Golfer’s Diary: The legend returns to win at Augusta
Last week, I did an incredible interview with the owner of another local course. The idea was to continue the “course spotlight” series that has been an ongoing project here at the Golfer’s Diary. Our conversation was a ton of fun and I can’t wait to share it with you, the readers.
But something happened.
On Sunday afternoon, I sat down to transcribe said interview. I knew The Masters was going on this weekend, but as I’ve written about several times in the past, I simply don’t watch professional golf. If my love for this sport isn’t evident, then I’m doing something very wrong with this column, but I just can’t get into the pro scene.
I opened up the ESPN app on my phone to check if there was any exciting news in the baseball world or regarding the NBA or NHL playoffs. Well, the timing was such that Francesco Molinari, who had held a comfortable two-stroke lead at The Masters the last time I checked, just landed his tee shot in the water, opening the door for our very own Tiger Woods to come roaring up and take the lead.
Again, I claim to not care about golf, yet I was glued to my phone. Not having TV service at my house, I seriously contemplated going over to a neighbor’s house to watch the end of this tournament. I was enthralled at the prospect of Woods winning 14 years after capturing his previous green jacket.
Why? Why did I suddenly care? I honestly don’t know. I’ve been searching for an answer to that question.
Long story short, Tiger Woods became the second oldest player to win the Masters when he sank a short putt on the 18th green, setting off a wild celebration by the massive crowd of onlookers that had gathered there. He won his 15th major, which trails only Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major victories.
The ripple effects of this weekend could be huge. This tournament wasn’t just good for Tiger fans that have been waiting for the legend to return to form. This tournament was good for golf. This tournament was GREAT for golf.
Social media has been exploding. The video of Woods sinking that final putt had been viewed hundreds of thousands of times a mere hour after it happened live. People care about Tiger Woods.
Woods has always been a polarizing figure. In his heyday, he was the most popular golfer in the world (and one of the most popular athletes ever) as he dominated the PGA Tour in a way no one ever has. Courses had to move tee boxes back and make fairways narrower in an attempt to even the field. Yet for all of his fans, Woods had his fair share of haters — and for good reason. He was viewed as something of a jerk to both the media and to other golfers. Again, I didn’t even play the sport back then, so I can’t exactly speak from a position of expertise.
For comparison, let’s take a look at my all-time favorite sport — baseball. I always thought of Tiger Woods as more of a Barry Bonds than a Ken Griffey Jr. Both Bonds and Griffey completely dominated the sport at times. Yet Griffey was universally loved while Bonds was almost vilified. If you ask almost anyone my age who their favorite player of all time is, more often than not I bet you’ll still hear Griffey. Maybe the golf equivalent to Griffey would be someone like Phil Mickelson. But I digress.
Without getting into too much detail, the wheels came off for Woods — both professionally and personally. He fell out of favor. There was no more Tiger Woods video game. He was no longer the face of Nike commercials. The sport was now without its biggest star.
Over the past several years, Woods has teased golf fans by having a handful of great rounds, but not being able to put together a total tournament (a major that is, which is all that really matters to a casual golf fan). He kept creeping closer and closer with a few top-5 finishes. Seeing “Woods” among the leaders was once again becoming expected instead of surprising. And now this.
What’s going to be the headline on all the sports websites for the next several days? Woods. What’s going to be the lead story on all the ESPN shows on Monday? Woods. Golf is going to be in the spotlight for the foreseeable future. People are going to see the joy that it brings. People who haven’t played in years are going to get the urge to get their clubs back out. People who have never played are going to think about trying it out. This was the best thing that could possibly have happened to golf.
The fact that it was The Masters, too! It would have been big news if Woods had won any of the majors, but The Masters (fair or not) seems to be the one that gets the most attention from the media. The prestige of Augusta and the iconic green jacket are on full display.
If you can’t tell, I’m excited. I’m excited for Tiger. I’m excited for the sport. I’m excited for the prospect of new people finding their way to golf. Mostly, however, I’m excited that the weather in Western New York is warming up and it’s just about golf season. Let’s do this already.
As always, golf is great. Go get some.
Stefan Gestwicki is an OBSERVER contributing writer. Comments on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.