud and often in this book. In today’s divided world, it’s refreshing to see.
He misses his father, still. Grief cannot hide, even in its twilight, even in the pages of a book written by an admittedly shy guy. Tiger’s admiration and devotion to Earl sings throughout this work, sometimes in ways that even the author doesn’t realize. More than once, Tiger relays the story of his dad, who suffered from heart disease, flatlining in a hospital just weeks before the 1997 Masters. Earl told his son that he saw a light and was heading toward it but turned back because he wasn’t ready.
Those of us rooting for Tiger, not as a golfer, but as a man with half his life still ahead of him, hope that he will ask some simple questions: Where was that light? Who created it? And what do I need to do to go there and meet my loved ones once again?
We hope he finds those answers, whether he shares them or not.
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