This week marks yet another new chapter in the life of Tiger Woods.
It’s about more than taking on the role of U.S. captain at the Presidents Cup for the first time.
It’s about officially transitioning from mentor to leader.
This feels like a significant next step in the larger remodeling of the man’s life.
This feels like a door opening to a new elder statesman role that will extend beyond Australia and reveal a lot more about the internal composition of a man whose inner thoughts have always been such a guarded vault.
Over the last few years, we’ve watched Woods open his world to a generation of young players who idolized him growing up. We’ve watched him connect with them in a way he never did with fellow competitors when he was in his prime. We’ve watched him connect with Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and so many others as a more friendly, less guarded golf sage.
There has been magnanimity in this sea change, even as Woods began to regain his powers, winning the Tour Championship at the end of 2018, the Masters last spring and the Zozo Championship in October. And now there is his willingness to give something of himself to everyone around him in the team construct he’s responsible for building in Melbourne.
That’s what makes this week so potentially enthralling.
Yes, enthralling, more so than any Presidents Cup since Woods and Ernie Els dueled in that tie in South Africa 16 years ago.
There’s intrigue in wondering how Woods’ presence will imbue an American team that has practically canonized him.
There’s intrigue in seeing how Woods will handle problems.
As a playing captain, how will he do outside the competitive bubble he so tightly wrapped himself in while competing as an individual?
How will he handle the drama (and headaches) that can arise when 12 men pair up in team golf?
There’s fascination wondering how Woods will handle challenges, like the possible continuing drama Patrick Reed brings to the team room, with Reed’s Ryder Cup history, and with his rules controversy at last week’s Hero World Challenge.
Team captains have to clean up other men’s messes, usually made by other men’s egos.
Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have seemed like it was down Woods’ alley, but he wanted this challenge and all that comes with it. He craved it. That’s the beauty of this week. He’s stretching himself, moving outside his comfort zone, possibly in ways we’ve never seen before on a public stage.
Yes, this won’t be a Ryder Cup, which is practically guaranteed to come with a series of messy theatrics, but you never know what team golf will bring. And as much as we know about Tiger the player, we know nothing about Tiger the captain.
That’s what enthralls about this week.
The idea this will likely lead to a Ryder Cup captaincy and yet further dropping of his guard excites.
Woods isn’t just giving more of himself to the players who idolized him this week. He’s giving more of himself to all of us watching. That’s the nature of being a captain, of being a leader. He’s going to be answering questions about more than his own birdies and bogeys. He’s going to be the face and voice of the entire American team. We expect he’s going to reveal how his mind and heart work in ways we haven’t heard before, and that he may be second-guessed in ways he never has before.
The appeal in this is how it may resonate beyond Presidents Cup week.
It just might be the week Woods gets comfortable expanding his caretaker responsibilities in the game, the way Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus did as they moved into the final chapters of their careers.
How is Woods going to evolve as a leader on a public stage? How much more comfortable might he get taking stronger stands, sharing stronger opinions? That isn’t to say he’s going to become Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown or Bill Russell as a social activist in sport, but this kind of leadership experience could make him more comfortable nurturing ideas that will last as long as his records do.
Woods is coming out with his own book soon. We expect we are going to learn a lot more about how he thinks in that, too At least we hope we do. While the man isn’t likely to shatter all his external defenses, there’s excitement in the possibility he deepens our understanding of what makes him the champion he is.
So, let the new chapter begin.