Wednesday, June 18, 2008
And That Is Why He Sleeps With A Swedish Model On A Nightly Basis
Quite simply, Tiger Woods is amazing. Woods is completing his application for "Best Golfer Ever" at a time when we can honestly say we remember the greatest at their greatest. And for people my own age, this is the first time we have witnessed something like this. Gretzky - whose prime came before my age of sports fandom - and Jordan - who we were never able to fully appreciate because we didn't know any better - skirt the boundaries of our memory, but Woods is planted firmly in the middle of our consciousness. Federer comes close and there are countless would-be heirs that are great (LeBron, Kobe, Crosby, Peyton, etc.), but not atop their sport's Mt. Olympus like Woods is. It is almost unconscionable than a single athlete has dominated an individual sport with as many competitors as he has. He has extended the frontier of individual accomplishment farther than any other single athlete probably in the history of sport. And it is a marvel to watch.
But it isn't fun. And it isn't fun because Tiger isn't all that much fun. Nor does he seem to be having any of it.
We can respect and awe at Tiger without enjoying him. His clutch putt on 18 was thrilling, but his reaction wasn't. His reactions are almost exclusively loud releases of tension and competitive rage. And there's nothing wrong with that. He is the most competitive and mentally strong athlete that I remember seeing. But there seems to be so little joy in his triumph. From the reactions to the victory-interview platitudes, there seems to be a quota on his fun. And that quota apparently is zero. I just want one Tiger moment where he tosses his club out of glee and surprise or reacts Justin Leonard style out of childish joy. (His fist pump is nice and all, but he is one of the worst high-fivers in sports history.)
He knows he is going to make the putts...there is almost no surprise like Mickelson's reaction on the 18th green of Augusta in 2004 quite simply because I find it difficult to believe he is surprised by anything any more. And never was that more apparent than this past weekend when we witnessed Tiger's intensity with Rocco Mediate's infectious charisma. While I want to see greatness in its prime, I'd prefer that Tiger trounced the field or had to grind out a win against some loud mouth bozo - I'm looking at you Sergio and Rory. It's tough to watch Tiger beat someone like Rocco - a golfer on the back nine of his career, never having won a major, and knowing a single victory at the U.S. Open would make his career. To root for Tiger in these situations is to board a bullet train for history where none of the brief stops are any more meaningful than any other until you get to History Stop #19. Rocco is traveling on the path next to Tiger's bullet train rails in a covered wagon, enjoying the ride and appreciating the moments as they happen.
Tiger is the frat guy making his way through all the girls from the hottest sorority on campus not because he enjoys it, but because he can and it is expected of him. And Rocco is the slightly awkward, but ebulliently charming boy in the corner who starts to flirt with a remarkably attractive female way out of his league. And things are going perfectly well, until Tiger swoops in, takes another trophy home, and leaves the good guy empty handed.