The Return of the Roar
      Never before had I been so happy for tee times to be moved up. The oncoming storm forcing the early start to The Masters made it possible for me to watch. The final group teeing off late Sunday night for viewers in Japan. Usually, the start would have been closer to 4 AM. Instead, that was the time I finally went to sleep. It was surprising how easy it was to sleep with such joy in my heart. For I had just witnessed one of the most amazing feats in the history of sport. I had just seen the completion of a story arc better than any Hollywood movie. The most transformative athlete of my generation, whose fall from grace seemed to be insurmountable, had just reclaimed his throne. Tiger Woods has won the 2019 Masters.
    Now, for anyone who has known me for any length of time knows one thing. I love golf. Golf is the greatest sport ever created. I have loved the sports since I received my first putter at the age of 3. I wouldn’t say the game exactly loves me back. I’ve been playing for the better part of 30 years and still can’t play well. Unfortunately getting a chance to play consistently was never in the cards. Even as I write this, the gap in time since I last played brings a tear to my eye (golf in Japan is super expensive). None the less, I still am enthralled with the game.
    I grew up admiring the greats like Jack, Arnie and Hogan. I would get a kick out of characters like Jake Trout and the Flounders (yes, it’s a golf and a music thing), Chi Chi, Trevino and the Walrus. It was a fun time to be a golf fan, but it was far from cool. Nothing new to me growing up. Everything changed in 1997. Everything changed when Tiger Woods made his presence known at Augusta. It was the perfect storm of person, place and time to affect a generation of kids (myself included).
    Augusta National, for me personally, is the most hallowed ground in all of sport. St. Andrews is the birthplace of golf and is still sacred ground. But for me as a fan, no course means more than Augusta and no tournament means more than The Masters (Personal Major Rankings: 1. The Masters, 2. British Open, 3. U.S. Open, 4. PGA Championship). Everything about this tournament is just saturated with mystique and tradition. The holes named after flowering trees and shrubs, the Champions Dinner, Amen Corner, the classic CBS Masters theme song, Vern calling the action on 16, the classic yellow and green color scheme (my two favorite colors), the honorary opening tee shots, the par 3 contest on Wednesday, the Low Amateur, Rea’s Creek, Butler Cabin and the ultimate prize, the Green Jacket. Everything about The Masters just immerses you in its greatness. But for me, it goes deeper. Quite often, I find The Masters overlapping with my Birthday. I remember my 15th birthday, watching the final round at home with my Grandmother while enjoying the Boston cream birthday cake my Mom made. The indelible image of Mark O’Meara sinking his birdie putt on 18 to secure his first major forged into my memory.
The year before that though, everything had changed. The day after I turned 14, arguably the greatest ever to play the game made his intentions known. He wasn’t here to win golf tournaments. Tiger was here to revolutionize the sport and shatter the status quo. His swing was beyond athletic, to the extent of being dangerous (eventually leading to a cadre of injuries that almost ended his career). His aggressiveness on the course was only match by his insane creativity and skill. He was making shots you would only dream of in a video game, so they made him the video game (A note to EA: bring back Tiger Woods PGA Tour). No longer was the image of golf about stuffy, older white guys wearing the pits of fashion and receiving polite claps as they tip there caps. Now it was about red on Sunday and the Nike Swoosh everywhere. It was the “Tiger Roars” on the back nine and the giant fist pumps. Now, the game that most saw the sport of old, super rich, white America was owned by a young man of African-American and Asian-American decent. Tiger was on his way to doing something I never would have imagined as possible growing up. He was making golf cool.
The early 2000’s would see Tiger have the most dominate stretch in golf history. He was so far ahead of the field statistically, you questioned the idea of math. 2000 is a joke of a year. Tiger won nine tournaments that year, including three majors (he would win the Master’s the next year for his fourth straight major, completing the “Tiger Slam”). He won the Open Championship by eight shots and the WGC NEC Invitational by 11. Then there is the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that year that he won by 15, recording the only score under par that week (Els and Jimenez tied for second at three over). And even as the field started to catch up to him over the years, Tiger still found ways to make you feel like a sense of wonder that no other contender could provide. The chip in on 16 in the 2005 Masters. The chip at Memorial in 2012 that Jack Nicklaus called the greatest shot he had ever seen (I agree. If that ball goes pass the cup, it’s in the water. And stopping it short was not going to happen). Playing an extra 19 holes in the 2008 U.S. Open to beat Rocco Mediate with a torn ACL and a broken freaking leg. Before the 2019 trip to Georgia, that would be Tiger’s last major win for 11 years.
