By Virtue of Being Tiger


Convivium, 16 May 2019

More than winning another Major championship, Father Raymond de Souza writes, Tiger Woods needs to gain the reward of being redeemed as a truly virtuous man.

Golf’s PGA Championship – one of the four “majors” – has usually been played in August. This year it was shifted to May, and begins today. And with Tiger Woods winning the Masters last month, the sports world will be all-Tiger all-the-time for the next four days. It may well be that some executives at Nike had sacrificed their firstborn to the golf gods for such an outcome.

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote in Convivium that Tiger’s that championship career appeared over. Evidently it wasn’t, as his determined and admirable comeback from years of injuries to win the Masters demonstrated.

Tiger’s return to championship form though elicited a reaction that was disproportionate to the moment, impressive as it was. Breathing heavily over at the Toronto Sun, Jon McCarthy wrote, “Tiger’s victory on Sunday is the fulfillment of the greatest comeback in sports history by the greatest golfer to ever play.”

That’s a touch embarrassing for a professional sports reporter. Even those who don’t cover sports for a living know that the Boston Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, with its roots in the selling of Babe Ruth eighty-five years earlier, is the greatest comeback in sports. Perhaps in life, save for Lazarus and Richard Nixon.

Then there is the nonsense that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer ever. Perhaps the most exciting golfer, as that is rather subjective, and those prone to manipulation by one of the great marketing campaigns of history could easily be led to that conclusion.

But there is actually no doubt about the greatest golfer. It’s Jack Nicklaus. It’s not even close.

Woods has now, over 22 years, won 15 major championships. It is an astonishing achievement. But Jack? Over 24 years, he won 18 major championships, and finished second 19 times. Woods has six second-place finishes.

A combined 37 top-two finishes is unimaginable, except that Nicklaus did it. It is almost the equivalent of competing in majors for 10 straight years and never finishing worse than second. For 15 straight years, from 1966 to 1981, Nicklaus finished in the top five at the British Open, winning it three times. For 24 straight years, from 1960 to 1983, he made at least one top 10 finish in a major championship. In his most dominant decade, the 1970s, Nicklaus played in 40 majors and only finished out of the top 10 on five occasions.

So it caught my attention that such intense historic laudations were heaped upon Tiger, especially from people who are paid to know better. Partly it is the digital environment, in which knowing the history above is increasingly rare, as even journalists live only in the Twitter moment.

There was something else at play though, emphasized in all those teary shots of Tiger embracing his young son after walking off the 18th green. It was variously described as a moment of healing, perhaps, even redemption, after the appalling scandals in Tiger’s personal life were revealed after 2009. We learned then that he had more mistresses that Nicklaus had top five major finishes.

The sex scandals gave permission for journalists, previously swept up in the Nike juggernaut, to write openly about what was well known on the PGA Tour, namely that Tiger was not a good man. He was rude to fans, arrogant with his colleagues, cavalier about using profanity in front of children, stiffed waitresses on their tips.

Stories out of the Masters 2019 were rife with anecdotes about the chastened, perhaps converted man. He was not rude. He was polite. He smiled at fans. Arrogance had given way to an appreciative attitude. Each example of workaday decorum was reported as part of the new and improved Tiger. It was not just a comeback to winning, but a comeback to decent conduct.

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