Time for Tiger to Retire


As the winner of the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational, I am uniquely qualified to tell Tiger Woods that it's time to hang up the spikes. Because, that's exactly what I should have done immediately after the highlight of my competitive golfing career.
Some may point to the minor differences between Tiger's great win at Torrey Pines and my great win 28 years earlier at the Charleston Municipal Golf Course. But, in reality, they're much the same. As such, it's my duty to warn Tiger of the pitfalls of living with such a win before it ruins his life.
I know of what I speak. I had every opportunity to walk away from the game as a 17-year-old, having just told a reporter on the final green of The Al, 'Hey, I almost got beat by a 13-year-old today, I better look for other career opportunities.' Instead, I went on to become a mediocre player on a mediocre college team. With that, and the constant mocking by my own teammates on my booming 225-yard drives, the game lost its magic for me.
To many, Torrey Pines was Tiger's defining moment as a professional golfer.
I'm telling you, if Tiger lost the Open to some 45-year-old guy with a peace sign belt buckle, it would have been more embarrassing than if I had lost 'The Al' to some kid barely in the throes of puberty.
People will say 'What about Nicklaus's records?' Well, those are Nicklaus's records and he can keep them. Barry Bonds may officially have the home run record, but has that made anyone forget Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth? Not at all.
I speak as one of Tiger's biggest fans when I say that Tiger's retirement will be great for Tiger. Tiger's life does not look easy or fun, which is why I would understand his retirement. Tiger carries the weight of his own expectations, his Father's expectations and the expectations of something like 19 corporate conglomerates in his every stride. No wonder his knees can't keep up with the burden.
Tiger now has to take a year off because he has been so driven to compete that he developed two stress fractures while on a training run. John Daly coughed up a lung when he heard this. My knees have gotten so bad that just last week I had to quit jogging three miles into a six-mile run with my girlfriend. No one noticed when I hired a pedicab to haul my ass back to the house. But, Tiger? In a pedicab? Gatorade wouldn't stand for it.
I have always pulled for Tiger. But, as I watched this year's Open, I couldn't help thinking that I would rather be Rocco. Perhaps that's because I, too, am a 45-year-old with a bad back who no one expects much from on or off the golf course. Let's be honest, I am Rocco Mediate. Nike could sell a ton of back braces with that ad campaign.
Through the years, Tiger has given us enough. Enough drama. Enough winning smiles. Enough emotion. Enough fist pumps. And, enough hot girlfriends and wives. Tiger you can go ahead and take some time for yourself. Heck, you can take the rest of your life. It is your life, after all.
Bobby Jones never expressed any regrets after retiring from competitive golf at 28. Mr. Jones did just fine with his law practice, business interests, co-founding Augusta National and doing whatever a national treasure and landed Southern gentleman does with his down time. Imagine what Tiger can do when he finally gets enough time to finish his Stanford degree.
What matters most is Tiger's actual life. If he's not careful, it will pass him by. According to a well-placed Orlando source, prior to Tiger's recent rehab, he was so busy that he had one assistant whose sole job was to remind Tiger of his daughters name. Each time after Tiger's Lear Jet landed in some distant foreign land, the assistant whispered 'Your little girl is named 'Sam.''
I can't help but think that Tiger is at his happiest now that he gets to see Sam every day. Heck, I would be happy just sitting around all morning watching Elin eat oatmeal.
Well, I'm here, a lone voice in the wind shouting 'Tiger...you just do what you want and it's perfectly OK if it's not golf.' Tiger's been under pressure his whole life, and he deserves a break from the game.
I first saw Tiger live on The Mike Douglas Show with Jimmy Stewart and Bob Hope. I remember distinctly being a rising 16-year-old junior golfer and thinking, 'With that pushy father, this little kid will burn out by 15 and never even be as good as me.' I was oh, so wrong.
For nearly 30 years, I've been hooked on Tiger. I kept up as Tiger won every single World Junior in San Diego even though I lived 3000 miles away. I kept up with his three straight U.S. Juniors and then three straight U.S. Amateurs.
It was great that Earl Woods got to see Tiger's '97 Masters victory and the 15-shot win at the 2000 U.S. Open. I remember thinking how cool it would be for Tiger to win the 100th playing of the U.S. Open. I remember thinking how 'if' Tiger could somehow win, it would be perfectly OK with me if he never won another tournament.
Tiger won plenty more tournaments from Dubai to Torrey Pines. That chip at the Masters on number 16 will be remembered until the sun explodes. Tiger has created fame and infamy for every runner up from Buddy Marrucci to Bob May and Rocco Mediate. So, Tiger, it is perfectly fine to forget about 'records,' sit back and drink your own special blend of Gatorade until AARP sends you hourly newsletters.
Somewhere right now, behind the gates, surveillance equipment, body guards and booby traps surrounding his home are Tiger's wife and daughter. And I bet there is a strong part of Tiger that really does want to be there with them every day.
I know that when I was a young father, the most important place on Earth was in the presence of my wife and child. If I were anywhere else, I felt that I was remiss in my primary duty to love and protect them. Despite my now-ex-wife's thoughts on the matter, I know that I am not alone in this thinking.
History tells us that there once was a fellow named John Lennon. He was rather famous after a stint in a band called 'The Beatles.' A very popular guy across the Universe, was this John Lennon. Well, after his second son was born, this John Lennon fellow decided that he had enough of touring and recording and well, being John Lennon. So, he stayed home with his baby, Sean, and wife, Yoko.
John Lennon never expressed any regrets for what he gave up. In fact, he often referred to those 5 years as the most significant period of his life ' a period completely without gold records, awards, sold-out concerts or jetting about.
I figure if it was good enough for John Lennon, a person with encyclopedic knowledge on fame and fortune, it must be good enough for Tiger Woods.
Despite what corporate America thinks, American Express and Gatorade and Nike and Buick will do just fine with Tiger off the golf course. Well, maybe not Buick. Tiger's a golfer, not a Nobel Prize-winning hydrogen fuel cell engineer. But, even if no one else on the planet feels this way, I understand. Just do it, Tiger...retire.
And, for those who think I'm a hypocrite for telling Tiger to retire while I'm in the midst of what my 85-year-old mother calls my 'ridiculous quest' to regain my junior golfing form, you are absolutely correct. And any way, I'm guessing that like me, Tiger has some personal reason to keep on playing.
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
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Editor's note: Michael Fechter, orphan worker and humorist, has the best job in golf: he's paid to be the Ambassador of Fun for golf courses across America. His 'job' is to make the courses he represents across America more interesting, unique and fun. Enjoy his humorous series on getting back into the game as he struggles to get his game into the shape it was nearly 30 years ago when he won his only personal junior 'major,' the Al Esposito, on America's easiest muni with rounds of 71-71-75.
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