July 7, 2007

Sirak Says: Tiger and Fatherhood

Will family affect Tiger's chase of Jack's majors?

Tiger finished T-7 in his first tourney since his daughter was born.

Tiger finished T-7 in his first tourney since his daughter was born.

That's it. He's done. Call him a cab. Fatherhood has ruined Tiger Woods. His competitive edge has clearly been drowned in a pile of Pampers. While no rival really arose during the Tiger Woods Era to take him down, his reign as best player on the planet was ended by a 5-pound bundle of joy named Sam Alexis. Jack Nicklaus can breathe easy; his record of 18 professional major championships and 20 overall is safe.

Little Sam has done what Lefty, Vijay and Ernie have been unable to do -- expose her old man as a mere mortal subject to the same soft spots as any of the rest of us. This is, of course, hogwash. The fact Woods finished T-7 at the AT&T National, the PGA Tour event of which he is host and his first competition since Sam was born June 18, means absolutely nothing. You want to bet against him at the British Open next week? Tiger is still Tiger -- father or not.

One of the burdens of greatness is being held to an unfair standard. You are judged not against others but against yourself. And one of the annoyances of the multitasking, attention deficit disorder culture in which we currently reside is that historical perspective is no broader than the here and now. Why is there a tendency to act as if Tiger Woods is the first person on the face of the earth to ever have a baby?

First off, he didn't have the child, his wife Elin did. This is not like Nancy Lopez or Juli Inkster trying to come back and win tournaments after giving birth. Also, I'm guessing the Woods family has a little help. Do you really think he is doling that 3 a.m. feeding? Why are we acting like the birth of this child is potentially damaging to the career of this supremely talented man? If anything, being a parent will make him a happier person -- and possibly a better golfer.

Will Tiger Woods be a good father? Yup, because in Earl he had a good father after which to model himself. That bear of a man was a Green Beret but he also could be brought to tears by a mediocre greeting card. Will being a father make Woods care less about his quest to be remembered as the greatest ever to play the game? Nope. Tiger will continue to win majors for Earl -- and now for Sam.

The fact that we should speculate so intensely on the impact of parenthood on Woods is a perfect example of how self-focused society has become. If it's happening right now it must be the most important thing ever to happen. Here's a tip: Other babies have been born. And even some of them have been born to not only great athletes but great doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs. And you know what? Those parents remained great doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs.

There is a delicious bit of timing in the birth of Sam Alexis. Tiger needs seven more professional majors to pass Jack. The quickest Woods has won seven majors was over the course of four seasons (1999-2002). Say it takes twice that long for Tiger to get seven more and reach 19. That would make Sam an 8-year-old well able to appreciate watching her father make history. You think Tiger won't enjoy winning tournaments when his daughter is old enough to appreciate the fact he is winning them?

Here is a situation to imagine. Tiger wins his 19th major to pass Jack. Elin is there, and so is Sam. There will be a hug shared by father and daughter that will no doubt trigger tears of memory for the grandfather not there to see it. Remember, Tiger named his daughter after the code name Earl used for his son. Think about what that means.

This all started -- this entire quest to be the best ever -- back in that garage in California with Tiger in a high chair watching Pops hit golf balls into a net. It went through total domination of first the junior ranks and then the amateurs and then the professionals. That first Masters Tiger won at Augusta National in 1997 ended with father and son in a tearful embrace. The last Masters Tiger won ended with Tiger in tears -- alone -- precisely because he was alone, Earl too sick to be there.

The mission Earl and Tiger embarked on 30 years ago is not yet completed. But the finish line is clearly defined. Tiger will pass Jack. Being a father won't slow that quest; in fact it will likely motivate it further. Earl can't be there to share the hug when the record falls -- but Sam Alexis will be. To think that fatherhood will have any negative effect on Tiger Woods is pure folly.

What lies ahead is one more burst of golf so great it lies beyond our imagination. He did it in 1999-2002, and again in 2005-06. The guy is only 31 years old, and brilliantly talented. Earl is no longer there to share the walk to greatness with Tiger, but Sam Alexis is. It's going to be fun watching him win for his daughter that way he used to win for his dad. Hey, it's a family thing. And family makes us better at what we do.