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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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Tiger Woods: The epitome of defiance

by Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr.

In 1997, shortly after his first Masters Golf Tournament championship, Tiger Woods and his father, Earl Woods, came to Memphis to conduct a clinic at the Pine Hill golf course in South Memphis (not Germantown) for inner-city youth.

I was fortunate to attend the clinic. While most observers were captivated by Tiger’s instructions to the youth and the demonstration of his shot making skills, I was awed by the relationship between Tiger and his father. 

Earl Woods gave instructions to Tiger in a gentle, yet firm voice: “Tiger, draw the ball. Tiger, fade the ball.” 

After several amazing golf shots, Earl Woods matter-of-factly said, “Now, drive the green, Tiger.”

Tiger asked, “Pop, do you want me to ruin my back?” 

Earl Woods was insistent. “Tiger, drive the green.” 

“OK, Pops.”

Tiger pulled a three wood from his bag and swung, seemingly with the greatest of ease. Like a missile, the ball cut through the air and landed on the 17th green. The crowd erupted in cheers and applauses.

As I left that clinic, I knew the source of Tiger’s greatness. It was the confidence that Earl Woods taught him. “You cannot control what others do, only what you do can you control”.

I often wondered how Charles Hudson, the golf pro at Pine Hill, got Tiger Woods to come to Memphis, when seemingly other professionals in Memphis could not attract the Tiger. 

I later learned that when Tiger first got started, Hudson worked with Earl Woods to financially support Tiger on the tour. 

“We sometimes passed the hat to help Tiger with expenses,” Hudson recalled.

When I learned of the relationship Hudson had with Tiger and his father, I realized how vital relationships are to meaning in life.

The 2019 schedule of professional golf events will bring to Memphis the World Golf Championship, which will be limited to the 50 best players in the world.

Will Tiger Woods show up to play?

For those who say he won’t, he couldn’t, he ought not to, the Tiger may show up and show out in pure defiance. Last Sunday when Tiger’s par putt on the final hole secured victory in the 2018 Tour Championship Golf Tournament in Atlanta, the crowd exploded in praise and appreciation. 

There were no fist pumps, neither the trademark uppercuts from Tiger. He majestically – and with obvious emotion – lifted his hands to the sky. 

Tiger-mania punctuated all four days of the Tour Championship, spilling an unbelievable swarm of fans onto the final fairway and around the 18th green as it became clear that Woods would win for the first time in five years and notch his 80th professional golf tournament victory. It was the greatest comeback in professional sports.

To really appreciate the significance of victory, one has to know the complete Tiger story, beginning with the facts that he was taught golf by his father, who also taught him how to win. Tiger Woods grew up believing he was a winner, even when the odds were tremendously against him. He won his first golf trophy at age 4. 

Over the years, his iconic “fist pumps” and his trademark uppercuts were symbolic of the release of pent-up defiance. Tiger Woods had been told by the culture of professional golf, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.”

The Tiger roar was made to exclaim, “I did it!” 

The “fist pump” was in defiance. 

Tiger Woods took the golfing world by a storm in 1997, when he won his first Masters Championship. He went on to win 14 major championship tournaments and 79 professional golf tournaments. Through 2016, Tiger had won $110 million in tournament play. With endorsements and off-course earnings, he was known as the “Billion Dollar Golfer,” having earned an estimated $1.3 billion. 

Day 3 of the Tour Championship in Atlanta saw Tiger Woods playing well and a lot of people, well, watching. (Photo: Atlanta Voice)

Victory number 80 in Atlanta added an additional $ 4.62 million.

In 2006, Earl Woods passed away, and Tiger went into deep depression. His mentor, teacher, coach, counselor and guiding force for life was gone. In 2009, the threads of his heroic person began to unravel. His personal life and marriage became the main menu for tabloids and the media. Many of his sponsors dropped him and some fans withdrew their avidity. NIKE, however, stood firmly with the champion that lived beneath human frailty.

Throughout his career, Tiger had experienced and endured injuries to his knee, back and ankle. He blew out his knee in the 2000 U.S. Open and in excruciating pain won by 15 strokes. His 79th victory came in 2013, ahead of a series of back surgeries.

In 2014, one week following four back surgeries, many observers thought Tiger’s career as a professional golfer was over. Professional opinion in the field of chiropractic therapy deemed it impossible for him to return to competitive golf.

The layers of physical and emotional pain, the increasing rise of younger healthier golfers, the increase of distractors, and the loss of his coach and counselor, Tiger Woods had to psychologically revisit his father. He reported that in his reflections and meditations, his father asked him, “Tiger, what did you learn from the negative experiences?” That question led Tiger to the resolution of accepting his role in his saga and manning up to the responsibility of recovery. 

Tiger Woods knew in every crisis there is a dangerous opportunity, and that he, and he alone, had to rebuild the Tiger Woods of greatness. He worked on and off the golf course to defeat the demons within, and the external naysayers, who never gave him a chance of recovery. 

At age 42 and with a fused spine, Tiger Woods is again playing golf like no other golfer. He is now dominating. 

“I don’t know of another golfer who can hit the ball the way I do with a fused spine,” he said.

 Now methodical in his chipping, consistent with his driver, precise with his irons and deadly with his putter, Tiger is back – defiantly!

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