January 07, 2010
As a tour player, by far the toughest moment was when I was packing my suitcase to head off to a tournament. My youngest son, Todd, was pulling at my pants leg, pleading: "Daddy, please don't go! Can you stay so we can go fishing?" He followed me to the car, and to this day I can still see him in my rearview mirror trotting after the car, reaching out with his hands, crying. The thought of that still makes me cry.Many people in different walks of life go through the same thing; the thousands of soldiers in Iraq with families at home come to mind. For pro golfers, the ramifications on their careers are uniquely debilitating. Leaving your family behind hurts your enthusiasm, and if your heart isn't in the game, you'll never play your best golf. When I was hovering at the cut line, I became less determined to hang around on the weekend. That's a bad sign.Elite players today don't have to deal with that as much; more often they bring the family with them. Watching the kids run onto the green to hug their dad, who just won, is the rule rather than the exception. But hundreds of pros on the various tours still deal with being away from their families, and though they're reluctant to talk about it for fear they'll sound like they're whining, it's a factor in their performance and longevity.
It took a trained eye to see it, but Act I of the Tiger Woods drama came to an end at Oakmont during last year's U.S. Open, when he finished runner-up. For years before the Open we saw a fiery, intense, fist-pumping, majors-obsessed prodigy. Now we're ready for Act II, in which Tiger's character has evolved. You could say he has undergone the equivalent of a wardrobe change.What's the difference between Tiger pre-Oakmont and the Tiger we're seeing now? At Oakmont, Tiger was fighting to pick off his third U.S. Open, and as always, he was bearing down on every shot. But he had an air of serenity about him he hadn't had before. It was almost spiritual. Between shots his mind seemed relaxed. He wasn't practicing his swing positions as frequently or as intently. Instead of glaring, he seemed lost in his thoughts. He smiled more. We found out later that his wife, Elin, gave birth to the couple's first child hours after the Open ended. There was something about his countenance that tells me the new Tiger is here to stay.So what can we expect of Tiger during Act II? I think he's going to tear through the majors like a tornado the next 10 years and get Jack's record. Then he's going to back off. He's not a guy who is going to peak in his 40s. His place in golf history secured and with more financial security than any golfer in history, Tiger will put other interests, such as his foundation, ahead of golf. That's when he'll do what Earl Woods predicted: have a positive impact on society like no other athlete before or since.