Tiger Woods posted footage of a single swing on Sunday, a three-second clip, and golf came to a standstill. Your first and human response had to be relief. The February car crash that could have killed him didn’t.
In terms of broad interest to golf’s masses, it wasn’t even a fair fight. Woods’s mini-doc v. Jin Young Ko’s win in Florida? Or Collin Morikawa’s win in Dubai? Or even Rory McIlroy and his desecrated golf shirt? Woods wins, every which way to Sunday.
It was great to see, Woods healthy enough to make that swing, to create (presumably) that perfect-rectangle patch of divot.
The clip’s two-word headline — Making progress — was telling. Golf, as Woods plays it, starts on the range, just as it did for Jack Nicklaus, for Greg Norman, for Arnold Palmer, for Ben Hogan. The batter gets another pitch. The quarterback gets another snap. The golfer has just that one chance, the ball at his feet. As Woods has said many times, if you can’t do it on the range, you can’t do it in a tournament. Making progress. As a working title, there’s the ultimate golf movie.
When Charlie Woods played so well at the Father-Son event last December, Woods said he was not surprised. He had seen his son make all those swings and all those shots at home.
Making progress, Woods’s Sunday release, was a savvy piece of marketing. Tiger’s life, more than any person I can think of — with the possible exception of Michael Jackson — has unfolded in front of cameras. Those cameras have enriched him almost beyond measure and cost him, too. Regardless, he’s addicted to them.
Ko and Morikawa and McIlroy had no chance because Woods — aided by his late father, by Phil Knight, by his many sponsors, past and present — has been doing this for 30 years. The selling of Tiger Woods. All those wins, all those Buick spots, all those post-round interviews. Nobody’s going to catch up to him, ever.
The clip from the Medalist range prepares us for a press conference he’ll likely have next week in the Bahamas, at his tournament there, the Hero World Challenge. TMZ won’t get a press credential there. In other words, it’s a good and safe way for Woods to begin his return to public life, following the devastating single-vehicle car crash he had in February. He hasn’t said a word about it. He likely never will. What’s the upside?
In mid-February, he will likely be at his tournament, the Genesis Open, at Riviera, in Los Angeles. Another step back. How the crash happened, what was his mental state then, what is his mental state now — Woods will not be sharing any of that, and, of course, he’s under no obligation to. You can say that his interior life must be a minefield, but he’s the one who has to navigate it, while millions of people hang on his every public move.
It’s impossible not to feel for the man. He didn’t ask to go on The Mike Douglas Show.
In April, Woods will likely make a trip to Augusta, even if it’s only to get Hideki’s Japanese treats at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. Yet another step in his return to his public life. By then, he hopes, we will have all moved on.
Even if he wanted to take his cues from Greta Garbo and Ben Hogan, and turn his back from his adoring public, it would be almost impossible to do. He’s only 45. There are too many people depending on him.
Plus, playing golf is what he likes to do. It’s the thing he has done unlike anybody ever has. He used to say, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” He hasn’t said that in a long time, because, in a newer phrase for him, “Father Time is undefeated.” But if golf is the thing that you love, and the thing that you do well, and the thing that validates you, you can find new ways to challenge yourself.
You could try to become the first golfer to win the three senior majors — the U.S. Senior Open, the Senior British Open and the Senior PGA Championship — in a single year, for instance.
Imagine what Woods could do for the PGA Tour Champions, a tour that Arnold Palmer and friends essentially invented.
With the possible exception of Ben Crenshaw, I can’t think of another Hall of Fame golfer who has such a powerful affinity for golf history, who knows so much about what Arnold did and how he did it. Ditto for Jack Nicklaus, for Lee Trevino, for Ben Hogan, for Sam Snead.
Let’s say other competing tours, world tours that threaten the hegemony of the PGA Tour, actually materialize. Any such tour will need name players. The single-greatest weapon at Jay Monahan’s disposal, in terms of trying to squash these other tours, is Tiger Woods his own self, and Tiger’s sense of history.
Imagine that you’re Morikawa or Jordan Spieth or Bryson DeChambeau or even Phil Mickelson, and somebody is offering you a guaranteed $50 million to sign on the dotted line. And now you have Tiger Woods on the line and he’s talking to you about how Bob Goalby and Doug Ford and Jack Nicklaus created this modern PGA Tour in the first place, the tour that you grew up on, the tour that fueled your dreams.
Who are we to cut bait from all that?
Tiger knows that his 82 PGA Tour titles is a way greater accomplishment than Sam Snead’s. He must. But he would never say that publicly. He’s too loyal to golf, to the game that made him, in hard times and good ones, who he is.
He’s not walking away from any of that. If that three-second clip showed us anything, it showed us that.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com