It’s been a week since Tiger Woods shocked the world and won his 5th Masters title. For those non-golf fans out there, don’t tell me you didn’t already know. It was everywhere on social media, on the news, even in articles about Notre Dame (I know, right?). Well, Tiger Woods is larger than life, isn’t he? His problems, his foibles, his innate humanness, they were also larger than life in the intervening 10 years since he crashed his car into a hydrant. Such is the curse of being really good at what you do, and at having what you do be in the spotlight.
But hindsight is 20/20, dreams hardly ever come true, the Easter Bunny isn’t real… All things you should know by now. Part of that obvious list used to be that Tiger Woods would win more majors. It was in his DNA, after all, having captured his first on that selfsame august course he was playing this time last week (pretty damn early too). When 13 others followed in quick succession (can you believe the 1st 14 came in only an 11 year period?) it was easy to think they would keep rolling in.
However, golf is a fickle sport, and man is a giddy thing. Could I have ever imagined, watching him hobble off after his 2008 U.S. Open win, that it would be 11 years until I saw him hoist a major trophy again? Could I have ever processed the idea and gave it any kind of credence? Of course not. It was Tiger Woods. It was the man who was more like a cyborg than a human being. Which is where I was mistaken. He worked hard to maintain his facade. He had feelings just like everyone else. I had no idea.
So, when everything came crashing down in his personal life, I was stunned. Since then not much has stunned me in this world. Maybe my own ideas have shifted significantly because of those revelations (hindsight being 20/20 and all that), or perhaps it’s just that I’ve grown and changed a lot since then. Whatever it was, I still thought, come the 2010 Masters, Tiger Woods would don the cape and mask and take home his 5th green jacket (this was before I realized he only has one).
It didn’t happen. Until it did. Nine years later. Four back surgeries later. Against all odds (except how about that guy who won $1.19 million on the outcome?) he brought the LL lyric to life: “Don’t call it a comeback. I been here for years.” Funny how the man who was seen as indestructible, the golfer who was more machine than man, was laid low by human frailty, both mental and physical. So, when he hoisted that trophy last Sunday, the narrative was about redemption.
But is this a redemption story? Is this a chance to re-write the narrative on Tiger Woods? Or is it really just a way to pretend we have short memories, to show that we never judged him for the things so many of us have done? Is this really simply the story of a man who went through shit, and who came out the other side with his game intact? It just took a long time to recover. He’s older. He’s wiser. But is he redeemed?
That, of course, speaks to how we judge in the first place. “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” ~John 8:7. What he does is between him and the people in his circle, between him and the people who he has wronged. We don’t know everything that goes on behind closed doors, nor should we. Celebrity increasingly has no filter between personal and professional, and society just HAS TO KNOW. But Woods owes us nothing. In order for him to be redeemed it is truly an act of forgiveness by those who he has wronged. It’s not for us to say, and certainly not for his golf game to say.
So this isn’t a story of redemption. It’s a story of coming home, of understanding the limitations of body, and age, and crafting a game to take advantage of his mind more so than ever. This was Tiger Woods coming to grips with reality and bending it to his will, slowly, but surely. It was 11 years in the crafting, and it came with a lot of internal and external pain, but it came to fruition after all.
I’m happy for him. Perhaps because I never judged him in the first place. It’s not my place to judge him or anyone else for that matter. “Only god can judge me” ~Tupac Shakur. I think of the hypocrites on the course last Sunday, following Tiger Woods like he was the messiah, dying to be a part of a history they firmly didn’t want to happen 9 years ago when they gave him the silent treatment as he walked this selfsame august course. They patted themselves on the back because they “forgave him,” but it was never their place.
Redemption? Only Tiger Woods knows. Which is how it should be.