As a still-developing takesmith, I’ve obviously grown to admire Stephen A. Smith for the extreme temperature of his views and the strength of his convictions. So when I saw he’d given a First Take monologue on Tiger Woods and the state of golf fandom, I opened my ears and strapped in for the ride, ready to take some mental notes.
By the time I finished listening, I tried to untangle my freshly-blown mind enough to write a response. Here now is a line-by-line breakdown.
Stephen A. Smith: Ladies and gentleman, trust that I know this.
Dylan Dethier: Okay, Stephen A.! Gimme some truth!
SAS:Tiger Woods has won 79 official PGA Tour events. 14 majors. He’s 14-1 all time with a lead or share of the lead heading into the final round of a major.
SAS: At his height, he was the greatest golfer we’ve ever seen. his long game, his short game, and everything in between was just surreal. Again, I know this. And the fact that he was black in a sport that was never known for being too welcoming to folks with a darker hue only made Tiger Woods’ accomplishments that more riveting, that more mesmerizing. Bravo brother (clapping), hats off to you.
DD: YES! Transcendent player. Invaluable to the game. Couldn’t have put it better myself.
SAS: Having said that…
DD: Uh oh.
SAS: Can we say this: that was a long time ago? What’s all the fuss about now?
DD: Uhh…well, Stephen, remember all those things you said before? The guy with the wins and the surreal golf game and the unprecedented transcendent appeal? That guy’s back playing competitive golf! At a high level! That’s what all the fuss is about.
SAS: Tiger Woods just finished 12th in the Honda Classic event this weekend. That’s 8 strokes back from a sudden death playoff. He finished 8 over par in a three-hole stretch on the back 9 redesigned by Jack Nicklaus years ago.
DD: Yes, that’s true! And what a week it was for Tiger, in just his third official Tour start in the past year. I think what you’re saying is that were it not for that three-hole stretch, there’s a good chance Woods would have been right in the mix, possibly even in that playoff. As for the architectural history, well, sure, that’s a nice touch too.
SAS: In other words, he’s nowhere close to what he once was and may never return to his old form. So what am I missing here?
DD: Whoops! It turns out that you were making the exact opposite point than I expected. Respectfully, Stephen A., I think what you’re missing is that Tiger Woods was the world’s best player in 2013 and looks like he’s making a lot of progress in this latest comeback. I don’t think anyone is arguing that we’ll see him get back to the form he showed in, say, 2005. But he’s a heck of a lot closer than when he hobbled off the course a few years ago.
SAS: At some point the fact that Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major since capturing the U.S. Open in 2008 and that he hasn’t won at all since capturing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational 5 years ago in 2013 cannot be the storyline.
DD: Somewhere in here is a fair critique of the Tiger-reliant coverage plans of golf media…
SAS: And if that’s not going to be the storyline, why don’t we stop playing games and get down to saying why? It’s because Tiger Woods needs his mojo back. It’s because he can’t get it.
DD: Oh no, we’re going here? I don’t think Tiger needs his mojo back so much as he needs his back back. The guy has barely played in years! He’s four surgeries in, playing on a fused spine! I don’t think mojo has been at the top of TW’s list of issues of late.
SAS: And guess what? We’re all the reason why. What if we didn’t care, y’all? What if we’d wrapped our figurative shoulders around Tiger Woods and said ‘my man, we could give two cents about your personal life — just keep handling your business on the golf course?’
DD: I am not sure that wrapping our shoulders around Tiger and not giving two cents would have saved his back, nor his ACL, for that matter. Sure, it may have gotten his glutes firing a bit more easily… but this feels like a little bit too simple, doesn’t it?
SAS: Who knows what may have come of that? Instead we placed our moral compass on his shoulders.
DD: Picturing Tiger with Flava Flav-sized compass hanging from his neck, weighing him down…
SAS: The weight was so great he looked as if he was drugged when he held that ridiculous press conference years ago telling the world ‘I am so sorry.’ Last check, he didn’t cheat on us. None of us were his wife, his children, his family. Yet we moaned and moaned away.
Now look at us, desperate for Tiger to make golf interesting again for someone other than the avid golf fan, all because we wouldn’t mind our damn business. That’s what we get for messing up a great thing.
DD: Okay, by now Stephen A. has worked me into a mental pretzel and I’m not sure I can get out. Maybe it wasn’t Tiger that cheated on us… nor was it injury or age that set him back. Maybe it was us that betrayed him all along?
Given that Tiger Woods is playing his best golf since 2013, now seems like a particularly strange time to drop this sketchy take. He finished 12th, Stephen A.! He averaged 320 off the tee! He’s not all the way back, sure, but isn’t this a weird time to be writing his obituary?