My golf fandom began at the age of 13. A little later than my basketball, football, and baseball fandom, but way ahead of my hockey appreciation. I’m not sure if it’s because golf is an inherently difficult sport to watch as a child or if it was because there was no one in the sport that grabbed my attention. Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Ernie Els, Fred Couples were the cream of the crop in the early 1990’s. Sure, John Daly was there for a bit, but I was never hooked.
Then I watched Tiger Woods win the 1996 US Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge. He came back from 2 down late in the round, hit a 40 foot putt that emitted the ever-famous fist pump, and won the match on the second extra hole.
I was hooked.
Seven months later, Tiger Woods was the Masters champion and his career was off and running.
I’ll spare you the superlatives.
However, watching the US Open this week at Chambers Bay left me with a funny feeling and a revelation as a golf fan. Tiger Woods is the center of my golf fandom universe. It all started with him and now I’m left watching him fight off the twilight of his career.
I watched him dominate the tour. I watched him win 14 majors. I watched his life come tumbling down. I watched him try to get his game back in shape. I watched him shoot 80 at the US Open.
I know I am not the only one in this boat. Tiger has been around for too long for others not to realize how Tiger-centric their golfing lives have been. If you’re around my age, play golf, and care about the sport beyond just one person (read: you aren’t/weren’t just a Tiger Woods fan), then we’re in the same boat.
The funny part about all of this is that the younger guys at Chambers Bay this weekend were inspired by Tiger Woods. Jason Day (age 26), Dustin Johnson (30), Cameron Smith (21), Rory McIlroy (26), Patrick Reed (24), and Jordan Spieth are all in the Tiger Generation wheelhouse.
during the final round of the WGC – HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club on November 3, 2013 in Shanghai, China.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the 10th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, August 7, 2014. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT GOLF)
Is the game in good hands? Yes, it is. It’s in very good hands. Watching and then reflecting on Sunday’s final round made me realize how incredibly lucky I was to get to watch Tiger from the beginning without any prior golf fandom.
Tiger Woods was the guy that could bomb shots like Dustin Justin did on the 18th.
He was also the guy that could hit a 3-wood into a par five green for eagle down the stretch in a major.
Tiger was also the guy that could hit a 25-foot birdie putt on 16 to build a three shot lead as his partner made double bogey. However, Tiger would have kept his foot on his opponent’s throat (read: he wouldn’t have followed it up with a double bogey).
Tiger was the guy who could shoot three incredible rounds and leave himself a chance on Sunday if the leaders faltered.
Tiger Woods was the guy that made you consider ridiculous things like, “if Tiger shoots a 61 today and a 62 tomorrow he can win this tournament.”
Tiger Woods was the one that left everyone speechless.
Tiger Woods was all the good things that we saw this weekend. Now, all the drama and greatness that used to live inside of Tiger is spread out among this crop of young players.
I’m left watching golf in a whole new way. I am no longer rooting for Tiger Woods, but instead I’m watching a collection of young players and hoping that each week we get some fun golf to watch and a worthy champion. It will take a while to get used to, and I’m sure Tiger will come back one last time and remind me of the good old days.