My parents, who moved to sunny Florida after living through almost 30 years of long and frigid Colorado winters, got tickets to a PGA tournament in Orlando one or two summers ago. While they weren’t that tuned in to the golf world, they were excited to get outside and watch the pros up close and personal.
“Is Tiger going to be playing?” I asked my mom in excitement of their opportunity to watch, in person, possibly the world’s greatest golfer and maybe even the best athlete of our time. To my amazement, he was scheduled to play in the tournament. I couldn’t believe my parents were going to be hanging out and watching Tiger tee off.
Now I can’t remember who won this particular PGA event or even what the name of it was but I clearly remember the conversation I had with my mom the day after she experienced the tournament.
“Did you see Tiger? What was he like? Is he amazing? I can’t believe you saw Tiger,” I said. My mom ended my questioning abruptly in our phone conversation.
“Tiger’s an ass,” she said right away. “He didn’t smile, he didn’t laugh, he didn’t make eye contact. He was just a dud. I don’t like him and the people that were around us didn’t like him either.”
I was kind of shocked. I even stuck up for Tiger. “Mom,” I said. “This is the world’s greatest golfer. He was probably really focused on his game and he was just locked up in his head. Give him a break. This is golf, you can’t just joke around all the time and expect to win.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “Tiger’s an ass.”
I shrugged off her comments. After all, this was coming from someone who is an expert in Dancing With the Stars and Dr. Oz and rarely knows the difference between a touchdown and a first down.
So here we are a couple of years later, after Tiger’s Thanksgiving run-in with a fire hydrant, fourteen or so sexual affair allegations (Is that the count? I can’t keep up.), a damaged marriage, and subsequent lost sponsorships, and I realize my mom’s first impression of Tiger Woods was spot on. Yes, Tiger is an ass and she knew it immediately. Hats off to you mom. Once again, I should have listened to you.
There are those who will argue that liking a professional athlete has nothing to do with the greatness of an athlete. Just because most of America doesn’t like Tiger, does it make him any less great? Well, if you’re just a stats person or lack a heartbeat, probably not. On paper, Tiger is the greatest golfer of all time (or will be soon). His image, on the other hand, remains in the form of a good golfer who is spoiled, stubborn and is someone who doesn’t care about anybody else except Tiger. He isn’t a likable character.
And I know there are those of you out there that say an athlete’s character doesn’t matter as long as they perform well. But doesn’t the real reason we like sports and athletes so much come from the story that surrounds them? For example, John Elway’s first Super Bowl win wouldn’t have been as sweet if he hadn’t lost three before that, right? It’s the story that makes moments in sports so special and being likable has a lot to do with it. Whether you believe that or not, it does.
With that in mind, how would Monday morning’s lead sports story have sounded if Tiger had won the Masters. “Tiger Woods, in his triumphant return to golf after battling bouts of sexual addiction, a torn marriage, and the inability to say ‘no’ to the mediocre Perkins waitress, has once again won the Masters. Woods is once again back on top of the golfing world.” Heartwarming story isn’t it? That would have been just great – make me puke.
Thank goodness, the right person won the Masters. Mickelson played the best and he deserved it. Mickelson in his career so far, has a story we can all relate to. He screws up on the course often and pays for his mistakes often. He is human. He makes eye contact. He smiles. He is likeable. Yet, he carries the hardship of his family’s struggle with cancer. I can’t tell you how glad I was Tiger didn’t win the Masters.
And of course, Tiger’s story isn’t over. He can still redeem himself in my eyes, and maybe even my mom’s eyes. He may be able to learn to relate to people. To be nice. To smile. Right now, though, he just remains the villain in a story that isn’t worth telling.