Monday, April 15, 2019

Tiger Woods Experiences the Full Career Arc of A Champion

Tiger Woods, who just became the second oldest winner of The Masters, is experiencing the full career arc of a champion. That arc begins with the wonder years, when the prodigy becomes the youngest to accomplish certain feats or win specific events. It would be wrong to say that at this stage championships are inevitable--nothing about competition involving skill is inevitable--but there is an expectation that the prodigy will achieve and sustain greatness. Because of that expectation, the first championships may come more with a feeling of relief than of joy, and there may be an accompanying feeling of pressure to maintain a high standard of play.

After those first titles, the champion goes through his prime, when winning titles appears to be effortless. That perception is incorrect, of course; championships are only achieved after much hard work is put in, and the margin between winning and losing is rarely large, even if the final score suggests otherwise.

Father Time is undefeated, so at some point the champion ages and new contenders enter their own wonder years. Each title won by the champion at this point may be his last, and thus these latter titles may feel more meaningful or precious; the hard work that must be put in to win these titles is apparent to everyone: Tiger Woods has to get up in the middle of the night to loosen up his back before playing the final round at Augusta.

Winning a first title is great but winning a title in your 40s--when there is much doubt (including, perhaps, even at least a little self-doubt--is very satisfying.

The images of Tiger embracing his children--who are too young to remember prodigy Tiger or dominant Tiger--are priceless, and it is an added blessing that his mother was able to witness Tiger's triumph as well; Tiger's father is no longer with us but he is surely smiling down on his son.

Watching Tiger win a major as an older player who is no longer consistently dominant brings to mind Bill Russell's last title run with the Boston Celtics and Pete Sampras' final U.S.Open title. The difference, though, is that Russell had already announced his pending retirement and Sampras never played again on Tour (though he did not formally announce his retirement until shortly before the next year's U.S. Open), but Tiger iso regaining his mental and physical strength; it is doubtful that he will ever dominate to the extent that he did during his prime, but he could conceivably be a credible contender in majors for the next several years, and--with his 15th major win under his belt--possibly even renew his quest to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 wins in majors.