Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Star Fades: The End of the Tiger Woods Era

By Heidi Leach (@heidileach)

I love golf. As I’ve grown up and learned more about the game, I’ve developed a real appreciation for it. I love spending Sundays watching the last day of the tournament, sipping coffee in the morning and Summer Shandy in the afternoon.  It’s a wonderful way to spend the day, but this past weekend I turned on the WGC-Bridgestone and watched Tiger Woods hit the absolute worst shot I have ever seen him take while wincing in pain.

I cannot lie, my heart fell into my stomach. I honestly feel as if I just watched the end of an era.

After Tiger’s back surgery, everyone has been holding out hope that he would just waltz back on to the course, good as new, and go right back to true Tiger-form.  You can say I’m overreacting, and maybe I am, but do you honestly think Tiger will ever be 100 percent again and go back to winning Majors?

I don’t, and it breaks my heart.

You see, I’ve always casually watched bits and pieces of Majors, but when I was younger I couldn’t sit still and watch golf for hours. It was boring then. In high school, I just wanted to watch basketball and football, plus I had way better things to do with my summer weekends. In college, I started to appreciate the game of golf more but still didn’t watch an entire tournament.

Highlights yes, but the whole weekend? Nah.

It wasn’t until right after graduation in 2007 that I found the time to watch and revel in the greatness of Tiger. One of the coolest sports memories I have is being at work the Monday of the 2008 US Open playoff. We were all crowded around my computer at the office, even the bosses, rocking our red shirts and clinging to every amazing shot. I’m fairly certain it was the first time I had watched a sporting event online too.

The feed would freeze often and the time-lag was significant. But that moment- the first pump, the dramatic win- it was incredible.  I will always remember that. Of course we shortly found out that Tiger had accomplished the amazing feat while dealing with a terrible injury.

That was over six years ago and he has not won a major since.

Injury after injury. The affairs. All the time off. Nothing has been the same. I don’t know if it ever will be. It makes me so sad, not only because Tiger may never be THAT Tiger again, but because I didn’t pay more attention and soak up what was happening while he was.

I’ve always loved sports, I’ve always watched and known the stories but I will admit that I did not truly enjoy Tiger when I should have and it’s devastating. What I wouldn’t give to go back and watch those Masters when he just dominated the field, to enjoy every second of it, his smug smiles, and all the fist pumps.

It makes me think of the other greats whom we may not have appreciated because we were young or just didn’t know better. I was a kid through Michael Jordan’s career but I watched quite a bit, still not as much as I wished I had. There was just so much coverage of Jordan, he was everywhere, I don’t feel like I missed out on appreciating that.

For me, Cal Ripken was one of my favorite greats. I grew up in Maryland. Baseball was different then, though, and my parents would let us stay up and watch Orioles games when Cal was doing something amazing. I still have my 2,131 Wheaties box and I distinctly remember watching him walk the field waving to all the fans in the middle of that game. We watched every game that summer. Seeing those numbers drop down from the warehouse behind Camden Yards is something I will always treasure.

I got to watch that stuff. I was younger though, so I remember the big moments from back then, I don’t really recall watching their careers taper off. It is an awful feeling watching a star fall.  We know if has to happen, but when you are old enough to recognize it, wow it sucks.  I feel that way with Tiger.

He was so good, destined to be the best there ever was. Now it doesn’t look like he’ll ever catch Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Younger golf fans can look at it and see that what Jack did was truly incredible.  If Tiger couldn’t do it then maybe no one ever will?  Is that an untouchable record?  We all thought Tiger would break it but maybe it should be on the list with DiMaggio’s hitting streak and Gretzky’s career points.  Those are untouchable.  Maybe Jack is too.

Tiger is the closest my generation has to Jack and we are now watching him fall from his long-lasting pedestal. His body doesn’t seem to be allowing him to continue down the path we all laid out for him. It is tough to watch.  Golfers should be able to play until they are old and gray. This is all happening too soon.

We can all hope that by some miracle Tiger’s back gets better and he can compete with the big boys again. Maybe even pocket a couple more majors. But it’s unlikely. Putting that kind of stress on a body for so long, it takes a toll.

It’s been over six years since Tiger has won a major. Before that it was a yearly occurrence. I believe it’s time we stop living in denial and accept the truth, we are all watching the end of an era. Maybe someone else will come along and win us all over with their cocky charm and new Sunday traditions. I think all we can do now is appreciate what we’ve all been so lucky to witness, no matter how much we actually saw.

The true legends in sports are a treasure. There really aren’t many. One of the perks of being a devoted sports fan is getting to recognize the legendary ones early and cherishing all the amazing moments during their careers.

We hold those things dear. That’s why it always hurts when it’s over.

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