Tiger Woods and the fateful Thanksgiving holiday of 2009
The individuality of golf is what makes it both great as a sport and terrible as a thing to carry around when you're a superstar.
I'll never forget where I was that year -- you likely won't either. Home for a few days during the holidays, I remember sitting in my parents' study reading story after story about what exactly Tiger Woods had done during Thanksgiving in 2009.
At first it didn't seem like a big deal and then it seemed like a huge deal and then, before we knew it, the trajectory of modern golf had changed during a time when golf wasn't even being played.
In 2009, Woods had completed one of the few things he'd never completed in his career before: bouncing back from a major injury with a monster year.
He won six times that season and closed, ridiculously, like this:
US Open: T6
AT&T National: Win
British Open: Cut
Buick Invitational: Win
WGC - Bridgestone: Win
PGA Championship: 2nd
Deutsche Bank Championship: T11
BMW Championship: Win
Tour Championship: 2nd
A solid season by even his absurd standards -- I ranked it as his 10th best.
Then came Thanksgiving and all the fallout that ensued. He was on the cover of the New York Post for 20-straight days. He went from American hero to worldwide villain quicker than it takes Brandt Snedeker to play an emergency nine.
He has only won eight times since then -- a paltry amount in five years for somebody like Tiger. In the 20 majors that have been played since, Woods has finished in the top 10 just six times.
Of course, post-2009 Tiger has been affected by injury more than he has the sordid November of that year but you'd be hard pressed to find someone associated with golf who doesn't think it didn't at least get inside Woods and change him a little bit.
This is one of a myriad of things that fascinates me about this great game and has made its way up the totem pole of importance in my mind over the years.
Individual golfers are what other sports would call "organizations." That is, if Tiger Woods ceases to be Tiger Woods because of injury or affair or any number of reasons then there is, by definition, no Tiger Woods.
There's no substitute to step in for him and hit shots, nobody to send out there if he's not mentally there.
That seems intuitive but contrast it with say the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. If Brady gets hurt or removes himself from his team for a while, the Patriots are adversely affected, sure, but they aren't sunk.
The Patriots as an organization still exist and they roll on for better or worse.
This is also why the trajectory of the game of golf can change so suddenly.
It is our human bent to delight in the trappings offered by being elite in golf -- why do you think pro golfers call what they do -- "a grind"?
So when those trappings start seeping in and fooling with the 1s and 0s that make the Tiger Machine or Rory Machine or Bubba Machine work then all of a sudden the entire landscape of golf (and golf history) looks a lot different.
It happens so fast, too.
Right now the 2015 Green Jacket seems so close to Rory McIlroy's ever-broadening shoulders, but we still have months until 100ish golfers tee it up in Augusta.
So much can happen between now and then.
For all the praise we heap on superstars in team sports, I don't know that we throw enough at the individuals in golf that carry their own "organizations."
In other sports, the weight of greatness is transferred among a group of individuals. They share in it and revel in the fact that they get to share in it. Their failures are diluted, their triumphs still tremendous.
As Woods showed us five years ago, the weight of superiority in an individual sport can become unbearable at times. It's a hell of a thing to carry on your own.
Then the dam breaks and all we're left with are questions, discourse and a brand new canvas on which to paint golf's future.
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