Admittedly, I wasn’t always a fan of golf. I still don’t watch much of it on a regular basis. I grew up a three-sport athlete — baseball, football and basketball — from a young age. Golf to me had always been too slow, too old, dare I say it, too boring. Besides, if I could hit a baseball well over 300 feet, hitting a golf ball would be far easier, right?
That perception changed the first time my late grandfather took me on a course. He encouraged my overconfident self to hack away. After all, I knew everything. Nine holes later at Christopher Morley Park on Long Island, all I knew was I embarrassed the hell out of myself.
My grandfather smirked, chuckled or quipped some sarcastic remark each swing I took. Whether it was a drive that sliced into the woods or a downright whiff, I gave him plenty of justification.
If I planned on improving, I’d obviously have to practice more, but I’d also have to watch more golf. There was no better display than the 2019 Masters.
What Tiger Woods did a week ago in Augusta cannot be done justice by a few hundred words. This man descended from the top all the way to rock bottom just a few years ago, only to return to the peak of the PGA on Sunday.
He held the prestigious title of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year as a 20-year-old. Since then, numerous affairs, a DUI and three back surgeries in as many years had dragged this once-herculean figure to the bottom.
I don’t include the low points of Woods’s life to shame him or to be judgmental. After all, seemingly all of America ferociously cheered this man on just a few days ago. Those tough times emphasize we’re all human… even the best golfer, or greatest athlete, in the world. We all mess up, but we can all bounce back from those mistakes.
In fact, sometimes displaying our flaws makes us more likeable.
Woods became that loveable underdog. A man who was once the 2007 Patriots became more like the Giants of that same year. Goliath had become David. Last Sunday, we loved him more for it.
The reality that Woods really had a chance to win set in on the 12th hole, one of the most pivotal in Augusta National Golf Club’s famous Amen Corner. Four of the final six pros sunk their ball in Rae’s Creek. Woods struck his perfectly.
Trailing by two strokes going into the hole, he found the middle of the green, two-putting his way to a tie atop the leaderboard.
The rest is history.
What happened Sunday was historic and unquestionably emotional. The best part is, everyone’s emotions while watching his incredible performance came for different reasons.
It may have been emotional for the sons, who watched him win his first green jacket in 1997 with their dads. This time, many of them witnessed him win another Masters with children of their own.
It may have been emotional for the young black men watching, once told their odds of playing golf professionally were slim, but who saw Woods as hope that anything in sports is possible.
As I sat there watching, holding my breath with every shot Woods took, I thought of my grandfather. The man determined to make me as comfortable with a pitching wedge in my hands as I am on a pitching mound.
I thought of the many times he took me golfing and my gradual improvement with each outing. The last time we went, May 2018, I parred my first hole. Then, I birdied the next.
It’s a minute feat for most who have played the game throughout their lives. But seeing the proud look on my grandfather’s face as this once 30-handicap golfer finished four over par couldn’t have meant more.
So, excuse me if I got a little choked up watching Woods complete one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history Sunday. It reminded me why golf grew on me in the first place…my grandfather.