Reflections on Tiger Woods – Golf’s Most Iconic Talent
Tiger Woods won a PGA Tour event in Japan recently, his 82nd in case you missed it. Of course, for those who didn’t watch, we invariably heard of the victory as it placed him alongside Sam Snead in a tie for all-time wins on the PGA Tour. And the accomplishment ushered in, as it should, a series of accolades from fellow players, media members and the public. There were statistics shared around tour earnings, the amazement of these last three wins in the past 14 months since return from injury (injuries). The case for Tiger as the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) is strong, and I am not here to debate that. I will share I am a fan of Tiger, but more so of the game. And while that sounds cheesy, my point is I enjoy golf just as much when Tiger does not play. There are other tour players I enjoy watching. There are other tours too for that matter. The game transcends even the greatest players. But there is no denying the star power and excellence of Tiger Woods; Golf Twitter was there to tell me all about that. But it did give me pause to reflect, with the influence, the resilience, and the legacy of one of the game’s all-time greats, is it possible at all he is underrated?
If we look at these three – influence, resilience and legacy – what attribute or contribution to golf is Tiger possibly underrated? I posed this question on Twitter recently through a poll and acknowledge there is nothing scientific about this. My goal with this was to simply give people pause for reflection as the accolades were streaming in.
Like many, I've been reflecting on Tiger's achievements (recent and collective) and share the awe and appreciation. What is his most underrated contribution/attribute within the game of golf:
— Mike Johnny (@36aday) October 29, 2019
I can see a case for all three being most underrated. I’ll start with his legacy.
The fact he “only” has 15 majors has some people summarily dismissing him as the greatest of all time. I’d like to suspend that notion as irrelevant. 82 wins is damn impressive. His accomplishments in World Golf Championship events, with world class fields, is staggering. Perhaps it is the fact he trails Jack Nicklaus by three majors which makes the legacy of Tiger Woods the player the most underrated characteristic of his golf career. It is challenging to assess the legacy of any player while he or she is still playing. We lack the context of reflective hindsight. During periods of Tiger’s extended absence due to knee and back health we received a glimpse into the future. Other world class players, and there are many, did not pick up the mantle and truly dominate, instead there were glimpses of success. The rise of prominence by Brooks Koepka is impressive but he is relatively young and was not active on Tour in the earlier years before recent injuries forced extended periods off the game for Tiger. There are no apples to apples comparisons here so viewing Tiger’s legacy around his on-course accomplishments as the most underrated aspect of him as a golfer is difficult, not impossible, just difficult to justify in relation to other options.
Influence. I’ll call this the Tiger Effect. From the, “Hello world” press conference before his professional debut to his recognition of this own iconic global brand, the rise has been steady and consistent. The Tiger Woods Foundation exists to support to pursue their passions through education. He has, arguably singlehandedly, built up the Nike brand in golf and his touch with other sponsors is that only King Midas could appreciate. But there is so much more to how Tiger has transcended the game of golf. This topic could be viewed in terms of the following: Athleticism of today’s golfer; Media engagement in golf; Purses for professional players; Growing engagement and participation in golf, and likely much more. And all these have metrics which shock and astound, as the Tiger Effect has been pervasive. With this recent victories (2018 Tour Championship, 2019 Masters, 2019 Zozo) what we’re poised for is a new generation of young people who will be directly and positively affected by Tiger. It is no surprise that influence around growing the game received the most votes in this poll. If we step back and look at the magnitude of the Tiger Effect a clear and definitive case can be built for this being significantly underrated.
Resilience. I’m part of a majority, silent or otherwise, who felt Tiger would never win another major after reaching a low point in 2017. Surgeries, the visible breakup of his marriage and a seeming inability to complete four competitive rounds of golf, let alone score well enough to compete, were in plain sight. His Masters victory in 2019 is the most surprising and exciting victory in golf that I have ever experienced (nudging Mike Weir’s 2003 victory which was high in excitement but less so in terms of genuine surprise for me). We are not privy to the hard work Tiger must have put in to get his game back into tournament shape. But raw talent never truly leaves and to come back on multiple occasions to win in professional golf, especially obtaining a 15th major championship is something regular golfer may never truly understand but I assure you it is something we can cherish and appreciate. I, for one, have stopped betting against Tiger Woods. I don’t know if he can capture more major championships and compete with Mr. Nicklaus for the all-time lead at 18. But what I saw on TV last spring leads me to believe that anything is possible where Tiger is concerned within the game of competitive golf.
I was struck by other comments which came in around Tiger’s mental strength. One friend cited, “Tiger’s mental strength crushed his opponents before they even teed it up”. Hard to argue that as an underrated characteristic. Intimidation though mental toughness and supreme confidence is hard to quantify but Tiger could be the case study to examine this. One other response was interesting; a negative take around how underrated Tiger has been in the game. The decline of fan behaviour on the golf course was cited by one Twitter follower to Tiger. “In many ways, Tiger is responsible for much of the detestable raucous behavior by fans”. Now, I hate Mashed Potatoes in golf as much as anyone and wish that only the Waste Management Open was the only tournament that sold alcohol but I am an old soul and its likely best I am not in charge of all things golf. This does create some balance in our reflections. Granted, the positive generally wins the day. There’s no wrong or right answers. But when we collectively talk about the accolades of Tiger’s career -and there’s been many shared – I know there’s more to the story. The chance to reflect on this has been enjoyable. I wish Tiger continued success and good health. I appreciate the positive contribution he has made within the game of golf. Sometimes it is best to just watch and admire!