Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Mid-Summer Nights Dream; Tiger will win the 2013 PGA championship

So many sports related moments and stories have transpired since my last blog, I don't know where to begin. The combination of not being a big baseball fan and the beautiful weather means I've been spending my free time outside, not inside watching sports. In chronological order the major stories of the summer are:

  • Bayern Munich won the Champions League title; Chelsea won the Europa League title; Manchester United won the EPL; Wigan won the FA Cup
  • Miami Heat became back to back NBA champions (2012 and 2013)
  • The Blackhawks won a thrilling Game 6 in Boston to become NHL champions
  • Dwight Howard joined the Rockets snubbing the Lakers
  • Aaron Hernandez saga
  • Phil Mickelson has won the British Open with a final round 66
  • MLB suspended several players for using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) including A-Rod
Today, the most intriguing story to me is the progression as a player and a person of Tiger Woods. As an amateur Tiger Woods won a staggering 21 times and is still the only player to win the US Junior amateur 3 times. He won his first major tournament, the Master's by 12 strokes. Since then he has won 13 more majors. Inexplicably, he decided to modify his swing not once but twice since he turned professional. He has had three swing instructors during his career: Butch Harmon, Hank Haney and now Sean Foley. He saw a sports psychologist to improve his mental strength as an adolescent player. Tiger was the first player to work out everyday before and after practicing at the range and/or practice rounds on the course. His dedication to fitness, perfecting his swing and winning was and is unmatched.

The results for the first 11 years of career are staggering, 74 PGA tour wins and PGA player of the Year honors 10 times. Most players struggle to win one time in their career. At first, some pundits feared that Woods would drive the spirit of competition out of the game of golf by making existing courses obsolete and relegating opponents to simply competing for second place each week.

Tiger had been a mega-star who has avoided the scandal and pitfalls that often dog sports players living in the media glare. But a funny thing happened in Thanksgiving 2009.  After he crashed his SUV near his Florida home, he was unconscious for six minutes and bleeding from his mouth before being released from the hospital. 

It turns out, his health would be the least of his concerns (he was released in good condition the next day). This incident led to a bevy of women (over a dozen) revealing sordid affairs with the World's #1 player and forced Tiger to release a statement admitting cheating on his wife, Elin Nordegren. His public image took a nose dive and sponsors (besides Nike) condemned his behavior. He took 3 months off before his next tournament. Six months later, he no longer had a wife.All the while, his game suffered to the point where people were questioning if his best years were behind him. It took him a little over 2 years (Dec 2011) to win his next event (he ranked 128th on the money list in 2011).
The Ex: Elin Nordegren

Fast-forward to 2013. Tiger seems to have his personal and professional life in order. He is dating Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn and has already won 5 times on the PGA tour (#1 on the money list). He fired Stevie Williams (now Adam Scott's caddy) and hired well-respected tour veteran Joe Lecava as his caddy. Tiger has a new state-of-the-art home which he purchased for 60 milliion. His sponsors have slowly returned as his public image has improved and he is much more open with the media. I guess a Tiger can change its stripes.
Tiger & Lindsey

 I never realized that golf could be a game for people of color, I just assumed it was a sport for "rich white men.". After watching Woods dominate the Master's in 1998, I hit my first golf ball at a range near the University of Maryland, swinging left-handed clubs that I rented (I since switched because I got a free set of right handed clubs). Tiger's impact cannot just be measured in finite metrics such as TV ratings, money or media attention; he changed the perception of the game to millions of people. He was demonized for doing want most professional athletes do regularly, cheat on their significant other. He admitted it, suffered personally and professionally since then and now is on the cusp of a resurgence. In America, if you apologize sincerely, you are generally forgiven and given a second chance. In my opinion, fellow tour veteran Vijay Singh's past is much more reprehensible. Despite Tiger's transgressions, I will never forget who introduced me to the sport, I'm still a fan and would not bet against him this week.