Monday, January 6, 2014

In Spite Of You: Why I Root For Tiger Woods

As published in The County Times ( in Apr 2011

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Spring.  It officially begins with the vernal equinox.  This celestial milestone aside, spring’s commencement is often defined more personally.  For those stricken with cabin fever, March is close enough; for others it’s April’s arrival (no fooling).  One of Southern Maryland’s first acts of spring is the opening of a certain Polynesian-themed roadside watering hole.  For me, it’s the world’s best golfers engaging an in-full-bloom Augusta National and chasing one of the coolest “trophies” in the world: the green jacket.  In other words, The Masters = spring.

Bandwidth has become a constraint in my relationship with sports.  As I’ve rocketed through my 30’s, life has expectedly piled on heightened responsibilities that have been an un-welcomed therapist for my sports-addiction.  But, I’ve adapted.  Life is now joyously different.  When it comes to following sports, I’m like a “Christmas and Easter Christian” now: I skim across the sports calendar immersing only in the biggest events.  The Masters is a sporting Christmas or Easter. 

And yet even with its “sacred” foothold, through three rounds my interest was dulled this year.  With all due respect to contenders like Rory McIlroy and eventual champ Charl Schwartzel, none of them had me juiced for Sunday at The Masters.  However, just when I was ready to abandon the tournament for domestic productivity (fancy term for chores), he got really hot on the front nine and surged into contention.  Entering the final round seven shots out of the lead, he was an afterthought.  In the blink of an eye though, the tournament was his for the taking and I was back on the couch for the duration of the afternoon, matching him fist pump for fist pump, rooting for another historical chapter in the career of The Legend Of The Links himself, Mr. Tiger Woods.     

But why?  Why do I still so passionately root for Tiger Woods?  There’s so little to like.  The man took infidelity to rock star levels, barely tolerates fans and is rude to the media.  He does not enjoy the company of many of his peers, nor do many enjoy his.  On the course his language could make a sailor cringe and his mannerisms simulate toddler behavior.  And perhaps most significantly, there are simply better golfers right now.  

So why do I still care so much about this guy?  Is it because, as an African American, he’s still a golfing revolutionary that stands for greater diversity and continued advancement in sports and society?  That’s part of it, but golf, while not a sport with significant African American representation at the professional level, is very diverse.  Throw the names of 50 random golfers in a hat and draw one and you could literally get a name from any continent, save for the big frozen one.  Are my reasons selfish?  In my lifetime I’ve seen the greatest players in tennis (Roger Federer), hockey (Wayne Gretzky), football (Jerry Rice) and basketball (Michael Jordan).  It would be sweet to see Woods break Jack Nicklaus’ record for majors and claim golf’s thrown.  So yes, selfishness is a slither of my Tiger worship…but that’s not “it”. 

Woods still matters because of his competitive drive.  Even in his diminished state, he’d step on or over anyone to win.  He competes like only one other athlete I’ve seen: Jordan.  Ironically, this shared trait yielded similar professional successes and personal flaws.  Still, Woods’ stubborn, fighting spirit – unchanged by his success and fortune - is a glimpse of what created and forged America and what will sustain her in a complex future.  Keeping score has become something of a societal taboo and often everyone walks away with a trophy.  That’s okay in certain situations, but it’s still exhilarating to see someone refusing to rest on their laurels, demanding the best from themselves and obsessively chasing victory.  Woods plays every tournament like it’s his first and last, as if he’s proven nothing and has one shot to succeed.  I appreciate and respect him for that.  That, more than anything else, is why he still matters and why I still root for Tiger Woods the golfer, in spite of Tiger Woods the man.  

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