24 Nov 2021 | 08:28
Nearly 300 days elapsed between the moment Tiger Woods rolled his SUV down a ravine in California back in February and the moment he posted a video of himself swinging a golf club just before Thanksgiving. On Sunday, all it took were three seconds to reset the way we thought about the 23 million seconds between those two dates.
Tiger disrupted the golf world — which is not something he’s unfamiliar with doing — with a three-second clip of him flushing a wedge on a driving range, perhaps in his own backyard, somewhere in Florida. The only noise was the flushing sound of club, ball and turf colliding in a way that is unique in the history of humans swinging golf clubs to this one man.
It’s a noise that is so foreign to normal humans, even if the sound of hope which will reverberate up and down the golf world for weeks (or months) is not one with which we’re unfamiliar.
Men move mountains over decades with the intent of creating an inflection point the size of the one Tiger created by hitting “send” on a video bereft of words — or really anything substantial at all if viewed in the vacuum of the swing video itself.
But, of course, nothing with Tiger can be viewed in a vacuum. Not at this stage of his career. Not after what he endured earlier in the year. Taken out of the context, it’s not a remarkable video. Put into context that there were murmurs until March that this 15-time major winner could legitimately lose his leg, and it’s one of the clips of the entire year.
I do not know if Tiger Woods will ever tee it up at a major championship in the rest of his career or if he’ll even play professional golf again. I believe that he likely feels how Roger Federer said he felt after a third knee surgery in the last 18 months knocked him out of the 2022 Australian Open and likely the French Open and Wimbledon, too.
“Even if I know that the end is near, I want to try and play some more big matches,” Federer said recently. “That will not be easy, but I want to try. Let’s be clear: My life is not going to fall apart if I don’t play another Grand Slam final. But that would be the ultimate dream — to get back there. I want to see one last time what I’m capable of as a professional tennis player.”
I want to see one last time what I’m capable of. The purest version of professional sport at this level. Tiger, like Federer, is not in need of any final act to secure his legacy, nor is he (presumably) desperate for the financial gain that could accompany a final ride. The soul of sport, though, is a question that is at the very base of our humanity: Am I enough?
Tiger’s answer to this question has always disclosed itself four times year, and the answer for nearly two straight decades has unequivocally been “yes.” That is perhaps why that 2019 Masters victory was so special. Because the answer was not, like it had been for so many consecutive years before it, a foregone conclusion. Even for Tiger, I’m not sure if he knew what was in the well.
There are many problems, of course: A back that almost certainly has a limited number of rotations left in it; a leg, once mangled, that we have yet to see void of a thick neoprene sleeve; and a game that has to juggle both of these traumatic injuries, along with the mental and physical war of a major championship week.
Personally and professionally, I don’t care if Tiger ever plays another event. He has finished the hero’s journey. From a young, conquering legend who destroyed every world he entered, to an aging, maturing icon who performed one final magic trick on a stage of peerless grandeur within this sport. Anything beyond that feels gratuitous.
The part I loved the most about those three seconds of euphoria for those who love this game, however, is that Tiger was providing what he has always provided over the course of his preposterous career.
At every stage of his career, the through line of Tiger’s life is that he has been a kaleidoscope of hope. It is perhaps not a burden humans were meant to bear, but he has nonetheless carried it for those who went before him and for those who would eventually come after him. You don’t have to read too closely between the lines to see that the Justin Thomases and Rory McIlroys of the world hoped to one day be him. Or that the Lee Elders of the world hoped in the future because of him. Or that the Phil Mickelsons of the world hoped in themselves in spite of him.
For us and for him, the 271 days between careening down that hill in Los Angeles and the sweet, soothing sound of club and ball connecting, there was very little hope. Why would there be? How could there be? Then, in just three seconds of time, he reset expectations for what the future could be. And he catalyzed in the hearts of all those who follow sport and engage in life the most encouraging virtue of all.
It is said that everyone in golf is one swing away from a changed life, a new future. This hasn’t really been true of Woods for many years, but it is possibly more true now than it has ever been before. After a late career marked by so much despair with his recent incident serving as the darkest of them all, three seconds seemingly obliterated all of the ones that came before them. Those three seconds may have even provided him with what he has always brought to bear on the rest of the golf world and those that follow it.
Hope that the future can be much brighter than the past, that he could feasibly once again engage the best in the world and, ultimately, that even if the game is no longer enough, the person still is.