I was in my room getting dressed for work this morning, when I made the necessary decision to turn from MSNBC — where they were chattering incessantly about the United States bombing Syria — to ESPN where they were talking about something decidedly more sanguine: A tradition unlike any other…the Masters.
Initially, the Masters coverage was just white noise as I continued to put on my casual Friday gear for work, but I stopped in my tracks when I realized ESPN was looking back at the 1997 Masters — also known as “The Tiger Woods Coming out Party”. Via interviews and old footage, ESPN covered the 1997 Masters round by round letting the viewing public know what Tiger was thinking and more importantly what his impact was on current and older golfers. Of particular interest to me were the words from Lee Elder — the first African American golfer to play in the Masters.
Right before Tiger’s final round in the ’97 Masters, Elder talked to Tiger and told him that this round would be the most difficult round he ever had to play. Not because he had 18 more holes to endure and not because this was his first major tournament, but because this victory wouldn’t just be about a green jacket, it would be about representing older African-American golfers who had been had been denied access to August National where the Masters Tournament was played. Elder also remarked that the much of the Augusta staff (cooks, maids and groundskeepers) were also African-American, and stopped what they were doing to fully take in Tiger’s triumph.
At this point, I was no longer getting dressed, I just stood half-clothed in front of the television completely transfixed. They showed Tiger’s signature fist pump after he made his last putt to win the Masters, then they showed him take that methodical walk to his father Earl, who had been teaching Tiger to play since the age of 3 (he was 21 when he won the Masters). Tiger got to his dad, hugged him tightly, and then they both started crying.
And then I did the same in my half-clothed state.
The wife saw me crying and gave me a hug, which was both needed and appreciated. As I explained to her later, I wasn’t crying because Tiger and his dad were crying, and I wasn’t crying because Earl Woods has now gone on to glory. I was crying because I’ve been there before.
I’m no professional golfer and I am certainly not an elite athlete, but at numerous points in my life, I’ve accomplished things that made me feel like a champion. And since I credit my father with arming me with so many of the tools I use in life on a daily basis, he is usually the person I want to interact with first when I achieve those personal milestones.
That’s not a slap in the face to my mother, my wife, my brother or my friends, it is just the ultimate compliment to my father, who is still very much alive and teaching me lessons. So when Tiger won the Masters, and made that beeline to his dad so they could share that cathartic moment, I felt that emotion too. I cried 20 years ago when I first saw it, and I’ve cried every time I’ve seen it since then — including this morning.
But this morning those tears were more plentiful than usual because my mind went to another dark place, which isn’t easy to discuss. I allowed my mind to jump to the future and what I would do if I achieved a moment of great personal triumph and my dad was no longer around to share it with me.
I thought back to the 2006 British Open which was Tiger’s first major tournament after his father’s death. Tiger was stoic and surgical during the tournament, but the minute he won, he went to his caddie and broke down crying.
Afterwards Tiger admitted that not only was he emotional because his father had passed away earlier that year, but he was also sad because winning without his father around was a personal milestone, and he wished his dad was around to share in that accomplishment as well.
I’m not an overly morbid person, but I know that type of moment is coming my way sometime in the future, and although I don’t have to handle it publicly the way Tiger did (and still does), I hope I conquer those moments the right way. The way my father has prepared me for my whole life.