    Tiger was just approaching his prime years in the sport when the wheels fell off. That violent, athletic swing took its toll on his body. He would have multiple knee and Achilles surgeries in the subsequent years. His back was an absolute mess. It was looking more and more like he would have to choose between playing the game he loved or being able to play with his children. For many though, it was his personal life that overshadowed everything. Divorce, car wrecks and Waffle House waitresses were all anyone was talking about. This was the man who was going to smash the Golden Bears records, now subjugated to tabloid fodder. I won’t defend the man’s actions, nor does he defend his mistakes. Eventually the news cycle moved on and he could focus on what was important to him, his two children. And it was in them he saw something he needed desperately, inspiration.
His children had never seen him win a major. His oldest was just an infant when he last was atop the mountain. So he worked harder than he had ever, to find a way back to his place in the sun. To show that he could still be one of the best in the world. He found new ways to treat his back and retooled his swing to fit his older, for weathered physique. The initial results were, well, not good. They were downright terrible at times. Those of us that had held out hope for years, dreaming for the return of the G.O.A.T. were faced with a shell of the former champ. His appearances were few and the swing changes were many. The media constantly asking if this was truly the end for the fallen icon. Many of us grasping at any glimmer of hope that would shine through. Then, it started to click. Tiger was in the final pairing at the British Open in 2018, his round just not consistent enough to outlast the precision of Molinari. Then he was in contention at the PGA, falling just short once again. But you could feel the groundswell, the momentum. Hope started to spring up again. Then, he broke through. Tiger won the year ending Tour Championship at East Lake, a field limited to the top players that had survived the playoffs. But it wasn’t enough. It was a championship, but it wasn’t a major. It was in Georgia, but it wasn’t Augusta.
     So with the flowers in bloom, and spring in the air, it was time for “A Tradition Unlike Any Other”. A look at the field, a testament to the legacy already forged by Tiger. Some playing that week were past foes of Tiger, who can think the prosperity they received over their careers to Tiger bringing so much attention to the game. The majority though are a young class of golfers, drawn to the game by Tiger. They (much like myself, they just actually can play golf well) grew up in the era of peak Tiger. They wanted to be like him. They played aggressive like him, brought fire and passion​ to the game like him and were not afraid to show their personal style. It’s the reason Fowler wears Orange, Bubba has a pink driver and Tony Finau, well, everything Tony Finau is a direct result of Tiger. Just look at Tiger’s walk to sign his scorecard after he finishes his final round. There is a slew of golfers, some of the biggest names in the current game, all 
waiting to congratulate the hero that shaped their love of the sport. Even Dustin Johnson, never one to talk about anyone other than himself, couldn’t help but mention in his post round interview the renewed energy on the course and the return of the “Tiger Roar”.
     In some aspects, Tiger’s legacy is his own worst enemy. He created an army of golfers, wanting to be great like he was. This has led to an era with more talent than ever before. Don’t let the decline in outside interest in golf since Tiger’s decline fool you. There are more elite talents in golf now than at any point in history. Tiger dominated because he was, for the most part, heads and shoulders ahead of everyone else. Now, you have a slew of amazing golfers who have created an exciting tour with massive amounts of parody. But the eyes of the outside world aren’t focused on the PGA, because it’s missing that one stand out figure. Golf was missing its Jordan (don’t get me started on the MJ / Tiger comparisons). That all changed Sunday in Augusta.
Tiger entered the final round tied for second, two shots behind Francesco Molinari. Due to a major storm working its way into the area, tee times were pushed forward to the morning and groups of three went out instead of the traditional pairings. Tiger found himself in the final group with the leader and the young Finau. The start of the round bit inconsistent for Tiger, his three birdies and three bogies keeping him two shots back of Molinari thru 11. The leaderboard was getting log jammed at the top, with a plethora of Tiger disciples either within two shots of the lead. Everything changed at the par 3 twelfth. Both Molinari and Finau came up short and found the water. Tiger played it safe, placing his shot 50 feet left of the pin. This was the same strategy Jack would use. Tiger two-putted for par and found himself tied for the lead. The roars started to build as the score was posted throughout the grounds. They grew more as Tiger birdied the thirteenth, still tied for the lead. Some of the young guns ahead started to show signs of nerves, falling to the wayside. They were starting to feel what so many felt nearly two decades previous. Then on the par 5 fifteenth, Molinari would once again find the water (that damned pinecone). Tiger two-putted for birdie, following another controlled approach shot, and took the lead. The crowd was ready to explode. The par three sixteenth has been the site of some memorable moments in tournament history. This year was no exception.
