Health and personal issues have hindered Tiger Woods in his quest to surpass Jack Nicklaus in major victories. David Cannon/Getty Images
We need to talk about Tiger Woods. I’m old enough to remember a time when breaking Jack Nicklaus’s major championships record was merely a formality. I remember growing up watching Tiger as the first athlete of my era to live up to and outperform all the hype that accompanied him. I remember watching golf every weekend. I even took up golfing because Tiger was cool.
By the age of 32, Woods claimed his 14th career major victory, winning the 2008 U.S. Open. Nicklaus was 35 when he won his 14th major. He was 46 when he won his 18th and final major in 1986. There was no way anything was going slow Tiger enough for him to fail to chase down Nicklaus.
Then, Tiger had knee surgery two days after winning the U.S. Open in 2008. In the near decade since his last major win, he has won 14 PGA tournaments and zero majors. Imagine the disappointment of seeing one of your childhood sports heroes reduced to a laughingstock, the definition of washed. Imagine realizing Tiger might not win another major again, let alone another PGA tournament altogether.
In late May, Woods was arrested and charged with a DUI, asleep in his running car, which was stopped in a traffic lane. In June, Tiger took to Twitter and announced he was receiving professional help to manage his back pain and sleeping disorder. He has also not played in a tournament since back surgery in April.
Here’s why Tiger needs a mulligan: For the past decade, he’s watched himself deteriorate physically, is no longer a dominant golfer, yet he’s continue to chase the ghost of his former self that no longer exists. For the longest time, despite the injury setbacks, despite his subpar performances, I held out hope that the old Tiger would return. He would find his groove, dominate the PGA again, wear his famous red shirt on Sundays and fist pump his way into the record books.
I finally set those hopes aside when he conducted an exclusive interview with TIME Magazine last year on his 40th birthday. On recovering from back surgery, he said: “I don’t want to have another procedure. And two, even if I don’t come back and I don’t play again, I still want to have a quality of life with my kids. I started to lose that with the other surgeries.” Tiger goes on to tell a story of his daughter Sam finding him in their backyard lying on his back after he hit a nerve practicing a flop shot.
Imagine being the greatest athlete in your sport, arguably the greatest golfer in history, and then imagine being reduced to an injured 40-year-old soliciting help from your 10-year-old in your backyard. It’s a steep fall, and while none of us are elite athletes, you can imagine how hard it is to accept the new reality that you are truly washed.
Listen, Tiger, I promise I’m calling you washed in the most endearing way. We all grow old. We all become a shadow of our selves. This is just how life works. The decline is much harder for you, because you were on your way to the record books and then everything just fell apart, and now there’s no way to put it back together on the golf course.
But remember what you said in that TIME Magazine interview. Being with your kids, finding happiness outside the pressures of your professional working environment (in this case, a golf course, what a life!) is way more important than pushing yourself and draining yourself mentally and physically to somehow win more tournaments, maybe even four more majors.
I won’t pretend to know Tiger’s mind-set, but reading countless interviews and watching clips of him from the past few years, I am reasonable certain of one thing: Tiger isn’t happy. And above everything else, I just want Tiger to be happy and healthy. If that means he should let go of whatever he thinks he can still accomplish on the golf course, so be it.
Unburden yourself of the expectations you placed on yourself when you first joined the PGA, and just live your life and don’t let your failures make you miserable. Find your peace and happiness in your 40s. Maybe even just hit a golf course with your kids and find some joy in playing the sport you love without the pressures that come with it. I hope you take this mulligan and enjoy the years you still have ahead of you.