BY ED HARRIS
In recent years, perhaps no athlete in any sport performed at a higher level than Tiger Woods. The gold standard for measuring golfers is major tournament wins over the course of a career. Jack Nicklaus holds the record at 18, and, accordingly, is still considered by many to be the greatest golfer in history.
Not long ago Woods appeared to be closing on Nicklaus fast. He won 14 majors by age 32, and virtually everyone who followed golf assumed the record would inevitably belong to him someday. Even more impressive than the win totals were the preposterous margins of victory. He won his first Masters in 1997 by 12 strokes. His initial U.S. Open victory, in 2000, was by ridiculous 15 strokes, a modern record. Triumphs of this magnitude aren’t merely impressive, they’re downright scary.
Michael Jordan, perhaps the only other athlete who can compare to Woods, is renowned for last second heroics. He clinched championships by sinking game-winning baskets at the buzzer, which have been immortalized on ESPN. Had Jordan reached Tiger-like levels of dominance, the score at halftime of one of the Bulls’ championship-clinching final games would have been 90-35, and the announcers would have simply sat there, slack-jawed in amazement.
We all deal with the vicissitudes the universe slings at us, even champions. A few years ago, Woods divorced amid widespread rumors of infidelity. This is perhaps unfair. Read any sports biography written in the post-“Ball Four” era and you’ll discover that – surprise! – athletes have always been surrounded by young woman eager to share their charms, and many of them did indeed help themselves to the buffet table of earthly delights. This is not to defend cheating on your significant other, but simply to point out that players used to receive a hall pass from the media on behavior that today would set Twitter abuzz. Plus, not everyone stays married to the same person their entire life, no matter how sincere the wedding vows. Unlike most people, however, Woods’ breakup played out on the front pages of all the tabloids. This had to be a distraction as he tried to focus on winning golf tournaments.
In addition to relationship woes, Woods began to deal with injuries. In his last major win, the 2008 U.S. Open, he limped to victory at Torrey Pines, beating Rocco Mediate in a sudden-death playoff, and then missed the rest of the season after knee surgery.
Fast forward to 2014. Woods is now six seasons removed from that dramatic 2008 U.S. Open victory. He’s 38, not necessarily old for a professional golfer, but old-ish. He recently announced his withdrawal from the Masters due to back surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months or longer, putting his participation in the remaining 2014 major tournaments in jeopardy.
Like the rest of us mere mortals, his future is uncertain. Not that I expect he’s going to need to worry about where next month’s mortgage payment will come from. Even with the divorce, he remains stupendously well-off. And while 38 years old might be late-career for an athlete, it’s certainly young by any other measure. I don’t expect to shed any tears for him.
Life is funny. We get used to our situation, and then all declines are relative. I can still put in a good workout on the treadmill, but for some odd reason, I cover a half-mile less in the same amount of time than I did 10 years ago. I feel young, and it’s a bit disconcerting to realize that despite considerable effort to stay in shape, Father Time is catching up with me.
Tiger Woods became accustomed to fame, adulation, even awe. Maybe he will climb back to the pinnacle of the sports world. But for now, at least, he knows how the rest of us live.
Local indie author Ed Harris lives in Bellevue but was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey. He moved to Seattle in 1990, drawn by the over-priced coffee and beauty of the Northwest, which he observes on a daily basis from the climate-controlled comfort of his home and car. Although at age 56 he is currently bald, as a youth he sported a six-inch thick helmet shaped ‘fro, so thick and lush you could lose your hand in it, the memory of which still inspires him. You can read his blog, “Fizz-Ed” at: www.edharrisauthor.com
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