There’s not much of Tiger Woods’ life that doesn’t fulfill some sort of hyperbole. He is, by most accounts, the greatest and most dynamic golfer in history. He strikes the ball with a combination of power and precision never imagined by course designers. He expanded the sport’s fan base far beyond its history and achieved fame even Arnold Palmer couldn’t approach. And he seemed to endure personal peaks and valleys that nearly surpassed his professional ones, beginning with his emergence as a childhood prodigy through his public and turbulent divorce from his wife through a series of debilitating injuries that left him barely able to walk, much less dominate a global sport. He is both one of the greatest, most revered, transformational athletes in history and also perhaps one its most self-destructive, a veritable Icarus with a nine iron.
And yesterday was yet another reminder of that paradox, another chapter in something of a Shakespearean tragedy, another moment where Tiger will have to recover, literally, from a historic low, even during a weekend spent golfing with fellow celebrities in the monied fairways of Southern California. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Tiger Woods sustained serious injuries in a car crash Tuesday morning in the rolling hills south of Los Angles in route to a meeting for his new partnership with GolfTV. While we don’t have all the details, it’s clear his car ran off the road and flipped several times, leaving Woods to several hours of surgery to repair multiple fractures in his right leg and foot, something that reportedly will require months of rehabilitation – and remember, Woods is still rehabbing his chronically bad back, a condition that’s led to five surgeries and likely the undoing of his resetting every golf record in history, including winning the most majors, a record everyone assumed Tiger would take from Jack Nicklaus years ago. For the time being, Tiger Woods is reportedly lucky to be alive, and that is and should be the overarching narrative of the moment. Certainly, anything else about his injuries and the nature of the crash are speculation and very likely misinformation, two things that naturally occur in social media driven vacuum of armchair reporting. So for the time being, that is all we can know about the condition of the greatest and most iconic golfer in history.
That said, it would be impossible not to view Tiger’s accident in the larger context of his life, both on and off the fairway. Rarely in American history have we seen an athlete – really anyone rise to the mythic stature of Tiger Woods. The highs were almost unimaginable, which to be fair were likely of our own doing. Beyond his athletic genius, Tiger also carried our aspired mythology of diversity, carrying the burdens of becoming the first black megastar in a white sport steeped in racist history. He was perhaps the most sponsored athlete on the planet and a role model to everyone, a model of diversity, perfection, and the American dream. He was to be perfect, if for no other reason than we willed him so.
Until, of course, he wasn’t. It seems Tiger wasn’t the Tiger we wanted him to be – because no one could be the Tiger we wanted him to be, perhaps especially under the intensity of having to be Tiger. So when his life seemed to spiral out of control that night in a wrecked car on his driveway years ago, it never really came back. Not through the public apologies, the reckoning, the orchestrated interviews. Not through all the injuries and the inability to achieve what most of us assumed an inevitability. There’s been more success, including winning the Master’s in 2019, his first major in over a decade. And perhaps more important, recently playing a tournament with his 11-year-old son, what we all hoped was a sign of the happy ending we all imagined for the story of Tiger Woods.
Which, perhaps, is why yesterday’s crash felt so, well, awful. It felt both shocking and completely expected at the same time, as if we were watching a movie where we just assume there’s going to be a bad ending.
Of course, Tiger is okay, at least relatively speaking. And we’re all hoping for a full recovery. But I for one am not really concerned if he ever plays golf again, whether he ever gets back on that roller coaster that was his professional and often personal life. I just hope, for his sake, he can now live a life free of hyperbole.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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