"Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.... He is the Chosen One. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations."
"Tiger has Thai, African, Chinese, American Indian, and European blood. He can hold everyone together. He is the Universal Child."
These quotes come from an article by Gary Smith published in Sports Illustrated three years ago. When I first read the article, and saw Earl Woods compare his son to Gandhi and the Buddha, I thought, "Now there's
a proud papa! A wacky one, too." But now that Woods has established himself as the most dominant player in the history of golf--and shows signs of becoming the most dominant athlete in the history of sports--other golfers have started talking about him in mystical terms.
"He is something supernatural," says Tom Watson, one of the game's greats. And I'm starting to have second thoughts myself. Though I still think Earl Woods suffers from doting parent's syndrome, I do believe that in several senses his son warrants consideration not just as an athlete but as someone of potentially political, even spiritual, significance.
|In the modern world--thanks to CNN, Nike, and so on--a superlative athlete can command global attention and can even cross national and cultural bounds in a way no political or religious leader can.|
Sense No. 1:
Earl Woods, pressed to justify his belief that his son could have greater humanitarian influence than Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or the Buddha, explained that Tiger "has a larger forum than any of them. Because he's playing a sport that's international." It's true: In the modern world--thanks to CNN, Nike, and so on--a superlative athlete can command global attention and can even cross national and cultural bounds in a way no political or religious leader can.
Of course, Woods won't be shifting his focus from the PGA to Middle East peace talks any time soon. But it would be interesting to see what happened if, years from now, he started dabbling in inspirational speaking, and ventured beyond themes of mere self-help; or just published a best-selling secrets-of-golf-and-life book that ventured there.
Woods is clearly a thoughtful person who appreciates the need for intercultural understanding. His parents pioneered the racial integration of a California suburb, and on his first day in kindergarten some older boys threw rocks at him and called him "nigger" and "monkey." I doubt that Woods has transcended this type of personal history in as profoundly reflective a way as Gandhi, but he does seem to more or less follow the guidelines articulated by his father in that Sports Illustrated article:
[Y]ou don't turn it into hatred. You turn it into something positive. So many athletes who reach the top now had things happen to them as children that created hostility, and they bring that hostility with them. But that hostility uses up energy. If you can do it without the chip on the shoulder, it frees up all that energy to create.
Sense No. 2:
It is common for golfers to stress how much of golf is mental--"a total head game"--but in a way the self-mastery required to reach Woods' level goes beyond the mental into the spiritual. I subscribe to the New Age Theory of Golf: To be a great golfer, you have to do what some Eastern religions stress--live in the present and free yourself of aspiration and anxiety. You can't be angry over a previous error or worried about repeating it, nor can you be dreaming of future glory. Gandhi used to say he tried to strive on "without fear of failure and without hope of success." I've always thought, on the basis of that quote alone, that Gandhi would have made a great golfer if only he'd spent more time at the driving range.