Ryder Cup preview – One man is the talk of the golf world …. Again!
The final event of the year just got so much more interesting! People are checking their clocks and planning to watch golf this weekend from France. Instead of wings and beer with our tv sports this weekend, it is now wine, cheese, and French bread on the menu. I am hearing the theme from the Pink Panther all of a sudden.
Here we are on the verge of another Ryder Cup and Golf couldn’t be in a better place.
After going into the doldrums for a bit, attendance at events is up, viewership is up, and the money is bigger than ever. You would think Tiger was back! Wait, he is back and the golf world is on fire again.
But wait a minute after his fall from grace 5 years ago and his broken body, we were sure we would never see him again. (maybe he would try out for baseball? But golf … to quote the Raven “nevermore”.)
After a couple of poor showings at several golf events, major back surgery was performed. Fusion? We thought no way not the same guy, he’s done.
Golf went back to the drawing board after Tiger’s fall. Many tried to take his place and gave avid watchers something to cheer for, Phil tried to carry the torch but disappoints too much, the young guns came along year after year, different ones gave us moments of brilliance and mastery that only ended up reminding us how great Tiger was… Rory, Jordan Speith, Justin who? They took the mantle with unbelievable play at the highest levels but it only made us hungry for perfection… for lasting dominance… for Tiger! How could he fall so far? How could he let us down like he did?
We watched Norman’s collapses before there was Tiger, we watched Jack become the greatest who ever played with all the majors and the memorable masters in 86 at 46. We saw in the background a young kid on the Mike Douglas show impress Bob Hope with his hitting a golf ball perfectly at the age of 3. We watched him in spurts put away big tournaments as a junior and then as a US Amateur. The boy was emerging as a machine and his 15th club in his bag was a fierce determination
that intimidated his opponents into submission. He appealed to all races and walks of life as we watched him grow up honing his craft. His growing fan base became another tool as his country club trained opponents were bewildered at playing in the same group with him with thousands following their every move. We didn’t realize until he turned pro and emerged as arguably the greatest golfer who ever lived (no disrespect Jack- you’re still the greatest for the time being). All his majors and dominance in his chosen sport made him a hero to millions, the athlete earning the most money ever, the cover of every magazine, all the majors and records he broke, well you know his story.
My dad called while watching Tiger and the crowds swarming him as he walked the 18th to victory this week. “Those people can’t all be golfers can they?” he asked. No dad. In your day probably only golfers watched golf tournaments and certainly many who went to tournaments were. Arny attracted non golfer fans called his Army and many after helped popularize the game but it was still
considered a privileged person’s game. Non golfers napped while their Dads had golf on tv. Young people wouldn’t be caught dead watching golf on tv, Old Man’s game! But then came Tiger. None before him had the effect this one phenom had. In his day. He brought massive crowds, he appealed to young and old, black or white, privileged and non-privileged. AND He made golf COOL! Kids were watching golf with their Dads now. They practiced their fist pumps, and the staredown! They bought Nike red shirts for Sundays. He brought new generations to the game.
The fall from grace came fast and hard. We were shocked at the golf club and fight with the trophy wife in the street, the sordid stories of waffle house waitresses, the sponsors dropping their most perfect endorsee after he was exposed as not perfect. His golf game deteriorated and who could forget the mug shots from the incident in Jupiter where they usually protect their own.
It was hard, people who adored him and would have endorsed him to run the U.N. now abandoned him and even hated him. He was no longer looked up to but became a warning of how you can throw it all away if you are not careful. And golf suffered, sports suffered. Dammit we need heroes!
Ben Hogan was the epitome of the comeback sports figure. Not well liked, and unapproachable. He was a machine on the golf course. His precision was so honed in they called him the Hawk. And then poof he was in a major car crash and it was over in an instant. Then he worked and worked and not only could walk again but played golf better than ever and won majors after the comeback.
