Eleven years, from 1997 to 2008 he achieved what seemed humanly impossible. Then from 2008 to 2019, we watched his impossible struggle back to the top, another 11 years.
I began reading the book, “Tiger Woods,” the day after he won his 15th major championship, at Augusta National, where his insatiable taste for winning those elusive titles began 22 years ago in 1997. Like Tiger, I was also much younger in those days, still in my 30’s, if only by just a few weeks. I had watched him in his professional debut in August the year before at the Greater Milwaukee Open. He wasn’t in contention on Sunday and wound up tied for 60th. But he still figured out a way to make us all take notice. It was on the 14th hole, a 202-yard par-3. Tiger pulled his six-iron from the bag, took that big fluid swing and watched as the ball disappeared into the cup, his first ace as a pro. He ended up winning $2,544, which he seemed to care more about than the $43 million in contracts he’d recently signed. “That’s my money,” he said. “I earned this.”
Back to the book. It’s not authorized. Authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian were already well known for other penned accomplishments, most notably, "The System,” an in depth look at the big business that is college football. But they soon found that the bigger business known as Tiger Woods was going to be a bit tougher to research. Like when they called up a guy who had gone to Tiger’s high school, so they could learn more about the institution itself, and he told them, “I’ll have to check with Tiger and get back to you before I answer any questions.”
“Don’t bother,” was the author’s response.
They were, however, able to report about some of the young prodigy’s kindergarten experiences. It was September of 1981 when a five-year old named Eldrick joined 30 other children in Maureen Decker’s classroom at Cerritos Elementary School. His new teacher noticed that besides having skin a little darker than everyone else, the boy was painfully shy. To help her class ease comfortably into their new situation on that first day she came up with a song to help them introduce themselves. When class ended, she felt a tug on one of her pants legs. Looking down she saw the little shy boy, who said to her, “Don’t call me Eldrick. Call me Tiger.”
There were other differences about him. He’d already been featured on national TV a few times, with icons like Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and Fran Tarkenton. And he was a wizard with numbers. When he was two, his mom, Kultida, taught him to add and subtract. The next year she moved him up to multiplication. He loved it, and by the time he got to kindergarten he was at the third grade level in math.
Every day after school Tiger was picked up and taken to the golf course. Decker felt like he should be spending some of that time with his classmates in after-school activities, like soccer. She knew the importance of those early relationships and worried that Tiger’s best friend was a 32-year old golf instructor with a mustache named Rudy. She brought up her concerns at the first parent-teacher conference with his parents, but Tiger’s dad, Earl Woods, wasn’t interested in hearing it. He knew what was best for his son, which was hitting a golf ball.
Now, 38 years later, we see the latest result of a father’s obsession. We’ve witnessed many of those results through this incredible journey. From the godlike gifts to the demons lurking beneath the surface.
Who knows, maybe this newest version can be his best yet.
I for one would love another 11 years.