Tiger’s WD at Torrey Pines
In the aftermath of Tiger Woods’ latest WD, this time at Torrey Pines thanks to another back injury, all kinds of thoughts were running through my head as I’m sure was the case with golf fans and writers across the world. Are we going to see him again in 2015? If so, is he going to be healthy? Can we ever expect to see him win a tournament again? What the hell does it mean to activate your glutes? This whole time that I’ve been thinking about it though, there’s been one name that has popped into my head more than anyone. Not Butch Harmon, Chris Como, Brandel Chamblee or anyone associated with golf.
Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey was my favourite athlete growing up, bar none. Anyone who grew up as a baseball fan in the 90’s has at least one, and likely multiple, memories of watching Griffey do something majestic on the field. Towering home runs, stolen bases, and defensive plays that seemed to defy logic were commonplace if you tuned into a Mariners game or watched the highlights on SportsCenter. And that swing.
I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times that I tried to replicate that swing and make it my own, and no matter what I did, it never even got close. When Griffey decided he wanted to play closer to home, the Mariners traded him to Cincinnati and everything looked the same at the beginning. Griffey was healthy and his assault on the record books, namely Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs, looked like it was not only well within reach, but a virtual certainty to be his once he decided to hang up the cleats.
Then, all of a sudden, Griffey’s body betrayed him. Sure, he had his moments of greatness playing for the Reds, but for the most part, the player that played with reckless abandon and a style that we’d never seen before, was unable to complete the most pedestrian of tasks on the field. The sight of Griffey making the turn at third base and collapsing thanks to a torn hamstring is still one of my most vivid sports memories and for all the wrong reasons. Griffey was only 31 when that happened, and for all of his efforts after that moment, more injuries came and he was never able to let his talent truly show through over the last ten years of his career.
This is what I was thinking about when I saw Tiger yesterday. Much like Griffey, Tiger did things on the golf course that you just didn’t expect to see. He seemed to defy logic as well, and the way he went about it, attacking the course and the leaderboard with every swing and stare was a joy to watch, but over the last few years, again like Griffey, it’s all gone the other way. The latest in Tiger’s series of comebacks from injury, personal trouble and age was put on hold again because he couldn’t physically complete a round of golf that had seen a few delays and caused his back to seize up. While the glutes remark was made fun of a ton on Twitter, I don’t think he was lying. He was very clearly in pain from the outset of his round, something which Nick Faldo commented on right after he chipped in to save par on his second hole of the day, and whether that was because of the delay or because he had been hiding an injury this whole time is anyone’s guess, but it’s obvious that he’s not 100%.
There’s only one thing that makes sense for Tiger to do, and that’s to get healthy. The problem is, much like Griffey, that just might not be possible anymore. We can talk all we want about how Tiger needs reps, or that he needs to beg Butch to take him back, but nothing is going to help him if he can’t stay on the course, something which has become very difficult for him to do over the past 18 months. Joe Posnanski wrote last night about Tiger and aging, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything in that piece, he makes valid points about golfers and aging. The aggressiveness that Tiger played with when he was 25 years old was built for a sprint, not a marathon and if that wasn’t obvious enough in the nearly seven years since he won his last major at the 2008 U.S. Open, it was crystalized yesterday. Tiger’s back up to 125 mph in swing speed, which is great if you’re Brooks Koepka or Justin Thomas, but a 39-year old with back trouble? Probably not the best. Tiger seems to be obsessed with distance right now, evidenced by the amount of times he hit driver even though it was plainly obvious to everyone that he couldn’t keep the ball in the fairway, and swinging that fast with the big club when your back is fragile is just asking for trouble.
I’m not saying that his career is over because knowing Tiger, he’s going to come back and try this again, probably in a couple of weeks and knowing what to expect out of him seems more unpredictable than ever before. It’s possible that he figures out a solution to whatever is causing his back pain and he’ll be healthy. Of course, there’s also the pesky matter of trying to repair a game that from what we’ve seen recently, isn’t worthy of a player trying to make his way on the Web.com Tour, much less the man who has won more majors than anyone, save for Jack Nicklaus.
When Ken Griffey Jr. played at the highest level, it seemed like everyone loved him and while that’s never been the case with Tiger, watching a player as gifted as him struggle with his game and now again with his health is sad, regardless of what you’ve always thought about Tiger Woods. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, and maybe it won’t. Maybe he’ll come back and have one more great run, win a few tournaments and fade away, but expecting him to do it?
That’s just not something any of us should be expecting at this point.