According to Paul Hayward at The Telegraph, “Ben Hogan comeback after car crash to win 1950 US Open puts today’s heroes in their place. Nowadays we call people heroes for nipping home to hear their daughter’s eighth-grade graduation speech in the middle of US Open week.
It shows up the silliness of our obsession with “heroism” and people overcoming difficulties to win big prizes in sport. Nobody could call a Paralympian a drama queen, of course, but beyond a core of generally inspiring stories we are always saying someone is a hero because they used to drink too much or had a difficult relationship with their father.
The relevance of all this to Merion’s US Open is that 63 years ago Ben Hogan pretty much crawled out of a mangled car to win America’s national championship with a swing from the Gods that survived a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus on a Texas road one foggy night in 1949.
Hogan’s one-iron approach shot at the 72nd hole at Merion to earn a play-off gave rise to one of the most beautiful photographs in golf.” (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/golf/usopen/10119521/Ben-Hogan-comeback-after-car-crash-to-win-1950-US-
His comeback – after all that, to me, was the greatest one in sports ever.
But this year another one was emerging. Understanding how fleeting the top of the mountain is, think David Duval, as good as Tiger until he mysteriously lost the
ability to hit a driver anywhere he was aiming, gone for years … and then some years later out of nowhere was in contention to win a U.S. Open – all eyes were on him but he fell short at the last and now we forget that moment. Ian Baker Finch wins the British open and it seems like only weeks later he couldn’t break 90 … Who could forget Tom Watson nearly winning the British Open at the age of 60. I
believe the world watched and wept when he couldn’t finish the job. We needed him, we needed a Hero at that moment!!
This emotional connection, the going along for the ride with our heroes drives us to watch these stories and become invested in their journey. We want our heroes who have lost their skill to make magic again don’t we? We watch and we feel it with them one more time…. But these stories are mostly about skills eroding and age and car crashes. With Tiger we have a different story. We have a kid we watched grow up master a game and transcend politics to become loved the world over. A mythical creature I called him. Wherever you go the name Tiger was recognizable no matter what language you spoke. He was larger than life. And his fall hit us hard. He was human we found out, with just as many self-destructive tendencies as all of us. A story not new, but Tiger, he had it all. We wanted to be him. He screwed us all by screwing it up. And then to make matters worse his body failed him. A broken man, not the cute kid anymore, he needed several surgeries just to be able to sit properly and walk properly due to the abuse his body took from a magical swing, powerful swing that was like no other! And we accepted that he would never catch Jack’s records (Jack was still safe). We even started to forget him.
But Tiger worked and worked and slowly started to rebuild his swing and a funny thing happened. He became more human, more approachable, outgoing and warm to the public and the sportscasters, joking as he walked the fairways playing horrible golf with the dominant youths of today who wondered what was so intimidating about him when they were kids watching and wishing they could be like him. His peers were embracing him now and wanted him to be great again (maybe not too great just yet), (real competitors always want to play the best), they need Tiger to be his best.
When Tiger was at his best he was like a God; he was steely eyed like the Hawk and an individual first and foremost. He played in Ryder Cups and drew crowds but he was no leader, just the dominant player in the world, and got all the press and the pressure to win. He may have been a distraction even. But the Ryder Cup is a team sport and controversy has always surrounded who the leader of the team was and how he could inspire the team to do great things. That was not the role Tiger did much good with in the past.
But this is 2018 and the most unlikely sports story to emerge since Hogan is our very own Tiger Woods. He made a run at the PGA finishing 2nd, 6th in the British, and broke through with a most unlikely win at the Tour Championship this week! Unlikely as hell, his name wasn’t mentioned to win this event at the beginning of the year, nor any event, but certainly not this one. He wouldn’t make it to the Tour championship and the elite field of the 30 best golfers of the year would he? A chance to win the Fedex cup: 10 million, absurd to even utter that ridiculous concept! He went all the way to the last hole at the Tour Championship, but Justin Rose was strong enough to make one shot, winning this Fedex 10 million prize. He nevertheless won the Tour Championship, unlikely as it sounds, and dominated the event, like years ago, led by 5 strokes at one point. But he actually had a chance to win the whole Fedex Cup if not for Justin Rose’s great shot on the 18th hole to secure the 10 million prize that Tiger has won 2 times before.
