Roman King | United States
The United States is a country divided, in every sense of the word. As much as we Americans posture about being one of the greatest, most united nations in the world, the truth is that we are an often dysfunctional, politically charged conglomerate of people that just tolerate each other to keep the bottom line from going red. Politics viciously divide states, cities, and even families; ideology creates opposing hive minds. The torrential firehose of divisive rhetoric has created a deluge of toxicity between both states and the people; threats of secession, once a relic of a different time, have resurfaced. Truly, our United States are united in name alone. It has been a long time since this nation has felt like a true unit. Enter Tiger Woods.
This past weekend, the world’s greatest golfers battled it out at Augusta National in the 2019 Masters. A purse of over 11 million dollars was at stake, but the true prize was the world-renowned green jacket. Some of golf’s greatest heroes have worn the green jacket; from Bernhard Langer to Nick Faldo, from Jack Nicklaus to Gary Player, from Phil Mickelson to Arnold Palmer, the green jacket has a certain air of regality. Only a select few get to compete for such honor; even fewer get to join the club. Out of the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship, the Masters is arguably the most famed and most acclaimed major tournament for a golfer to win.
Augusta National is a difficult and unforgiving golf course; many a great golfer has found themselves humbled by the harshly strategic hazards, the nuanced slopes, and the incredibly fast greens. It takes a pro’s pro just to break par; it takes a legend to win the tournament. For a young Tiger Woods, though, you would have thought the Masters and the entire sport of golf itself was a cakewalk. In a fantastic display of golf, Woods dominated Augusta National from the late 1990s to the early-mid 2000s. Posting a near Herculean effort in 1997, Woods won the Masters that year with an astounding -18 score, beating the rest of the field by a whopping 12 strokes, still to this day the largest margin of victory at the Masters. He followed this with continued dominance over the other major tournaments as well, winning his first PGA Championship just two years later.
A Timeline of Sucess and Failure
The turn of the new millennium saw Woods do unheard of things on the golf course; he won the U.S. Open in 2000 by a gargantuan 15 strokes, as well as winning the Open Championship and another PGA Championship that same year. From 2001 to 2008, Woods won three Masters, two U.S. Opens, and two PGA Championships. Woods became the fifth golfer to complete the legendary Grand Slam (winning all four major championships), and only the second golfer to ever do it three times over. His stretch of dominance over the sport of golf is only similar to Jack Nicklaus’ dominance over the 1960s. Even then, many have made the argument that Woods’ run of major wins over the 2000s has surpassed that. Woods was unequivocally the Michael Jordan of golf, and throughout the 2000s, he owned the links.
Something happened, though. Something went sour. He took a break from golf in 2009 at the apex of his prime to resolve marital issues with Elin Nordegren; his alleged extramarital escapades were ripe pickings for the tabloids. He fell from his position atop golf’s world rankings for the first time in years, falling to 58 in the rankings. Woods’ bad luck continued; he had to have four back surgeries within the span of 2014-2017. Woods’ pain was so bad he couldn’t do golf-related activities at all; when offered to coach the Presidents’ Cup, he declined, citing that simply riding in a golf cart over the hills and bumps of a golf course would be too much for his back. Other golfers began to cement their status as new greats. Names like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka began to overshadow the once great legend.
Reaching Tiger’s Fever Pitch
It got so bad that in 2017, Tiger Woods doubted if he would ever play golf again, citing his chronic back and knee pains, as well as a deep, crippling depression. That same year, he got a DUI in Florida. Despite all of this, despite nearly a decade out of the game, he never gave up. Despite the bitter hatred he received from the media, despite the debilitating pains, he never truly quit on the sport he loved. And finally, in 2018, the sport gave back. He won his first tournament in five years at the Tour Championship in 2018, and the world began to question whether or not the great Tiger Woods was somehow going to come back.
