And perhaps Woods had a feeling his destiny would change this year, as he tweeted “Happy Year of the Tiger” in January.
No one but Tiger could have imagined that just 14 months after his accident, the Hall of Fame golfer would be out of his wheelchair and competing in golf’s most prestigious tournament.
Sometimes winning isn’t about trophies. It’s about refusing to give in to adversity. Refuse to give in to hopelessness.
Winning is like Tiger Woods, battered but far from broken.
Personally, I feel connected to Tiger’s journey back. As a child, a car accident left me bedridden and unable to walk for over a year. The doctors told my mother that she might never walk again, but she was determined to prove them wrong. It was not easy. I leaned on my childlike faith, believing that God would make me strong again. And I went through rehab, and hurtful teasing from neighborhood kids.
Unlike Tiger, my dreams were small: learn to walk again, make the track team, become a cheerleader. I did all three. Since then, anyone who has tried to limit my dreams has a sidelong eye. Woods’ miraculous return reminds me of the lesson I learned early on: no one has power over me unless I allow it.
Still, as we’ve seen many times, even when Woods isn’t winning, he elevates the game and everything around it, as evidenced by the huge crowds and intense media buzz in Augusta, Georgia.
They call it the “Tiger Effect”. And he has forever changed the way we view the game of golf.
On top of all the victories, Woods became a cultural icon, one of Madison Avenue’s best salesmen, and in the process, transformed his sport.
Tiger made golf great for the younger generation. And around the world, young and not-so-young would-be tigers began to emerge, especially among black and brown players. Everyone, men, women and children dreamed of playing as Tiger.
Tony Finau, of Tongan and Somoan descent, also played.
In golf, there is Before the Tiger and After the Tiger.
Before Tiger, most sports fans and sports reporters argued over whether golf was a real sport. Most agreed that it was not.
Most golf courses were stretched thousands of feet to try and level the playing field: Woods and his power play had made old course designs too easy. Golf became a game created for young and strong players in the best conditions. And any pro golfer who couldn’t keep up with Tiger’s tests would quickly be out of contention.
Woods made golf a spectator sport, and now when he plays, television ratings rise. He is the reason the media began to compete for broadcast rights to major league golf and advertisers clamored for his involvement.
Nike and other brands have amassed a fortune designing updated golf clubs and other products for the game, including more modern golf wear with tiger-red shirts and pleated black pants for golfers. (Nike even had a rule that no other golfer could wear Tiger colors on game day.)
But not everyone has enjoyed Tiger’s rise. Beneath all the accolades and big bucks, there have always been complaints, mostly from old-school golfers and fans who resented all the changes and fanfare.
Watching Woods now, it’s bittersweet for fans like me to acknowledge that some of his greatest contributions to the game (power and athleticism) now make it nearly impossible for him to dominate like he once did.
Thanks to Tiger, today’s game is all about power and distance. He rewards the youngest, strongest and fittest athletes. And at 46 years old, young by any measure except professional sports, it’s unreasonable to expect Woods to bully and dominate.
His legacy has brought other formidable power players to the game, such as 23-year-old Joaquin Niemann from Chile. And now it’s Niemann and younger players like him who are breaking balls and winning championships.
In the end, Tiger Woods’ legacy will be bigger than green jackets and golf trophies. For me it will be a story of resilience, dedication and courage to fight for your dreams.