By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published August 20, 2018, in the Western Mirror
Tiger Woods and Golf are mutually beneficial to each other. One gives the other peace of mind while the other brings the fans in droves.
The first time I saw Eldrick Tont Woods, better known as a Tiger Woods, was on a golf course via my telly in 1997. It was my first week back at school after the Easter Holidays, and by the middle of the week, something was not right with me. It turned out that after being at a church camp the week prior, I had contracted the dreaded Herpes Zoster virus, more popularly called, chickenpox. I swear on my life I never ate any chickens that week but somehow I came down with varicella. Seriously, I am just kidding about the chickens.
By the Friday of that week though, while quarantined to the living room of my parents’ house, 21-year-old Woods was creating a clangour in the professional golf world as he stormed to the top of the leaderboard at arguably golf’s most prestigious major, the Masters Tournament. Seeing Woods, the three-time defending US Amateur (1994-96) and three-time defending US Junior Amateur (1991-93) champion, at the top of the leaderboard elicited a weird but great feeling. For several years prior, through the then Johnnie Walker Golf Championship held in Jamaica, I had become a devout fan of golf. The players I had grown fond of seldom looked like me. Back then, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Fred Couples were the players I spent hours watching and emulating. With Woods, a black golfer at the top of the leaderboard that Friday, all that was about to change. A sense of unrelenting pride bubbled in my chest while I rubbed my bump covered black skin. I was watching history in the making. The world was watching history in the making. The world was watching the Tiger Woods show.
Two days later, I watched Woods win the 1997 Masters tournament by 12 strokes, a then-record for a major championship. Seeing Nick Faldo, the 1996 champion, robe Woods with the famous green jacket was a memorable moment I’ll never forget. Two months after his first major victory, Woods climbed to the pinnacle of the golf world as the number one golfer.
Since the 1997 Masters, with 13 additional major titles in his golf cabinet, no other golfer has dominated the golf field or captivated the average golf fan like Woods. Woods has spent a record total of 683 weeks at the top of the golf rankings since 1997. Besides, he spent another record 281 consecutive weeks of the 683 at number one. Between 2000-2009, Woods ruled golf and the golf world had a love affair with him. He was golf’s pied piper, and the massive galleries followed him in devotion.
Unfortunately, due to extramarital affairs, Woods image and dominance dwindled and with it so too did golf’s allure to the masses. During Woods reign as the king of golf, golf experience its highest ratings, its most massive crowds and its highest participation. Nonetheless, all that diminished with Woods decline both on and off the golf course.
For the last ten years, Woods has lost his wife to divorce, lost his dominant presence on the golf course and seemingly his glamour with the fans. With mounting health problems including his persistent back issues, Woods himself seemed a shell of the man and golfer he once was. Woods seemed lost.
Almost ten years after his professional and personal demise, Tiger seems to be slowly finding back his mojo. He has recorded six top-10 finishes this year in tournaments including coming within three shots of the title at both the 2018 British Open and PGA Championships. Woods second place finish and momentary climb to the top of the leaderboard at the 2018 PGA Championship a week ago, created another clangour like in 1997 at the Masters. Everyone tuned in.
The Nielsen company reports that the final round at this year’s PGA Championship saw a 73 per cent increase in viewership compared to that of the 2017 edition. The difference was clearly Woods. He is the difference maker to golf’s rise and allure to the public. Interestingly, the ratings reported was the highest the PGA Championship had seen since 2009 – the year Woods was last himself before his declined health, and the extramarital affairs were made public.
Without any doubt, the golf course is where Woods finds peace and feels most comfortable. It is where he has his best memories and connects with his mentor and dad who passed. When in good health, the long fairways and immaculate greens are his home, his solace. Simultaneously, the past ten years has proven that golf’s lifeline is intricately intertwined with Woods dominance and appeal. Golf has been almost comatose compared to other major sports despite the rise of several champions and young phenoms like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. In Woods, golf finds its ultimate hero, its rock star, its phoenix.
Several golf fans and officials are routing subconsciously for the old Woods to return, for him to rise from his ashes like a phoenix. When Woods plods the greens and fairways of the final round of a tournament on any given Sunday, golf is at its best. It can be argued that in this era, Golf is as much Tiger Woods as Tiger Woods is golf. One thing is for sure, they both need each other to find personal peace and global success. Whenever Woods is physically and mentally well and in contention, golf wins and Woods’ redemption and resurgence seem assured. Watch out, a roaring Woods at a major championship could be on your telly in the near futurity. Without a question, golf longs for it and Tiger needs it.
Until next time….
Zaheer E. Clarke is a sports columnist, freelance sportswriter and a multi-award-winning blogger. His last attempt at a golf swing saw the ball travel a massive two inches. Nonetheless, he harbours no doubt that he can beat Tiger Woods in a multimillion-dollar Match Play showdown.
This blog article was published in the Western Mirror on August 20, 2018.