“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”
— William Shakespeare from, “As you like it.”
By now, most of the planet is aware of what transpired late Sunday afternoon on a world-class golf course that was the home venue of one of the game’s most revered icons.
How fitting that another icon — akin to a warrior finally returning home after a series of conflicts overseas — chased and caught his former self. And all of us, like Tommy Fleetwood in the first round of The Tour Championship last Thursday, witnessed the past and the future in the present.
I want — no I must — believe that somewhere Bobby Jones is smiling. Perhaps he is lounging just down the road from East Lake in the Champions Locker Room at Augusta National. He never won The Masters, but what the hey, Jones invented it.
Bobby has uncorked a bottle of the great stuff. Shot glasses all around. One for Ben, one for Byron, one for Sam, One for Arnie. Bobby beckons to a gentleman wearing a Hoylake T-shirt to join them in the inner sanctum and hands him a shot glass.
“One for Earl,” Bobby says, then adds, “Gather round, gentlemen. And allow me to tell you of great things.”
Everyone nods and smiles. Even Ben Hogan.
And so it goes for the Ghosts of Excellence that hover near every kid’s first efforts to hit a cracked range ball in the air. The thousands and thousands and thousands of balls a great player must strike if a career is to be a career.
Every kid likes to hit putts on the practice green for big stakes. “This one’s for The Masters. This one’s for The U.S. Open.” Over and over and over again. Every kid also imagines he is Bobby, or Ben, or Sam, or Byron, or Arnie, or Jack. And most certainly, Tiger.
Ask one of the game’s young guns. Tiger Woods was a myth that has become real.
So from dawn to dusk, the realist chases the dream. Over and over and over and over again.
That’s the key.
Gary Player said. “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
You have to wait for it, though.
Chi Chi Rodriguez said, “Patience is genius.”
Turn back the clock. Relive those riveting amateur performances. The interview with Curtis Strange, where a prodigy was admonished for believing he could win right away on Tour. And he did.
Then, the prodigy followed that first triumph with an ever-building collection of amazing, of incredible, of perfectly timed excellence achieved in the most stressful situations. The runaway at Augusta in 1997 transcended not just golf and sports, but social barriers. A statement was made by default.
He was not a race or creed, he was Tiger.
And was he ever.
Over and over and over again, Tiger Woods rose to challenges and steamrolled deep into the record books.
So good he got bored with a great golf swing. He created a new one, the first of several. And won again. And again. And again.
Nothing, however, matches winning the U.S. Open on a broken leg. At that point, perhaps, confidence ventured into the red line area that reads “Bulletproof.”
Sports fans, particularly Americans, have love-hate issues with their heroes. They love finding them and building the perfect pedestal, which are too easy to dismantle.
We love our heroes. We love to see them rise. Some of us love to see them fall.
And most of us love to see them regain what was lost.
Mistakes are human. The body does decline. Even after multiple surgeries sometimes the body gets so bad you can’t walk or get out bed. Then the mind-numbing fear that you might never hit a golf ball again.
Lending enormous weight to the Joni Mitchell observation:
“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till its gone.”
Or The Byrds, courtesy of Otis Redding, who insisted:
“You don’t miss the water
Till your well runs dry.”
None of us who follow Tiger Woods will forget his yips trying to chip. Or the kindness given by Billy Horschel to an icon, who had lost his way physically, mentally, and, in my view, spiritually.
You don’t’ know how deep the lake is until you touch bottom. And until you do, the gratitude of surfacing is not quite as profound.
Then the first step. Back fusion, which repaired some of the physical and, perhaps, some of the mental, because there was caution chasing apprehension. The gradual ascension with steps forward, sideways, back and forward again.
Americans cherish stories about the journey as they relate to comebacks.
On Sunday at East Lake, one of those stories arrived at the intersection of Redemption and Perseverance.
As Big Bill said at the beginning: “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”
Mark Phialas was a sports writer at The Robesonian in the 1970s and continues to watch and enjoy golf and writes about it when he is so moved.