Commentators who care more than I about such things will surely offer a panoply of plausible sounding reasons why Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer in the history of the sport and the most famous athlete in the world, cannot seem to win a major championship when he’s not leading at the start of the final round. There will be conjecture about his psychology, his marital life, his business relationships — anything to explain why one who is so clearly better than everyone else cannot win a tournament like this past weekend’s U.S. Open coming from behind. (For the record, Woods was two strokes back to begin the final 18 holes; he finished one back of the winner, chain-smoking Argentine Angel Cabrera.) No matter how awe-inspiring his physique — Woods resembles a superhero, with broad shoulders, a wasp’s waist, rounded pectorals, and biceps the size of regulation softballs — the most talented player of our lifetime, and probably anyone’s lifetime, could do no better than two-over par through his ultimate round. He never had the lead.
It was not his putting stroke, course management, or swing mechanics that bedeviled Mr. Woods. I think the problem was (and is) that Tiger misses his dad.
Sunday was Father’s Day, another of our national holidays cooked up by the gift-giving industry. And even if one doesn’t buy into the pomp, the circumstance is hard to ignore. Dads, like Mom’s (but in a completely different way), shape our lives. They make us — especially those of us who are boys. Tiger’s dad, Earl, a former Green Beret and a really strange guy, created a champion. It was Earl who taught his little boy, then known as Eldrick, to win, to cope with adversity, to focus. Earl Woods died 14 months ago, and Tiger, you can tell, misses him more than he’s able to express.
I understand what Tiger feels to some degree. I lost my daddy close to three years ago, and I still miss him all the time. When commemorative days like Father’s Day come around, I miss him even more.
We boys want to make our big, strong, inspiring papas proud. How bittersweet it is to do something nice in life, to accomplish something, anything, and have the impulse to call dad with the report. For the rest of his life, the final round of the U.S. Open golf championship will take place on Father’s Day Sunday. I hope for Tiger Woods, and for every other man like him (and me) who has lost their father and misses him terribly, that the ache of absence can be filled with the glow of memory and with the knowledge that the lessons that our dad’s taught us are how they live on in perpetuity.