NORTON, Mass. – It’s been 15 years of high-fives and histrionics. Fifteen years, 71 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors for those scoring at home. Fifteen years since he stepped to a microphone in middle America and announced brashly, “Hello, world.”
At the time it seemed like a bit much. Sure, young Eldrick had won the amateur game’s double trifecta (three U.S. Junior titles and three U.S. Amateurs), but in 14 events in the Big Leagues he’d managed just a single top-25 finish and missed more cuts (nine) than he’d made. Arm-chair analyst liked what they saw and the kid certainly had potential, but “Hello, world?”
Without the need of ad nauseam detail, it is safe to say Woods carried the 250-yard hyperbole cross bunker his bold announcement created by a comfortable margin, but on that warm August day at Brown Deer Park Golf Club in Milwaukee “Hello, world” must have sounded as impetuous as it was ill-advised.
But then he won his fifth and seventh starts as a play-for-pay type, advanced to the 1996 Tour Championship and never looked back, or at least he never let on that he’d allowed himself such self-indulgent moments of reflection. Those who make history rarely do.
Over the last 24 months, however, Woods has embraced varying doses of the three “Rs,” rehabilitation, reclusiveness and, yes, maybe even reflection.
On Wednesday’s ‘Morning Drive’ Woods was asked his thoughts on the anniversary of “Hello, world.” His answer was surprisingly telling.
“Life is very difficult,” he allowed.
A less-reflective Woods would have cut the scene and faded to black on that note, but the guy who is three years removed from his last major championship, two years – next week, adrift of his last Tour title and still dogged by a sex scandal and ensuing divorce pressed on.
“When I first walked on that tee I didn’t realize the magnitude of what I was embarking on,” Woods said. “It was something that was eye opening, that was something that took some time getting used to. I made some mistakes in the process, but it’s been a lot of fun to chase your dreams.”
That he didn’t short-arm the question with a ready-to-use cliché says more about the state of Woods’ mind, if not his game, than any number of “reps” he will get in before the end of the year.
Observers will conclude that U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples “strong armed” Woods into adding a Fall Series start to his schedule, but there seems little chance he would be so accommodating if the mind wasn’t willing.
Why the Frys.com Open? Why not?
“I wanted to play another event. I had taken a lot of time off. It’s something I told the commissioner I’d play an event I normally didn’t play in the past and it worked out great,” Woods said from the NB3 Foundation Challenge at Turning Stone Resort in New York.
Although the decision will be extensively dissected, the truth is, Woods is playing the Frys.com Open because he can, not because he wants to make Freddie’s team or gain some world ranking points. He’s playing the Northern California event because the swing that works in his south Florida lab is still a coloring-by-the-numbers experiment when he takes it to the Tour pitch, as evidenced by his play at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (T-37) and PGA Championship (missed cut).
Maybe the most encouraging tidbit from Wednesday’s Q&A is that he’s playing because his body will let him. A left leg with more medical baggage than a back-up quarterback for the Colts is cooperating after years of dysfunction.
“I’ve been hurt for a very long time. Back to 2007 when I ruptured my ACL, it was a very tough road,” Woods said. “It’s been years since I actually felt good. Sometimes you get out of bed in the morning and it’s tough. Now it’s fun, I can spring out of bed and go to practice.”
On Wednesday, Woods’ former Stanford teammate Notah Begay III, a rare constant in Woods’ life long before “Hello, world,” was asked his thoughts on the anniversary: “He transcended the game like not many other athletes have done,” Begay said.
And now Woods continues to captivate, and polarize, like few in professional sport can. Blogdom watches and weighs in every time he steps to a microphone with precious few opinions populating the middle ground. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the times, but the golf world appears split between the “he’s done” and the “he’s back” camps, with little or no interest in between.
This Q&A felt strangely similar to that 1996 media meet-and-greet in Milwaukee. “Hello, world,” so pretentious given the facts of the moment, now seems perfectly apropos. This time there was no marketing-perfect message, just a quiet calm. Healthy? Yep. Hungry? Nothing else explains his first Fall Series start?
Fifteen years ago, Woods called his shot from a similar podium and never looked back. Given his history at the microphone there’s no reason to think this time is going to be any different.