To one who has never seen Augusta National as the late day sun begins to touch the pines, this story will be hard to believe. On Monday, April 4th, a spontaneous crowd gathered at the ninth hole to witness a moment of history. The rumors flew across grounds all day of Tiger sightings. The five-time champion was returning for the 25th Anniversary of his first victory at The Masters.
My first visit to Augusta National was twenty-five years ago at a practice round. As beginner’s luck would have it, I found myself at the 18th green as the rookie Tiger Woods finished his round. Not knowing anything about protocol, I simply walked with Tiger and his mom all the way back to the ropes by the clubhouse and watched the interviews that followed. Young Tiger needed no security team back then.
This year, twenty-five years after his first Masters championship and fourteen months after a near fatal car crash, Mr. Eldric “Tiger” Woods strode across the hilly ninth fairway with a limp. The entropy of life had taken its toll upon the 46-year-old Hall of Famer. The perils of fame and success had laid their scars. The car crash had nearly cost him his life and right leg. Yet here came Tiger, a walking portrait of athleticism, striding up the final Monday practice hole at The Masters.
The crowds all found him. The rope lines were deep at the tee and the fairway. It was not the typical practice round moment. At the tee box all that was heard were the birds in the pines and the sound, that sound that only a champion golf swing makes. And then the respectful applause that Bobby Jones still teaches his patrons. The “golf-clap” that rises and stops just one step short of people saying out loud what they are really thinking.
Silence again, as Tiger lined up for his approach shot to the green. This crowd knew the ball was on a typically uneven downhill lie. Now a man with a bad right leg who had just walked those hills for two hours stood over the shot. Again, total silence covered the sunlit grounds. When the ball hit the green, there was pause, then a roar. Suddenly Monday was Sunday, the ninth hole became the portal of Tiger’s five championship finishes at the eighteenth green.
For those with eyes to see, Tiger’s last Monday practice round was a lesson in hope, the indispensable characteristic which humanity needs most. The crowd was made up of some of “everybody” in the world. From nearly all nations, tribes, colors and incomes. The people standing 20-deep around the greenside ropes and the thousands striving to see the moment were all saying the same thing.
They were not simply fans. They were patrons of hope. Praying in their different ways that the kid from California who played his first tournament at the age of six, this kid who won his first Masters at the age of 21, this champion now in an oft-broken and repaired body, could find the strength to show the world one more time what hope looks like. On that final practice hole, Tiger was a brief shining reflection of everyone who has ever fallen and gotten back up again. And the whole world surrounding that priceless moment was hoping and cheering for him, together.
David Zanotti is the CEO of the non-profit Public Square Media Network founded in 1989.