Over the past weekend there were some amazing sporting events taking place both locally and on a bigger stage. But one of the most significant might not have made it onto your radar screen here in Happy Valley.
Events included the State College Little Lions playing a historic senior day football game in Beaver Stadium (an exciting come from behind 33-21 victory over rival Cumberland Valley); the Penn State football team defeating Michigan State convincingly 28-7 in East Lansing for the first time since 2009 to improve to 8-0; unranked Kansas State upsetting No. 5 Oklahoma 48-41 (resulting in the Nittany Lions moving up to No. 5 in the latest rankings); he Philadelphia Eagles trouncing the Buffalo Bills 33-13 to even their record at 4-4; and the Houston Astros winning their third straight game against the Washington Nationals to take a 3-2 lead in the World Series. That doesn’t even include Penn State soccer, volleyball, and basketball.
In fact, as I was watching ESPN’s SportsCenter late on Sunday night, a message flashed across the bottom of the screen noting that Sunday was a rare “Sports Equinox” when the four major sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) were all in action on the same day. So, what was the lead story on SportsCenter on this “Sports Equinox” day in late October? Golf. Say what?
That’s right, golf. It was because 43-year-old Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest athlete of the past thre decades, captured the PGA Tour’s ZoZo Championship in Chiba, Japan, giving him a record tying 82nd PGA Tournament victory. He tied the mark set by the legendary Sam Snead, who last won 54 years ago at the age of 52.
To put this record into proper perspective, it took Sam Snead 585 starts to earn his 82nd tour victory. Tiger accomplished it in just 359 career starts regularly playing against a much deeper field of challengers. To further drive home the point of how hard it is to win a professional golf tournament, Jack Nicklaus (still considered the greatest golfer of all-time with 18 majors) had 73 tour victories in 595 starts. Ben Hogan recorded 64 victories in 300 starts. Even “The King” himself, Arnold Palmer, won a mere 62 PGA tournaments in a career that spanned four decades.
Tiger, always with a flair for the dramatics, won this latest championship in style by starting the tournament with three straight bogeys but finishing by making a birdie putt on the 18th hole, holding off local Japanese hero Hideki Matsuyama by three strokes. Due to a torrential downpour that wiped out play on Friday, the tournament concluded on a Monday morning in Japan (Sunday evening here) with a fraction of the fans that would have normally attended a final round or watched on TV with Tiger in the hunt. Tiger’s global impact is the stuff of legend. Both good and unfortunately, bad.
Arguably the greatest individual sport professional athlete of all-time, and almost certainly of his generation, Tiger fell out of favor with a lot of people around the world (including me) when he went through a dark time in his life that resulted in a very public humiliation ending with a very public divorce. Some have still not forgiven him for his well-documented battles with sex addiction and an ugly DUI arrest. While I cannot forget what he did, I am in awe of what he has overcome — not only to get his golf game back to a world class level, but how he has resurrected his reputation in part because of his commitment to be a good father to his children.
He has endured the pressures of constant public scrutiny. He had four back surgeries, three left knee surgeries (including an ACL tear), an Achilles tendon surgery, and a host of minor injuries that would have had most athletes running toward retirement. He went through a five-year stretch from age 37 to 42 when he didn’t win a single tournament. When he was asked in 2017 if he thought he could ever win another golf tournament he answered that he was more worried about being able to have a quality of life with his children that didn’t include debilitating pain from all his injuries, most notably his back.
Nelson Mandela once said, “If our expectations, if our fondest prayers and dreams, are not realized, then we should all bear in mind that the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling but in rising every time you fall.”
Whether you love him or loathe him, what Tiger Woods has done to return to golf’s top levels is physically and psychologically nothing short of a miracle. Tiger has adapted. His game was once all about his incredible power and the speed at which he could swing a golf club. Today it is all about precision. He doesn’t hit the ball anywhere near as far as he used to nor does he keep up with his younger competitors. He doesn’t have to anymore. He outthinks his competition. He grinds it out better than his competitors. He still plays the game “between his ears” better than anyone in the history of the sport.
While I personally love hockey, I am more passionate these days about golf, both playing the game and watching on TV or in person. With my hockey playing days essentially over, except for the annual Penn State alumni game, a few over-40 pick-up games, and the rare outdoor skate at long-time friend Tim Holdcroft’s backyard rink (when the weather cooperates), I hope to continue to play golf for a long time.
A love of golf is something I share with my youngest son, Ryan, a former State High varsity golfer, who is now a freshman at Penn State. Whether it was walking with him at Augusta National for the 2016 Masters tournament, or at Oakmont Country Club for the 2016 U.S. Open, or at Baltusrol Country Club for the 2016 PGA Championship, or taking a photo at the 17th green at Pebble Beach and walking up the historic 18th fairway, we have shared some memorable times on the links. Ryan bought my wife and me, for our 30th wedding anniversary, tickets to see the final round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the Northern Trust Tournament at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. Yes, golf is in our veins.
It is that passion we have for golf, and our fascination with an athlete that has overcome so much, that draws us to Tiger Woods, warts and all. According to The Guardian, Tiger is reportedly writing a book that doesn’t have a release date just yet.
“Fresh from a startling career comeback after years of battling injuries, sex addiction and tabloids,” the report begins, ”Tiger Woods has announced a new memoir titled Back in which he promises to tell his ‘definitive story’.”
You can bet that we will be ordering the book as soon as it comes out. I believe Tiger will be authentic and candid and it will be a great story about rising from the fall.
Whether you are a fan of Tiger or not, you have to admit that he has had a lot to overcome in his life and career to keep himself relevant in today’s sports crazy world.
Happy Valley has an insatiable appetite for sports of all kinds and at all levels, and it is precisely because of the myriad of sporting events locally, nationally, and indeed globally, that you almost missed one of the most historic sports accomplishments of the weekend. More accurately, of all-time.