The Masters Golf Tournament advertises itself as “An Event Like No Other.” This year’s Masters lived up to the billing. The caliber of golf was elite. There was high drama when golfers at the top of the leader board wilted under the smothering pressure. The course was as beautiful as ever. But all that paled in comparison to the win by Tiger Woods.
I remember the day I heard on the news of Tiger’s “trouble.” The news came out slowly, but when the picture cleared, the result was too bizarre to be believed. The golfing legend, the best player in the game, was arrested following a public fight with his wife. As time passed and more details came to light, the situation went from bizarre to incredible to pitiful. Tiger was so messed up. His personal life was in shambles, and everything about him, including his golf game, fell apart.
I don’t know Tiger personally, and I have no inside scoop on what actually went on, but my sense in watching Tiger’s reaction to his fall from grace was that he was unrepentant, smug, condescending, and unapologetic. After playing a round of golf, I would sit in the clubhouse and listen to my golfing friends pontificate on Tiger’s future. It was unanimous- Tiger was finished. And no one was sad about it. He was reaping the rewards of his actions.
Tiger suffered a long string of physical ailments that kept him from playing, even if things were different. He had back surgery and could barely walk, much less swing a club.
But as time went on, something slowly seemed to change in Tiger. His attitude seemed to soften. He became more introspective. He seemed more mature, and with that maturity, a sense of humility seemed to emerge. His back began to improve, and he worked like never before to claw his way back. When he was finally able to compete, his demeanor was different. Softer. His inner drive was still strong, but it’s as if the old Tiger was replaced with… someone grounded and tempered. After a long grind to regain his form, he made it all the way back when he tapped in for a one shot Masters victory.
I think I’m as surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response of the public as I am his regaining of his skills. I began to wonder: why did the public take Tiger back? Why did people weep when he won? What make all of America shout “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger?” Here’s my guess.
I believe we like to see hard work and sacrifice rewarded. The skill and talent required to win at that level is practically impossible, and Tiger faced longer odds than most in the field. He was overcoming serious physical issues. He was competing against players younger and stronger than himself. And yet there he was. I believe America grasped how hard Tiger had to work to get there, and winning felt to us like his hard work was rewarded.
I think people cheered for Tiger because people respond to humility. There was quite a while in Tiger’s journey when he seemed oblivious to his failure. It didn’t appear to bother him. There was no contrition. And it was only when people sensed a softening of his attitude did they seem to see him in a different light. Watching Tiger embrace his children following his win showed a humility that had been missing earlier, and America responded.
And finally, I believe people cheered for Tiger because we love to see stories of redemption. There’s just something about a story of restoration that strikes close to our hearts. I believe redemption resonates with us because we all have our own stories of failure, and to see someone restored after a fall makes us hopeful that we can be restored, too.
If I could choose one takeaway from this year’s Masters tournament, it would be this: if Tiger can make it all the way back, you and I can too.