The fact that Tiger Woods remains the talking point of a game from which he has now been so long separated from is somewhat disappointing. Admittedly, it is indicative of how important he was---and remains---to the survival of the storied Scottish pastime. No one can deny that he came to utterly redefine a sport through one of the most dominant stretches of athletic accomplishment seen to date. In fact, it cannot be stressed enough how much the game owes to him. And to that, I will tip my hat. With that said, though, it is time to let Tiger go.
Few people outside of golf culture realize that before Tiger came Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Sam Sneade, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Sir Nick Faldo and countless other players who were the leading figures of sport during their respective generations. Fewer people realize that Tiger has spent the entirety of his career chasing the records of these former giants in vain. And again, even fewer are willing to acknowledge that as Tiger has become a mere shadow of the competitor he formerly was, he likely will not conclude his career as the greatest golfer of all time.
However, these facts continue to remain moot points. For golf fans, Tiger is as intriguing now as he was twenty years ago, despite the fact that it has been nearly two full seasons since his last professional victory. It is not without justification that Tiger continues to capture the public’s attention, though, and the reasons for his prominence go far beyond the fairways and greens.
Eldrick “Tiger” Woods first came into the national spotlight while he was at Stanford, where he captured three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles, dominated NCAA play, and put on a good showing in several professional events as an amateur, including winning the Silver Medal at the Open Championship for having the low aggregate amateur score. He would turn professional in 1996, capturing his first major victory at the Masters the following year and beginning one of the most impressive stretches of golf seen during the modern era.
The next six seasons solidified Woods as the king of his trade. He broke previously set records, established his own, brought home an exceptional amount of trophies, earned accolades as one of the most respected athletes across all sports, and created a legacy second to none. For the rising star, it could not have happened at a better time.
Tiger’s prowess rose almost in unison with the technology and consumer booms that were brought on by the popularization of television and the internet. The turn of the twentieth century saw the creation of the information generation, indirectly inducing celebrity surveillance as a right to the public (something that ultimately led to Wood’s demise). This was also the time that ESPN truly began to solidify itself as the “worldwide leader in sports,” and so a unique storm of opportunities led to the creation of a legend that might stand only to be surpassed by itself (if Woods somehow makes a miraculous comeback from his currently atrocious play).
During this period, a sponsorship with Nike ensured that Tiger was prominent across all medias; ESPN broke the wunderkind out of country club circles and introduced him to all fans of sport; the internet gave immediate access to everything that Woods was doing both on and off the course; and most importantly, Tiger fit a lifetime of Hall-of-Fame-worthy golf into an impressively short window of time when this was all happening, justifying the unprecedented amount of attention that he received.
For better or for worse, though, the reign of golf’s fiercest competitor has passed. Fittingly, ESPN sent out a tweet this Thursday commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of Tiger becoming the youngest golfer in history to complete the career Grand Slam. Yes, fifteen. In the time since, Tiger has been injured multiple times, gone through a nasty divorce, been to rehab for both physical and mental troubles, seen several new swing coaches, stepped away from the game entirely, returned to excite the crowds only to follow-up with more injuries, had more off the course issues, and finally begun to play the worst professional golf of his career.
Admittedly, I’m not willing to concede entirely. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tiger came back to win a few more tournaments before he turns the dreaded fifty and moves along to the Champions Tour, but I must stress the phrase a few. Woods recently stated that he has no intentions of retiring any time soon, so I fully expect that he will do everything in his power to return his game to perfection; however, seeing that he has had to entirely reconfigure his game to accommodate an ailing back, a key component to the golf swing, I hardly expect the man to return to where he was once, despite the relentless coverage that he receives for doing things like posting his worst ever score in British Open play.
I do get it: Tiger is great for the game. He was unbelievably exciting to watch during his prime, so it makes sense that fans get butterflies when he shows glimpses of who he once was. But as I previously mentioned, our favorite red-caped athlete may have been the king of this generation, but there came legends before him, and more will come after. They very well might be on the greens right now.
The current rise of Jordan Spieth gives promise that the most exciting golf of the modern era might be yet to come. Tiger most definitely left an impression on the generation succeeding him. He made golf cool. As Nike so beautifully highlighted, the rising stars of today are growing up to play alongside their idol (see video below). Now they are hungry to chase him, and to even one day surpass him.
There is a tremendous amount of good golf being played right now, and it appears that the records which were so long unbeaten before Woods overcame them might only be in the hands of their captor for a short period of time. In fact, there is a potential rivalry brooding that just might surpass all rivalries before it. The past saw some amazing competition: Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus fought a tremendous battle, Phil and Tiger captured the hearts of households across the country, and other duels have raged on between top golfers in the past. Now it appears we have a new pairing to add to this list, one that may top it when all is said and done.
As the unbelievably talented Jordan Spieth continues his dramatic rise to superstardom via major wins and countless top-10 finishes, prompting talk that he will be the one to surpass all others, it is impossible not to get excited about the return of Rory Mcilory from his recent foot injury. Inarguably the two greatest golfers on the planet right now, it is almost scary to think what the pair might do in upcoming years, especially when pitted against each other in the heat of competition. Add to the mix athletes like Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott, who seem to contend in nearly every tournament they enter, and then mix in fan favorites/outstanding personalities like Jason Dufner and Bubba Watson, and the possibilities are endless.
I am not saying that golf must entirely do away with Tiger Woods. It simply cannot. It is time, however, to let him trickle into the background. As highlighted by the Nike commercial, the torch has been passed along. If Tiger wants to compete, so be it. If he retires, stick him into the commentator’s booth. But let’s finally acknowledge that we must move on.
Now is the perfect time to re-reinvent the sport, to get it away from a fallen hero and into the hands of promise. With golf returning to the Olympics for the first time in over one hundred years, it seems inevitable that the game is about to be transformed. And who better to lead that transformation than a charming baby-faced Irishman and his impossible-not-to-like, all-American-boy rival? Together they can carry the game into places that not even a completely healthy, non-decrepit Tiger ever could.
The time is now. Out with the old, in with the new. Much to the chagrin of loyal old-timers, but much to the pleasure of at least one writer, it seems that the first steps are finally being taken toward this movement. For the first time in sixteen years, EA Sports’ golf video game will no longer be sold under the name Tiger Woods PGA Tour [Insert Date]. Instead, gamers were surprised this year to see the name Rory Mcilroy in place of Woods, making him only the second professional golfer ever to have his name given to a video game.
The face of golf is finally shifting, and it could not be coming at a better time. Woods laid the foundation for the sport to become something greater than it ever has been, and it is now up to those who he once inspired to build upon his legacy and leave their own mark on the world’s greatest game. The end of Tiger does not have to, and ultimately should not, mean the end of golf. With so many rising stars, the future of the sport looks more promising than ever.
The time is now. Golf is ready. All we must do is go along for the drive.
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