     Tiger stepped up to the tee with a one shot lead, memories of 2005 swimming in everyone’s heads. Tiger knows this treacherous green better than anyone. He knew exactly where to place his eight iron to take the ridge perfectly. And as his tee shot came dangerously close to giving us the third hole-in-one that day, settling only a couple feet from the cup, the classic “Tiger Roar” filled Augusta National. Tiger taped in for birdie, taking a two shot lead into the final two holes. The energy and excitement of the moment was too much for the contenders in front as they succumbed to the moment. I was still a bit cautious with my optimism, knowing that the seventeenth was not exactly a cake walk. But when Tiger hit a brilliant approach shot, making for a solid two-putt par, I knew I could finally enjoy the moment. Tiger did make a bit of a meal out of the final hole (though, you could tell he was ready for the major fist pump if that par putt went in), but the tap-in five was enough to seal the deal. Tiger, who had won so many tournaments with pure power and skill, had just won his fifth Green Jacket through cunning, patience and determination.   
     Tiger let out a primal scream, the emotion of the last decade being released in one moment of glory. He had found his way back to the mountain top. The crowd erupted in euphoria, a giant “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” chant filling the course. The pure joy on everyone’s faces saying even more. The greatest comeback story, the greatest redemption story in sports history had just unfolded in front of them. Tiger is back. The questions of how long this will last, or if he can now finally catch Jack’s majors record, irrelevant in the moment. Tiger Woods, after fourteen years, was once again The Masters Champion! As he came off the green, he scooped up his son, giving him a gigantic hug. The image (as CBS was quick to point out) mirroring Tiger’s first win at Augusta 22 years before, when he embraced his Father who had just overcome a heart attack. The Son, whose love of the game was passed down from his Father, was now the Father passing down his love.
     The bond between a Father and his Son over the game of golf will always be the part that sticks with me the most. In the many years I have played golf, I have had many influences. My Uncle Ron and my Uncle Dave were role models to me growing up, stirring up my interest in golf. Playing with my friends and with my Bro were always fun, no matter how bad I played. Tiger influenced everything from the equipment I used (everything Nike), to an aggressive style of play (not that it worked out well). But golf for me has always been, and will always be, about playing with my Dad. I would say that 80% of the golf I have played in my life has been with my Dad. Most of the time, at the small nine-hole course just up river form where we lived. Growing up, we weren’t able to go as often as either of us would have like. Dad worked hard, and very odd hours at times, to provide for our family. I wouldn’t get to buy my own clubs until I graduated from High School.
     As I grew older, Dad and I could find time to head out more. I had a bit of a short fuse when it came to my golf game and Dad often would call me out for it. But no matter how irritated either of us were with that day’s round, I always made tried to say “Thank You” on the way home. These were the most important times for me. Sharing the game I love the most, with the man who I always wanted to make proud. Seeing Dad smile when I had chipped in for birdie while standing in the bunker on eight or how I drove the green on three was worth all the errant tee shots and chunked irons in the world. One of the hardest realizations I have had to come to, is that I may never get to play golf with my Father again. Obviously, being in two separate countries is a bit of a hindrance. But due to some medical reasons, golf may never be a possibility for him again. This is a concept I still try to deny in my mind to this day. I don’t want to believe that I can’t head home, throw my clubs in the back of the truck and head out to play a round with the man whom I would rather share that experience with then anyone else. Life is never fair though and time is undefeated.
     When Tiger came off the 18th green, returning to the throne he had left empty for over a decade, his Father wasn’t there to greet him like he did in 1997. Earl Woods passed away in 2006, a year after Tiger won his fourth Green Jacket. Even that year, Earl had to watch from Butler Cabin, his health too poor to venture out to the course. The special connection between Father and Son that the Woods’s had, strengthened by the game of golf, only now a found memory. Now though, Tiger has a new connection, the one with his children. A connection that drove him to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes. A connection that brought him back to that Green Jacket that fits him so well. This weekend in Augusta, Tiger Woods showed that the connection between a parent and their children can drive a person to perform feats that would seem impossible. He also showed that even as time takes one connection from us, it can bring us a new one all the same. I grew up wanting to be like Tiger Woods because he was an amazing golfer. Now I want to grow up to be like Tiger Woods and share my love of this great game with my own children one day. Until then, I will just continue to enjoy the ride as a fan of Tiger. I will continue to lend my voice when it’s time for the “Tiger Roar”.
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​Everything changed when Tiger Woods made his presence known at Augusta. It was the perfect storm of person, place and time to affect a generation of kids...
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Jeff Maack
 
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