As the 4th round of the 2019 Masters Golf Tournament unfolded, I had the unsettling feeling that a man that I don’t even know, have never spoken with, and could only go by what I had read other people say about him, was making a prediction I had made regarding his future, look very foolish indeed.
I had blithely, and maybe even smugly, stated that Tiger Woods was through: that if he ever even played again he would be, at best, a shadow of what he once was– a tragic figure of a former sports start trying vainly to recapture his past glory.
I had the twin realization, that in spite of my inner embarrassment, I was now unabashedly rooting for him, which, on the whole made me feel rather sophomoric. I had more or less kicked him when he was down, altho, lord knows, many were in much better position to make themselves visible in that regard than me, and now I was merrily jumping back on the Tiger Bandwagon, now that there was this amazing feel-good story developing before our eyes.
The more I thought about it, the clearer the conclusion came to me, that my better angel was the one rooting for him. After all, whatever human frailties he exhibited, and however people described him (aloof, cold, self-centered, etc.), it was a testimony to the human spirit that he tried mightily, in the face of daunting circumstances, and many doubters, not to mention his own self-doubts, which he had acknowledged, and persevered, at an age when it would have been easy to say– I’m in my 40’s now, I’ve accomplished a lot as a golfer, and I’m set financially– what have I got to prove?
Many of us, and rightly so, would admire, and be somewhat awed by his perseverance. And we couldn’t mistake his reaction as anything other than the joy that any of us feels when we’ve striven and succeeded at our goals.
So that is our better angel, the one that doesn’t waste a lot of energy envying what others do, but gives credit where credit is due, and possibly, in doing so, sees the role that such individuals play in reminding us all, that if we care, and we work, and we are willing to keep getting up when we fall, or fail, that good things can happen. Maybe not every time, and maybe not often, but we can deserve for them to happen, and sometimes, that would even be satisfaction enough.
So what that leaves me to consider is the sobering thought that maybe I was just a callous human being, willing to heap discredit and shame upon someone that I hardly knew, and couldn’t even have reasonably claimed that I did. Could it be that, in my modest life, I got some satisfaction out of seeing the mighty Tiger Woods be revealed as having feet of clay? Like that was some marvelous revelation, that he wasn’t perfect, that his own particular foibles were capable of handicapping him, as surely, we must admit our own shortcomings could do the same to us.
Maybe his own demons troubled him, and maybe his physical challenges might have overwelmed him, but by all accounts (and again, I am cautiously adding that I can’t really know) he has weathered the storm and come out on the other size a better human being and a still shining example of excellence. Whatever the details, I feel silly now, in acknowledging that my motives for saying he was through, were partly sourced from my hope that he was, so I could say, “Look, he’s no better than the rest of us. He had this great talent, and the world by the tail, and he threw it all away” That wasn’t even completely true, but I see now that smugness was the dominant rationale to that sentiment, and that maybe I could have been a trifle more sympathetic or at least more neutral in my assessment.
I could have easily said, “Well, the deck is stacked against him right now; he’s had some personal issues and health problems that have given him a challenging road. Let’s see how he handles it, maybe this set of circumstances will galvanize him and he’ll come through it okay- a better man, if not a better golfer.
I could have said something like that. But instead, I chose to haughtily predict that he was “through” as if that myopic observation was even of any value. If it had come to pass, it would have had less to say about my powers of prediction and more about the frailty of existence. Most people are trying to walk a successful line in life, and some do it better than others, but maybe the default should be that we respect others, and not gauge our love or scorn based on how they compare to us in their lives.