On Sunday, April 14, 2019, Tiger Woods shocked the world by winning his fifth Masters Tournament championship. Just two years earlier, many people thought Woods might never swing a golf club again. His unlikely return to the pinnacle of the sport is a story of both physical rehabilitation and personal redemption.
The winner of 81 professional events, including 15 majors, Tiger Woods was in a league of his own for most of his career. Though players like Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia occasionally bested Woods, Tiger dominated his sport like no other athlete in history. However, after suffering a fractured leg, a torn ACL, four back surgeries, and a years-long winless streak, it appeared that Woods’ professional career was over as recently as 2017.
On May 29, 2017, Eldrick Tiger Woods was arrested near his home in Jupiter, Florida, for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Officers found Woods passed out behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz at 2:00 in the morning. A subsequent toxicology report showed that Woods had traces of five different drugs in his system at the time of his arrest.
The man who had been on top of the world since winning his first Masters Tournament in 1997 at the tender age of 21, was reduced to a drug-addled, 41-year-old wretch sitting in a Florida jail.
Woods’ decline began following the death of his father and mentor Earl. Earl Woods began teaching his son the game of golf when Tiger was barely old enough to hold a club. A two-year-old Tiger was spotted hitting golf balls during a local news segment by television talk show host Mike Douglas who later invited the boy and his father to appear on his show alongside golf/comedy icon Bob Hope. The rest is history.
Earl kept Tiger in the spotlight and on the golf course throughout his childhood. Under Earl’s tutelage, a young Tiger won 21 times as an amateur including three consecutive U.S. Amateur Championships.
Following Earl’s death, Tiger would part ways with his second swing coach Hank Haney, with whom he had won 31 tour events and six major championships. He would later hire and fire two more coaches in a desperate attempt to get back what he had lost.
Tiger’s personal life began to unravel during this time, too. Woods’ marriage to Elin Nordegren, the mother of his two children, ended in 2009 when it was revealed that Woods was a serial cheater and sex addict.
Tiger Woods had, both professionally and personally, hit rock bottom. But Americans love a good comeback story.
After the divorce, Woods focused on becoming a better father. In 2014, Elin told People Magazine, “My relationship with Tiger is centered around our children and we are doing really good–we really are–and I am so happy that is the case. He is a great father.”
After his arrest in 2017, Woods began to physically recover following spinal fusion surgery. He opted to work without a swing coach for the first time in his life, deciding to simply listen to what his body was telling him.
Last September, Woods won the Tour Championship—his first win in over five years. He was in contention at the British Open and the PGA Championship last season as well. Heading into 2019, Woods was confident that he could win at the highest level again.
Last weekend, 22 years after his first win at Augusta National Golf Club, Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters championship, capping one of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of sport.
To be happy for Tiger Woods does not mean that one condones his past misdeeds. If, however, Tiger’s ex-wife and children have forgiven him, then so should we. Woods is a human being who grew up in the spotlight under a tremendous amount of pressure. He was bound to make his fair share of mistakes. What is important is that he has shown contrition for them, has learned from them, and has persevered in their wake.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes over the years, too. While I’ve never cheated on my wife or been arrested for DUI, I must admit that I have mistreated Bethany emotionally and driven under the influence. I’ve made many errors in judgement that I got away with simply because, unlike Tiger, my life has for the most part been lived in private.
I do regret the thoughtless and careless things I have done over the years, and I am deeply sorry for my actions. I have learned from my mistakes and because of that fact, I am a better man today than I have ever been.
Hopefully, the same is true for Tiger.
In perhaps the most poignant scene in recent sports memory, Woods was seen embracing his son Charlie after walking off the 18th green—in virtually the exact spot where Tiger had embraced his father Earl 22 years ago. Such moments of pure magic and joy are rare in life and should be celebrated.
Congratulations, Tiger. And welcome back.