I never thought I would say these words, “I was actually happy to see Tiger win.” That’s what I told my Dad this morning on the phone, he responded with “Well the number two player in the world wasn’t there to beat him.” You see my dad will never admit this fact, but golf needs to have a dominant Tiger Woods. For so long he was the reason people made sure to tune in on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. For so long he was the reason why people booked a weekend trip at a golf course, but not to play, just to watch the greatest player in the sport since Jack Nicklaus, which is what my family did 11 years ago. What happened that day will be the reason why I will be the only one in my family that roots for Tiger Woods.
I come from a family that cares about golf on a ridiculous level. Both my brother and I have played golf for most of our lives. If Masters Sunday happens to fall on Easter, we would move the kitchen table out to the living room just to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Father’s day consists of being glued to the television and not moving for six hours because the U.S Open is on. My dad finally bought a television for the kitchen so we didn’t have to eat in the living room anymore. I’ve set alarms at 6am just to watch my favorite tournament, the British Open. The second time ever that my girlfriend came down to visit my family; we all sat glued to the television watching Dustin Johnson get screwed over at the PGA Championship (how she doesn’t think I’m crazy by now I’ll never know). I grew up dreaming of becoming a professional golfer, a dream that has been put on the backburner for now. My brother shares the same dream, but his odds of achieving the lofty goal are way better than mine (he’s hovering around a scratch handicap at the tender age of 16).
Every time that Tiger was in contention we rooted against him, my Dad always said it was because he didn’t want to see Jack’s record broken, my Mom said it was because she was tired of all the focus being on him, but the real reason stems from that family trip that we took 11 years ago to go see Tiger play.
Over a decade ago we traveled up to Westchester Country Club for the then Buick Classic. I brought along a Nike hat hoping to get autographs just like any other 12 year old does when they go to a sporting event. We went up for the pro am on Wednesday and I remember it like it was yesterday. Woods was playing with Rudi Gulliani’s son, who holed out for an eagle from around 160 yards out on the first hole. I remember my dad telling me that we have to get in front of the crowd to get a chance for an autograph, so we walked ahead of his group and cut through the massive gallery that was following him. We found a spot right behind the third hole, which ended up being the perfect spot because there was only like 10 people standing around. After Tiger’s group finished up on the green he walked off and was coming up right to us, I remember thinking to myself he’s a giant! My dad said to him (and yes I remember this verbatim), “Tiger we drove five hours just so my son could have your autograph, you’re his favorite player.” His response was, “I can’t sign for it here, I’ll sign it after the ninth hole.” No big deal, we’ll just walk around see some more players and go wait for Tiger after he finishes up.
We walked around the front nine and in the process grabbed about eight autographs (Vijay Singh, David Duval, and Sergio Garcia were the highlights). Eventually we made our spot to the ninth hole and awaited the arrival of Tiger, but we quickly discovered that he must have told everyone on the course that he would sign an autograph for them after he finished up on nine because there were easily one thousand people waiting with a hat, flag, ball, or their baby’s head for Tiger to sign.
He finished up on the ninth hole, signed about 10 autographs and then made his way to the clubhouse. I’ll admit it, I almost cried, I was that close to my hero and had nothing to show for it. My father and I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t sign for it after the 3rd hole. They wanted to keep on walking around, but I was too dejected to go anywhere. I sat next to the ninth hole for about 20 minutes watching a couple groups come up and at one point Robert Allenby almost clocked me with a wayward shot.
In an ironic side note I took a picture with Sergio Garcia, I was then subsequently pushed in a bush by a rush of about five people looking for an autograph, he reached in, pulled me out, dusted the dirt off of my shirt and asked, “Are you okay?” He went on to win the tournament that week and quickly became a favorite in the Dargis household, while Tiger was put into my parents’ doghouse forever.
We didn’t share the same appreciation of his dominance like the rest of the sports world did. I’ll never forget watching the playoff of the 08’ US Open with my dad. After Tiger pulled off what is to me one of the most physically challenging scenarios in the history of sports, my Dad just sat speechless not wanting to admit what he had just witnessed. “Damnit” was the first word that he muttered a half hour after the playoff had ended. He couldn’t admit that he was impressed by what Tiger did.
There was laughter shared between my parents and I when Tiger’s world came crashing down back on Thanksgiving night of ‘09. My Dad always said that Tiger surrounded himself around the wrong people (Jordan, Barkley) and wasn’t the least surprised at what happened. He was thrilled at Tiger’s absence on the tour because it left the door open for the new guys to step up and take over the tour, which is exactly what happened.
Fast forward to the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, I sat in my apartment watching Tiger dominate a course that was set up to play like a major championship on Sunday. He consistently struck the ball so pure that the wind actually seemed afraid to affect any of his shots. Even though we may never see Woods wield the putter the way he used to, there was a flash of vintage Tiger on the green of the front nine. For God sakes he led the tournament in total driving stats (driving accuracy+distance) and was a fainting child away from not hitting any terribly awful drives all week (on Saturday a woman shrieked after her child passed out right in the middle of Tiger’s backswing on the 15th hole, he hit the drive out of bounds 80 yards left of the fairway into someone’s front yard). He went at pins on Sunday that you just shouldn’t go at, even if you’re a touring professional, “he’s just feeling it,” said NBC’s on course reporter Roger Maltbie.
As the terminator like Tiger walked up to the 18th green this past Sunday he cracked a big smile and it appeared that golf might finally be saved yet again. It wasn’t Johnny Miller gushing in the booth that made me realize that, it was the overhead shot of the gallery as they were waiting to see Tiger tee off on the fifth hole. The group of people must have been fourteen deep, all just trying to get a glimpse of the most polarizing figure that the sport has ever had.
I told my father before the tournament started that this was the year that Tiger finally wins again at Augusta. “I hope not, golf doesn’t need him,” he responded. In terms of talent he is exactly right, the PGA Tour is chalk full of young up and coming golfers that are the product of the Tiger Woods era. “They aren’t scared of him anymore,” my Dad went on. Again he’s right, a couple of weeks ago at the Honda Classic Woods began his Sunday vault up the leader board and Rory Mcilroy didn’t fold. He converted two up and downs that made Jack Nicklaus say, “That was amazing.” Nicklaus was doing a guest appearance in the booth, something that he hates doing, you can just tell by his body language. Mcilroy went on to win the tournament by two strokes and became the second youngest player in history to be ranked number one in the world. The youngest player ever? You guessed it, Eldrick Woods.
Yes, my Dad is right the game of golf doesn’t need Tiger Woods, but the PGA Tour, ESPN, NBC, The Golf Channel, Sports Illustrated and every other possible outlet needs Tiger Woods and sadly that is more important because his revival will only skyrocket golf’s place in the sports media world, which will only help grow the game even more.
Specifically golf needs a Tiger Woods and Rory Mcilroy rivalry. Golf needs it to be the next Nicklaus and Palmer and as fans we need it because the answer to the question: Who is the best golfer ever? will finally be answered. I just can’t get over the fact that Woods is going to have to go through the golfing products of Tiger’s generation in order to beat the only record that he has ever given a shit about (Jack’s 18 majors).
If that day ever comes I know who my first phone call will be to and I know how that conversation will go, but I’ll be sitting there happy because in my eyes I will have just watched greatness take place. Maybe someday if I have a son I’ll understand why my parents still dislike Tiger so much, but for now I’m just going to enjoy the fact that golf appears to be once again headed for the front page instead of the back page.
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