This was a huge story transcending sports, made all the news stations, and the internet blew up with it. Was it possible? He’s back?
“Tiger has done what many of us thought he would never do again. So, what’s
“It’s clear Woods still has more backbone than any other player in golf. Suddenly the ascent up Mt. Nicklaus has begun again, though up next is Snead and his record 82 wins.”
While that story unfolded many a grown man wept as Tiger walked up the 18th fairway with a win for sure, as thousands falling in behind him screamed and cheered and rushed to be near him chanting his name. Tiger! Tiger! USA USA…What a sight this was on television. Steven Spielberg were you watching? I have one friend who even watched it on tape the next day just to relive the moment (while opening a new box of Kleenex)!
Who couldn’t help feeling like the people on that golf course witnessing history. I remember the scene on TV of Arnold Palmer and later of Tom Watson in their prime, when they won British Opens, being traditionally surrounded by the fans as
they walked up the final fairway with the win locked up. Unreal visuals of heroes at work and being adored by the fans. These were the heroes of their day and the fans loved them. But they didn’t fall from grace and disappear with scorn from fans and reemerge after hitting bottom and working like a dog to earn their respect once again and maybe to come back better people and possibly stronger than ever. Isn’t that what we can identify with? When life throws us those curves we hope we can pick ourselves up, overcome adversity, and emerge stronger, wiser, better people. And that leads me to this year’s Ryder cup.
Every four year this event is golf’s answer to the World Cup. Two teams going to battle to win the cup. Raucous fans. No individual winner, you play for your team and country. And oh by the way the fans can yell and scream and chant USA USA etc etc. It is golf bringing it to the people. No shush up, stand still. Big moments abound. Some rise to the occasion; others wilt under the pressure. Pundits analyze it to death. Did the Captains pick the right guys, did they choose the right shirts, do the wives like each other, will there be an official beret?
This year no story was out front for me. I could suggest that it’s in France so why not have a bunch of Coneheads running around to liven it up. Conehead
announcers. “We are from France we are from France”. French fries for everyone walking the course?
But was there a story we could get behind? Was there a leader amongst all the young guns who go against each other week after week in this “me” millionaire whether I win or not generation. Could someone single handedly bring more viewers to this event? Has anyone been humbled enough to appeal to us now?
As Geoff Shackelford points out via Paulsen at Sports Media Watch, “Woods’ effect on the Quicken Loans National’s final round ratings was a 92 percent
increase over last year and a 28 percent increase over 2016. Not only that, but the third round also saw a huge increase and was up 143 percent. […] “The Tiger Effect” has consistently boosted PGA Tour ratings all season. Woods has played 20 rounds on broadcast television this season and all-but-one has posted an increase in ratings and viewership. The lone exception was the final round of the Memorial, which aired mostly on tape-delay.”
I submit the story will be Tiger Woods. The new Tiger Woods. Beloved by his peers now (did you see them all line up to congratulate him on his comeback win?) Instead of fear he is embraced wholeheartedly by his competition, and the talk of fans of all sports again, winning again, but joking with his playing partners while doing it now. This is the guy to lead the team TO VICTORY instead of distracting the team with the old analysis of, should he play with Phil or not, or, should he play by himself and be his own partner? Is he ready to be the example we all want our kids to be like: learn from your mistakes suck it up, work hard and make a difference. We will be glued to the TV for all the drama France can muster for a golf event. I think yes! Make room on the couch Dads, the kids want to watch golf this weekend. Warm up the Croissants! The Ryder Cup is coming to your living room.
Lead us to Victory Tiger! The Whole World is watching ….. AGAIN!