Azaleas cried and dogwoods cheered. Was this really happening?
I just re-watched Tiger Woods’ celebration after winning the Masters on Sunday.
It was even better the second time.
I can’t stop seeing the images that flashed on my TV on Sunday. And it had nothing to do with the brilliant, tactical golf that Woods displayed, the clinic on how to win a major on a Sunday at the Masters.
It was that father and son hug. And then the father and daughter hug. And then the images from 1997, when the son was hugging his late father after winning that first Masters.
Tiger Woods winning the Masters turned into an episode of the Waltons, and it made me want to find my own daughter and give her a hug.
This was the best part about what happened on Sunday, amid all the celebration of a champion golfer’s return and the debate over which comeback was the best and the greatest golfer ever.
That’s trivial stuff, man.
Sign up for World-Herald daily sports updates
Get the headlines from Creighton, Nebraska, UNO, high schools and other area teams.
They say Tiger Woods moves the needle, and he also moves people. Arnold Palmer had his army, and Bobby Jones had two ticker tape parades in New York City. But it’s no stretch to say Woods might be the most popular golfer of any generation.
I’ve been on the outside of that conversation, but darned if he didn’t rope me in on Sunday.
I’ve not been a fan of Tiger Woods. I expect heroes to be flawed, and that can be a bonus for some. But Woods started out arrogant and corporate when he splashed onto the scene in 1997. Through 14 major wins, he had the personality of an assassin. He was golf’s Terminator.
The haters pounced when his flaws spilled out, and then when his health gave way and he became a sympathetic figure, a lot of folks were quick to dismiss him and his career.
There are two kinds of popular in sports. There are athletes who draw people in because of the way they treat people. They make time for them. You might get a glimpse of their home life, see them as sort of the Every Man. Think Phil Mickelson here.
Then there are the athletes who pull you in because of their excellence and the rush they give you watching them perform. People love greatness, and they love to be around winners. But these athletes prefer to be private and never let you see behind the curtain, never show their emotional, regular-guy side. That’s fine. That’s Tiger.
I’ve learned long ago not to paint sports celebrities with broad brushes. Certainly Woods has his friends he hangs out with. He’s taken time to make people’s lives better. He’s been that guy, but he doesn’t have to flash it.
But I’ve always been ambivalent toward Woods because of the Terminator. I never felt he was done. Experience is such a weapon in sports, particularly in golf, where you can play into your late 40’s or 50’s and equipment is a great equalizer to declining physical skills.
In fact, I picked him to win this Masters, which rewards experience more than any other tournament.
But on Sunday I saw a different Masters champion in red and black. In fact, I didn’t see a golfer. I saw a father who wanted to share the moment with his kids.
It was a father coming home from work, or a father greeting his kids after the school play or the soccer game. The idea that this happened in the same spot where Woods’ father, Earl, hugged him 22 years earlier was both eerie and sweet.
Tiger grew up doing everything with his father, worshiping him, and I’m sure he made the connection on Sunday as he hugged his own kids.
For me, this wasn’t about Woods targeting a record or history. This was a different sort of legacy. This was Tiger Woods, family man. I like that Tiger.
Now the focus will be back on the golf, and the chase to 19 majors. It’s certainly doable, but as Jack Nicklaus always said, he still has to do it.
It will make for a heck of a second act to his career. We’ve seen a more humble and more accessible-to-fans Tiger Woods in his 40’s, and maybe a little of that is age and maybe a lot of it is the experience of almost losing it all. Well, the golf. There’s more to it than that. And I think Tiger is figuring that out. Fatherhood does that to a guy.
Truth be told, Nicklaus has always been my hero, because he is the best combination I’ve seen of great athlete and great guy. David Feherty once asked Nicklaus how he wanted to be remembered, and Nicklaus didn’t mention golf. He said, “A good dad and a good guy.”
I wonder if Tiger Woods will ever feel like that.
I can’t say, but I do know that I will look at Woods a lot different now than before. And I will enjoy him more the second time around.