The golf world collectively rallied around Woods, and talk began to circulate that he might just have a longshot at another major; it was the first time he had actually been a competitor in a major in over a decade. The Masters came, and it was a close race the whole weekend. Woods was three strokes back on Sunday, a large task to make up in one day of golf. Somehow, though, he managed to claw his way back. He fought an incredibly tough field to reclaim his title as champion of the Masters. The reaction was immediate and sustained.
Rarely does golf ever find its way into the eye of the mainstream media, but for the first time since Woods’ last major victory in 2008, golf was on the front page. The media lauded him as a hero. It was a comeback story that even Hollywood couldn’t match; the disgraced star beat the odds, fighting over years just to get a place back into stardom, and eventually clawing his way back to the top of the world. It was a magnificent event in the sporting world, one of the sports will be talking about for years.
The Other Side of Victory
Something else happened when Woods exploded to the top of the leaderboard on Saturday, though. Something that almost never happens in the modern United States. As the chances of him winning increased, so did the support for his campaign. The entire nation rallied around him. It was an act of national unity so out of the ordinary for our modern cultural climate, I almost couldn’t believe it. It was almost as if the entire collective conscience was united in the belief that the rest of the competing field should be run over by golf carts, just so we could see Woods back on top.
I have never seen a nation root so hard for one man to succeed, for one man to climb back to the top of the mountain. Faces were uncharacteristically glued to the televisions on Sunday, watching with bated breath, collectively praying for a Tiger Woods Masters win. It’s almost poetic, then, that he hoisted the trophy on Sunday evening, embracing his son as he ascended to the top of the golf world once more.
Tiger Woods, by all measures, is not your Hollywood perfect star. He’s made mistakes, he’s morally ambiguous. Tiger has done things that give the average American every right to banish him from the public eye. He’s not even a particularly excellent role model, all things considered. Despite all of that, though, we rallied around him, because he represented the American dream. He represented the scrappy underdog story we Americans absolutely eat up. The Miracle Mets. The 1980s Miracle on Ice. The “We Believe” Warriors. The Giants beating the undefeated Patriots. Americans love the underdog story, and we rally behind them because it represents the best things about America. Woods isn’t perfect, and we loved him for it because the United States isn’t perfect.
Defying the Odds
But Woods had the drive to succeed against all odds that is characteristically American. Woods represented every down-on-his-luck, back against the wall American, trying to make their dreams. Woods endured a baptism by fire, and he came out the other end ultimately on top. Such is the dream of every American, at the end of the day. We all strive to take the system, bastardized as it is, and succeed despite it. America is a unique cultural nation in that instead of changing the system to better fit our needs, we take it as a challenge to succeed against it, not with it. You might even consider that a flaw of our culture; regardless, it is what drives Americans to succeed, and it is how the American dream itself is born, and it is that same drive that drove Tiger Woods to win the 2019 Masters.
Something beautiful happened this weekend. For just one weekend, I saw a nation united on one front. I saw an entire nation willing and wishing for the same thing. A nation that vitriolic rhetoric or toxic dogmatism hadn’t divided. I saw a nation that simply wanted an incredibly hard-working man to succeed and earn a position he hadn’t had in over a decade. It was a beautiful thing to witness. The entire United States, for once in her long history, was in agreement on one thing: that the great Tiger Woods should win the Masters. It was a sight for sore eyes; a true delight to see. We were a united nation; we were truly the United States of America.
The After-Taste of a United America
The honeymoon has mostly worn off by now. The shock is gone; the novelty wore off. We’ve all returned to our routines. The news is back to reporting on the terrible tragedies that happen every day. We’re back to that old United States we all know best, for better or for worse. I, though, will never forget the weekend of the 2019 Masters; where we, the citizens of the United States, were one united nation. I will never forget the feeling of patriotism and unity brought on by, of all things, a golf tournament.
This is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I at least hope that you, dear reader, will remember this and remember that it is indeed possible for this nation to unite under something after all. Perhaps this is a sign for a better future. After all, if a golf tournament can unite us so, maybe we can be the United States once more.
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