There was a moment there. If you were one of the millions tuned in to the final round of the PNC Championship earlier this month, then you know what I’m talking about. A moment frozen in time, one that will rank right alongside some of the greatest in the history of the game. But, unlike other unforgettable images in this collage—Ben Hogan’s iconic one-iron, Jack Nicklaus’ hands raised in the air at the 1986 Masters, Tiger Woods fist-pump at the 1997 Masters—this image wasn’t about winning. The duo in the picture—Tiger Woods, and his son Charlie Woods—finished second at the father-son event.
After nearly losing his leg in a horrific car crash ten months ago, Woods has, yet again, surmounted unbelievable odds, and willed himself back on to a golf course. He couldn’t walk the holes with Charlie (who also hit most of the drives in the team scramble format event) but showed his approach and short game was as sharp as ever. The PNC Championship, a 36-hole father-child event, is a pretty low-key fun affair. But catch Woods imparting a lesson to his son that it’s okay not to go for the win. In any case, Charlie was, if anything, even more competitive than his father, and Team Woods put up a spirited charge on the final day.
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Woods and son, dressed in their trademark red and black, reeled off 11 birdies in a row. On the final green, needing a chip-in to win, Charlie nearly slammed the ball to the back of the hole but the ball rolled well past the pin. Faced with a chip to tie the leaders, Woods hit a perfect shot that would have rolled in had it been a wee bit softer. Woods stared down, eyes closed, knowing that he had not been able to pull off yet another impossible win. This time not for himself, but for Charlie. He walked, and gathered his son into a tight embrace, tenderness replacing the ‘game face’.
The gallery, and the millions watching the telecast around the world, knew, instantly, that they had just witnessed something special. A rite of passage as it were, but more than a passing of the torch; the moment when Tiger Woods, the golf champion, bowed out. And Tiger Woods, the father, took his place.
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Honour and pride are difficult emotions to quantify, they tend to become confused and abstruse. You can’t learn about them watching replay reels of Tiger’s fist-pumping wins. But you can learn a lot watching Woods grimace with pain, and yet continue to walk the final hole with his son, his chest swelling with pride watching a kid swagger with the same moves he once exhibited. Sure, winning is important, but there’s more to life, Woods seems to be telling Charlie. That was not the message Woods famously got from his dad—for Earl Woods winning was everything. You can learn a lot seeing Tiger trying to be a better dad than his old man.
2022 is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese calendar; while no one will be surprised if Woods recovers fully and goes on to win again, the man himself reiterated that he does not plan to play a full schedule on Tour again. Still, as most of us self-professed pundits have learnt to our detriment, you can never rule out Tiger Woods.
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Earlier this month at the Hero World Challenge, winning was certainly not top of the mind for Open Champion, Collin Morikawa who squandered a chance to end the year as the top-ranked player in the world. The 24-year-old who started the final day of the event with a five-stroke lead lost the plot—shooting a five-over—on the front nine and eventually finished down the leaderboard. If you expected disappointment then you would have been pleasantly surprised if you follow the player on social media: Morikawa smiling broadly in a picture with longtime girlfriend Katharine Zhu. Morikawa proposed, and Zhu accepted. World rankings be damned—Morikawa looked like the happiest player on the planet.
Circa 2009. A golf tournament is underway at the Delhi Golf Club. The gallery on the sidelines of the 10th hole gasps as Manvir Mangat, a farmer from Punjab, stripes a low stinger that goes about 250 yards with a slight draw. Nothing exceptional about that, except that Mangat is swinging only with his right hand, having lost his left hand in an accident with a grain thresher many years back. Mangat, like all other participants at the event organised by the Paralympic Golf Association of India wasn’t any different from the rest of us when it comes to the game—consistently working on their swings, trying to get better.
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Why do I bring this up now? I’m not sure. It’s one of those moments from my golf writing career that just refuses to fade with the wash of time. Later, while chatting with the winner, Colonel Rawat, who lost his left leg in combat as a 19-year-old, I asked if the ex-soldier had any regrets about the hand that life had dealt him. I’ll never forget his response as he looked at me in disbelief. “Regrets? Are you kidding? I’m alive. I’m playing golf, and I just won a tournament! You’ll know how I feel when you win one!”
Roger that Colonel. I haven’t won one, but we’re all still playing golf; there’s so much to be thankful for. Happy New Year!
Meraj Shah is a Delhi-based writer and television producer