It has been a long time since a sporting event’s conclusion moved me the way the Masters did on Sunday. As a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, I have felt the euphoria of twice being present for World Series clinchers. And I’ve been on the emotional roller coaster of Kentucky and Louisville college basketball for a long time.
But I don’t remember being moved to tears by a sporting event until Tiger Woods won his fifth green jacket. While I was watching the closing holes with other travelers in an airport lounge, the tension was palpable and the relief universal when Tiger’s ball found the fairway or the bottom of the cup. We were all pulling for Tiger.
And when he tapped in that final putt on the 18th green, the lounge burst into applause — a bunch of people who don’t know each other joined in euphoria over Tiger’s triumph.
I felt chills when Tiger walked off the green to embrace his son. I love golf, but I love my children more. And every father knows the feeling of wanting his children to see him at his best. That’s what Tiger gave America on Sunday, a chance to see a parent return from the depths. I hustled to my gate with my head down because I didn’t want anyone to see my teary eyes.
On Sunday, Tiger inspired every parent to keep going. Most of us will never have our worst days broadcast and dissected the way Tiger has. But we all make mistakes. We all say and do things we wish we could take back. And we all go to sleep at night thinking about how to set the right example for our children.
Tiger Woods has had a lot to worry about. His children only had to turn on a television or pick up a newspaper to read details of their father’s worst decisions. The only way back for him was to fight and scrape and claw to give them the chance to see him as we did in his prime. And damned if he didn’t do it, on one of the most spectacular patches of God’s green Earth.
I’ve watched that hug between Tiger and his son again and again, each time feeling the energy that flows between fathers and sons the world over. I tear up on every viewing. Tiger’s own relationship with his father was complicated, and there were many times that Tiger saw Earl Woods as far from his best as any man could be.
Tiger followed Earl down a dark path of bad personal judgment, costing him his marriage and, for a time, his career. Tiger picked up more than golf from Earl, and he paid dearly for it. But in America we love it when people learn from their mistakes and redeem themselves in the eyes of the world and their children.
Tiger gave us the thrill of a sports comeback, yes. But, more importantly, he gave his children the gift of seeing him at his best. That little boy will never forget hugging his Dad at Augusta, and I am sure the crowd’s roar will ring in his ears for the rest of his life.
“To have my kids there, it’s come full circle. My dad was there in ’97, and now I’m the dad,” Tiger said on Sunday, recalling his first Master’s win in 1997. “They were there at the British Open last year when I had the lead on that back nine, and I made a few mistakes, cost myself a chance to win the Open title. I wasn’t going to let that happen to them twice.”
Tiger’s kids have watched him struggle with life and with his body. They’ve seen their father in pain, once finding him in the backyard unable to move because his back had given out. But now they’ve seen what the rest of us saw of Tiger in his prime — a man in full control of his talent and abilities, the master of his profession, the epitome of a champion who simply refused to give up.
And the world can now finally relate to Tiger Woods. For so long, his coolness deprived him of the warm feelings golf fans had for legends like Arnold Palmer and, more recently, Phil Mickelson. But fighting and overcoming personal demons resonate with just about every person. Tiger fought his publicly and emerged a better man; he gave everyone fighting pain, addiction and broken marriages hope that better days lie ahead.
For every parent, the moral of Tiger’s win is to wake up every day and think about how our children can see us at our best. As we drive them to school, coach their sports teams, or sit down for supper — it’s all the 18th at Augusta to them. They are always there, waiting to see what Daddy will do. Our personal venues may not be as grand as Augusta National, but the splendor of setting a good example will live in our children’s hearts just the same as it will for Tiger’s kids.
Thank you, Tiger Woods, for reminding every parent what it means to show our children the virtue of fighting back, and of the powerful lesson that no matter what mistakes we make today we always wake up tomorrow with a clean scorecard and a chance to be great in their eyes.