At Tiger Woods’ tournament, he provides an inside look at his future

Tiger Woods spoke to the media on Wednesday at Riviera Country Club.

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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — He’s “Mr. Woods” now.

But that doesn’t mean he’s easing into retirement just yet.

Tiger Woods arrived at Riviera Country Club on Wednesday and faced questions for the first time since his December appearance at the PNC Championship. And while he didn’t have an answer for the biggest question on everyone’s mind — when he’s planning to play again — he revealed plenty else about his future in the process.

The “Mr. Woods” moniker came courtesy of Aaron Beverly, who sat to Woods’ right in the media center and is playing in this week’s Genesis Invitational as the recipient of the Charlie Sifford Exemption. Sifford, who Woods fondly refers to as “Grandpa Charlie,” was the first Black golfer to play on the PGA Tour. He would have turned 100 this year. Woods is 46. Beverly is 27.

Woods told Beverly about the notes Sifford used to leave in his locker. He also knocked him down a peg when he mentioned his dreams of a tournament-winning fist pump.

“To be sitting here next to Mr. Woods, and to be honest with everybody, he’s really cool,” Beverly said. “I had dreams of one day playing against him and competing against him and hopefully 72nd hole, I’m making the putt and I’m fist-pumping.”

“Let’s work on that 72nd hole,” Woods shot back. In other words: not so fast.

If Woods is not going to be a regular presence in PGA Tour fields — and he’ll only play occasionally, per his own admission — this is the version of Woods we’ll increasingly see. He’s a bridge to a previous generation of golf. His memory won’t be as celebrated as his iron game, but it will prove important in other ways.

“I named my son after Charlie, he meant that much to me and my family,” Woods said. “My dad would never have been able to play the game of golf, he would have never taken it up if Charlie hadn’t broken down the Caucasian clause. It’s very important for us to honor what he has done, has meant to this great game of golf.”

Given Woods’ obsessive practice schedule, it’s always been an open question how he’d spend that time when his competitive days came to a close. For the last several years that down time has largely meant rehab and physical therapy. Now? Add emails, meetings and dealing with Covid-related logistics to the list. Woods says he’s dived headfirst into his foundation work.

“A lot of emails on expansion of the foundation, work calls, one-on-one calls,” he said. “We still run TGR Live events. Those are things that I wasn’t allowed to spend as much time on and now I’ve got ample time to be more ardent about the whole process.”

He demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of the matter, too, admitting that because of Covid-related complications, the foundation is considering redefining its mission.

“Covid has thrown a big monkey wrench into what we do as a foundation. Being as an after-school program, it’s hard to find teachers. Teachers, especially teachers who are older, are unwilling to spend more time at school just because of a threat of getting Covid. So this is a very different world we live in and we’re trying to find the best way around it, so I’m doing a lot of thinking in that regard.”

That sentence alone is a reminder of how things have changed these last few years. In 2020, when Woods last played this tournament, he was ranked in the top 10 in the world. Two years later he’s thinking about after-school alternatives because of an ongoing global pandemic.

We got some clues as to Woods’ leisure activities, too.

“I read a lot,” he said, referencing favorite author Dean Koontz. “I still play video games, that hasn’t changed. But I don’t — I wish I could spend more time on the range digging out of the dirt, like I was saying earlier. But that’s not realistic at this point.”

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That gets us back to Woods’ health, which dictates his golfing ability, which still dictates everything else about his professional life. Woods has always favored privacy when it comes to injury timetables, and these days he’s quick to downplay his comeback chances.

He said he hasn’t made much progress on his full swing since the PNC. He said he’s still having trouble walking for extended periods of time. He said he doesn’t know when he’ll be back. But this is still uber-competitive Tiger Woods — when one reporter asked if he might be eyeing a comeback for the Masters Par-3 contest, he bristled at the suggestion.

“Well, I can walk that now,” he said. “I’m talking about playing golf. That’s a practice round, that’s a pro-am day, or if it’s a major, it’s a practice round day, it’s the rounds. It’s the competitive nature, how much that takes out of you mentally, physically, emotionally. I haven’t prepared for any of that. Going for a walk, I can do that. Am I going to be sore? Hell yeah, but I can do that.”

As always, you’d be wise not to doubt Woods’ comeback chances, even if his self-reporting is hardly optimistic.

Woods seemed most locked in on Wednesday when asked what advice he’d give to Beverly — or any aspiring player. He bounced from hard-working golfer to foundation head to school-age father to golf mentor back to hard-working golfer, all in one answer:

“Just enjoy working, enjoy putting the time in,” he said. “If you want to get better, just like what we provide with our foundation and our STEM programs, school’s tough, school’s boring at times, but you find subjects you like and it’s amazing how much your attention span goes up, how much you’re willing to put more effort into it.

“It’s the same for golf. Finding that passion for practice to prepare to get yourself ready for an event, enjoying the process of it, it makes things so much better. That would be the one thing that I would encourage Aaron and others to just enjoy: that practice of going out there and finding it. As I keep saying, dig it out of the dirt, go out there and earn it on your own. No one’s going to give it to you, you’ve got to go earn it. That earning it, that’s part of the fun. That’s part of the joy of going out there and hitting 500 to 1,000 balls a day and finding it out there because that’s when you start to understand you own it, you own your game, not anyone else’s game. You know what you can and cannot do and that’s what has allowed me to win tournaments.”

All press conference, Woods mixed the past with present tense. That felt appropriate. There are hundreds of tournaments in his rearview. He says there are some ahead, too.

“Will I come back? Yes,” he said.

It sounded simple, when he said it like that.

dylan dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.