There’s a reason comeback stories resonate with us. There is something very human about adversity and hearing stories about those who overcome it fill us with hope and inspiration.
It’s been almost seven months since Tiger collected his 5th green jacket at Augusta National, his first since 2005. I was kind of lost for words when it happened, and in some ways, it’s still sinking in, which is weird because I don’t know Tiger personally, nor have I even met him.
I came close to him once near the putting green at Pebble Beach. It was Wednesday of the 2010 U.S. Open. When we first arrived at the practice green, crowds were sparse despite the presence of several noteworthy players, including Francesco Molinari and Sergio Garcia. Tiger wasn’t there, and we didn’t expect him to be, it just seemed like a good place to observe some practice up close. We watched Francesco Molinari miss six-footer after six-footer, readjust his alignment aids and glance up at his caddie as if desperate for answers.
A few minutes later, a freight train of fans started scurrying towards the putting green. Tiger eventually emerged from the crowd and casually strolled onto the green. You could feel the energy change. Every other player on the green paused for a brief moment to observe Tiger in his natural habitat.
He was only seven months removed from his very personal yet extremely public scandal. There were a lot of questions about how this would impact him mentally, but nobody at that moment could have imagined what else was in store for Tiger. That he would go through four back surgeries. That he’d shoot 82 at the Phoenix Open. That a painkiller addiction would result in a very public DUI and arrest. That he’d date and separate from Lindsey Vonn. That he’d eventually arrive at the 2019 Masters — a futuristic-sounding year back in 2010 — still stuck on 14 majors. Yet, hope that he might recapture major championship glory would again infuse the air.
There are a lot of factors that make Tiger Woods the athlete and golfer he is, many of which we may never fully know or understand. We marvelled at his ability to hit every shot that was called for coming down the stretch on Masters Sunday, while other contenders faltered under the immense pressure. Every shot was clinical, from his second shot out of the trees on the 11th hole right until clinching his fifth green jacket with a tap-in on the 18th green.
His great shots make the highlight reels, his fist pumps make the front cover of magazines, and his club twirls are made into gifs and shared on Twitter over and over and over again. These are the moments we remember as being the key to another green jacket. The moments when greatness reemerged.
The reality of life is that it’s comprised of many little imperfect, forgettable and sometimes painful moments which we hope culminate into something great. The truly game-changing moments are those the masses don’t get to see. Recovering after back surgery, coping with the possibility that a once-great golf career could be over. Dealing with past decisions that led you down a path you never thought you’d be on and what will get you back on the right one. The endless hours on the driving range, searching for glimpses of hope.
After Tiger was triumphant at The Masters in 2019, he showed up to tournaments sporadically throughout the remainder of the season. He didn’t appear to be the same person who masterfully navigated the back-nine at Augusta National on that special Sunday in April. A lot of people were quick to write him off, again, and declare that the 2019 Masters was Tiger’s swan song. Simply one last flash of mustered brilliance before slowly drifting off into the sunset.
Nobody would have blamed him if he decided to drift off into retirement. He’s been through a lot. He doesn’t owe the game a thing and, if anything, the game owes him. It’s a lot of work to play at that level, particularly in your forties, and under the scrutiny he faces every time he has a club in his hand. Yet once again, he caught the haters and doubters with their pants down with a convincing win at the ZOZO Championship in Japan to tie Sam Snead for all-time PGA Tour wins (82). A post-season knee procedure and nine weeks off was all he needed to come back looking supple and recharged as if he magically shed ten years.
Tiger continues to remind us that we don’t have to be defined by the mistakes we’ve made but rather how we overcame them. That we aren’t prisoners to our low moments when we find ways for those moments to inspire us. That it’s not about dwelling on where we are but keeping on eye on where we’re going and how to get there.
Tiger’s relentless comebacks serve as a reminder that greatness isn’t a matter of perfection, it’s a product of having the resilience to overcome imperfection.