No surprises here. In fact, I’m sure most of my colleagues pre-wrote their stories, as they waited for Tiger Woods to formally announce he would not be playing in the Masters. After all, it’s been fairly obvious that the situation with his back is rather serious and he would not be ready to compete at the Masters — if anytime in the near future or perhaps even ever again. And we’re very familiar with Woods enjoying to release significant news (usually, they’re about not playing and/or not competing/withdrawing, etc.) on Friday evening as it doesn’t generate as much “buzz” right before the weekend.
But, I mean, 7:30pm ET, T-Dubs? After our friendly encounter at your book signing (which crap, that reminds me, I still haven’t written up that fun and absurd event, though I documented the experience across multiple social media platforms), I thought we were like, best buddies now. Like, nickname status! (And I’m still expecting one the next time I ask you a question at a presser. Unfortunately, I won’t be at Augusta National next week, so who knows when that will be, but I’m looking forward to it.) My biggest takeaway from last Monday in NYC was that he seemed genuinely happy; he looked like he was in a good place and that’s what’s most important at this point.
Oh, so what did Tiger say, anyway? He will attend the Champions Dinner (which was already reported), but he will not be competing at the 2017 Masters, according to the statement released on his website:
“Unfortunately, I won’t be competing in this year’s Masters. I did about everything I could to play, but my back rehabilitation didn’t allow me the time to get tournament ready. I’m especially upset because it’s a special anniversary for me that’s filled with a lot of great memories. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I won my first green jacket.
“I have no timetable for my return, but I will continue my diligent effort to recover, and want to get back out there as soon as possible.
“I’d like to pass along my regrets to Billy Payne, the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons, that I won’t be there. I will be at the Champions Dinner and I look forward to seeing a lot of old friends.
“Augusta National has been a very important place to me and my family for over 20 years, and while I’m disappointed, it will be good to be back there Tuesday.”
Twenty years ago, Tiger cruised to his first Masters victory by 12 strokes. At 21, he became the youngest and first non-white player to don a Green Jacket for his dominant win. His recent book was released several weeks ago, Woods delves into his historic victory with never-before-heard stories from the GOAT.
Look, we would have all loved to see a healthy Tiger Woods compete at the 20th anniversary of his first victory. In an ideal world, it would have been even more cool if he had been able to contend, but in reality, those days might be in the past — and that’s OK! I know it’s sad, but we should cherish and celebrate the times Tiger was at his peak, when he did the unthinkable and hit shots we’ll probably never see again in our lifetime.
I’ve had the opportunity for a front-row seat to Tiger’s ups-and-downs over the last seven years, and sure, he had some great regular PGA Tour wins, and perhaps I saw glimmers of the old Tiger once or twice early in those days. However, in the past four or so years, I’ve seen a human in pain. I’ve witnessed a golfer who clearly was pushing himself too hard to try and play despite the extreme pain and injuries limiting his ability. I’ve written many times about how tough it is to play with back pain/injury. Even if it’s not the same kind of injury, anyone who has played golf at any level of competition understands and empathizes how mentally and physically painful the experience is.
I have no doubt Woods has done everything in his power, tried countless treatments, seen both convention and unconventional doctors for help — and most of them probably have told him that they knew exactly how to fix him and allow him to play or simply live pain-free again. At some point, he likely became skeptical of the optimistic prognoses and maybe they eventually became more somber. He’s not a quitter. We all know that. But sometimes, as I’ve written in the past, it takes tremendous strength to have the ability to walk away and accept the limitations on your body. I’m not an expert and we don’t know the extent of Woods’ injury and it’s not something people exactly enjoy discussing because we don’t want to be victims and we don’t want pity. It’s something that’s hard to empathize with unless you’ve been there and experienced the debilitating extent of back injuries.
I just hope Tiger is able to at least enjoy life and his health is good enough to run and kick around a soccer ball with his kids, and perhaps even playing a recreational 18 holes with his buddies pain-free. Those simple things most people take for granted are not “givens” for anyone who has suffered the debilitating pain. Living a normal life where the pain can be managed is a huge win in these situations sometimes — and that might be where Tiger’s focus is.
I’ve seen Woods struggle enough times in recent years when he’s tried his best, but his game either wasn’t ready and/or he was in so much pain that he was forced to endure the awful feeling that comes along with withdrawing (which often feels like “quitting”). It’s not fun for anyone to watch Woods play in pain or play poorly. Trust me, I watched every shot he hit en route to posting an 82 at the 2015 Phoenix Open.
And I’m not going to pretend I know what he’s going through and/or how he’s feeling, but perhaps he’s finally in a good place and he’s found peace in his place in the game. He’s given golf so much over the past 20+ years and those are the memories we should celebrate and remember — not the broken golfer we’ve witnessed in recent years. He will always be the GOAT, IMHO, and his legacy is intact. Maybe it’s time for Chapter 3 of the Life of Tiger Woods.
Wishing him the best.