The numbers were revealing, though not unexpected. When Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday with a birdie on the final hole, golf on T.V. drew more fans than it had at any time since Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open last June.
The phone call was at least as revealing. It came from my mother, who has not played golf yet this spring, but who has played a lot over the past eighty nine years. Actually, that’s an exaggeration. She probably didn’t begin playing golf until she was about thirty, so she’s only got about fifty nine years in on various courses between Florida and Massachusetts, with time out for driving, chipping, and putting in Scotland, Australia, and elsewhere.
But I digress. The point is the phone call, which my mother began not with questions about her grand daughters, but with a breathless description of how Tiger Woods had made up a five shot deficit on the final day at Bay Hill and then sunk a putt on the eighteenth hole to grab still another P.G.A. title. My mother is in excellent health and is not normally the least bit breathless, unless she is talking about Tiger Woods, whom she refers to as “Tiger.”
It’s not that my mother and about a bazillion other fans of golf did not pay attention to their game while Tiger Woods was recovering from his knee surgery. It is only that they pay attention to golf with a great deal more enthusiasm when Tiger Woods is winning the tournament of the week, which is to say, when Tiger Woods is playing.
This is in part because Tiger Woods is a photogenic fellow who is articulate and apparently personable. His victory fist pump is within the bounds of the propriety to which fans of televised golf adhere. Grandmothers like that. So do lots of lawyers, short order cooks, convicted felons, and people who sit beside their empty guitar cases in subway stations playing “Sweet Caroline.”
But it is mostly because he is a phenomenon. I know this is not news. Tiger Woods has been a phenomenon since he hit some golf balls on the Mike Douglas Show when he was two years old. And that’s the point. In a culture that creates, celebrates, and then discards its celebrities in a matter of months rather than decades, Tiger Woods has endured and prevailed. When he won the Open on one leg, a reasonable case could be made that he’s the greatest golfer ever.
Now, in just his third tournament since surgery and a lay off of almost a year, he has won again.
Within the world of golf, there is nobody like him. There never has been. Just ask my Mom.
This program aired on April 2, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.