Watching Tiger

Every Easter, my parents would take my brothers and I in the family station wagon to my aunt and uncle’s house.  Aunt Cookie and Uncle Dom only lived about 5 miles away, so the commute wasn’t long, and we saw them frequently, anyway, but this is what we did.  This was the Easter event.  And every year, eventually, my brothers and I would get sick of conversations taking place outside, and we’d be banished from ball-tossing by Uncle Dom, and so we’d retire to the living room and put one whatever was available.  Until our other uncles–Bob, John, Ed, Murph, and Dave–with the backing of Dad, would force a channel change, and we’d be stuck watching the Masters.  Like clockwork, every year.

I remember watching Fred Couples win in 1992, and watching Tiger being his reign of dominance in 1997, watching Greg Norman fall apart, Jack Nicklaus in 1990 (and 1998).  I have a lot of memories forced upon me from the Masters.  I can’t tell you much else about the other golf tournments, even the other majors.  I know the British Open is sometimes at the Royal and Ancient in St Andrews, which I like because I’ve been there, walked that course, played miniature golf on it.  I have physical memories of the geography to associate with the action on the TV.  But, I don’t watch the tournament, hardly ever.  I don’t even know where they play the PGA Championship, and I don’t really care.  If you had asked me on Saturday where the US Open is played, I couldn’t have told you.

I don’t have anything against the sport.  I go to driving ranges every once in a while, and I completely understand how and why people get into the game.  I just can’t watch it.  From my perspective, every major tournement starts off like the World Series of Poker, in which there are the guys you’ve heard of–Tiger Woods, John Daly, Phil Mickleson–and then the city of Pittsburgh playing in the opening rounds.  By the weekend, the field is cut down to Woods and Phil and just a few dozen ‘Burghers.  There are just too many stories to follow, for me, too many blank players.  No  villains, nor heroes.  Just masses of people swinging sticks.  Without a narrative, I can’t sustain the broadcast.

But I love Tiger Woods.  I love his inscrutability. I love the way, with every successive win, sportswriters retread the same story: Tiger amazing, relentless, hyper-competitive.  I love the expectation of perfection.  I love the way he acts like a petulant child when he makes a mistake, throwing a club and muttering to himself.  I love the way he can tune out the howling throngs that follow him hole-to-hole, but can hear the tiniest camera click, or murmur in the audience, disturbing his peace, as he tries to make the next shot.

There’s a cliche about things that are inevitable: “Rooting against [that] is like rooting against gravity”.  Which is to say, there’s no point in getting bothered about something that was always bound to happen anyway.  Extended, the cliche almost says Tiger Woods’ victories are so imminent, so frequent, so constant, there is no reason to celebrate or mourn them.  He’s automatic.  He’s an android.

But, personally, that’s my favorite thing about him.  He’s too good.  We now expect him to falter, to be human.  To have that one weekend when he’s not up to the task.  And yet, he doesn’t.  He continues to make every necessary shot, to stumble just a little bit less than every other competitor.  I like watching him because it’s like being able to SEE gravity.  To see the force the propels everything else.

Tiger Woods won, again, today.  And, again, we were all amazed at the drama and routine of him.

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