Thoughts of My Dad on Father's Day

My dad was smarter than me despite never having the luxury of collegiate life. I admired his love of learning. When we watched Jeopardy together, it was slightly embarrassing when he would easily get answers that I had no clue about.

Of course I excelled in areas he never did (i.e sports) yet even though we weren’t super close, I gained strong values from his structured life, witty nature, work ethic and being a good man.

He would tell you that he wasn’t the best dad and truth be told.... I wasn’t the best son but we ended well. Looking back, we were both petty in the way we sometimes treated one another.

Just before I got married, he took me to lunch and clearly was searching for how he performed as a Father. I told him that he was a ”good man who did his best and someone the family could count on to always be there for me and my Mom.” My parents had immense marital struggles, yet each took care of me beautifully despite their challenges; something I’m deeply grateful for.

Considering the poverty my dad grew up with, along with difficult life experiences that I can’t even imagine, he made himself into an interesting and fun man. He also had a wide group of friends, volunteered and usually had a hand out for those less fortunate.

This picture on this blog post was from 2004; a year after his stroke at age 72 and eight months before he died at age 73.

At our 2003 wedding, his speech was touching as I could tell that he was proud of me and happy to have a good relationship with his only son.

Happy Father’s Day to Donald L. Payne and all the father's in my life who like my dad are doing (or did) the best that they can.

Mom Isabella, Dad, Reggie and Me - Thanksgiving 2004

Never Doubt a Tiger

If you’re a golfer or love the game, I suspect the moment you knew Tiger Woods could win ‘The Masters’ was similar to mine.

Before the momentum shifted, a friend sent me these words:

“Amen Corner probably decides this”.

Leading by 2 strokes, Francesco Molanari, cool and confident all day, hit his ball into the water at the 12th tee; a shot that wasn’t even close to seeing dry land. Tiger (in 2nd place) was next and crushed his attempt to the middle part of green. Not surprisingly, Tony Finau followed Molanari’s lead and took a bath in Rae’s Creek as well.

I said to myself "It's over".

Before the Tiger threesome arrived on hole 12, rivals Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter had both dropped off the leader board after drowning their balls in that same water – which Tiger was aware of.  1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th place had melted in their moment of truth. From his two decades of Masters experience, Woods knew he had to play it safe.

To be fair, it was far from an ideal atmosphere for the leaders on Sunday, as the crowd was clearly on Tiger’s side, where the deafening cheers could be heard a hole away.

The treacherous holes of Amen Corner (11-13) have been the downfall of many capable men, but one would have thought Molanari wouldn’t have been rattled so easily, considering how well he had played (1 bogey through 3 rounds) before Sunday’s start. He was one of the hottest golfers in the past year, winning the 2018 ‘Open Championship’ and the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.

The pressure of Amen corner, along with knowing Tiger was lurking only 2 shots behind, may have been too grand of a stage for Molanari. 2 bogeys and 2 double bogeys speak volumes about his day. Amongst the leaders, Tiger’s playing partners (Molanari and Finau) were the only ones not to shoot below par. Coincidence or the effect of playing alongside Tiger?

The final holes (13 -18) gave us flashes of the old Tiger, methodic, steely, patient, confident and full of solid to perfect shots, including the beautiful one on the 16th (Par 3) hole, where his tee shot was close enough for an easy tap in birdie. It was his Masters to lose at that point and he calmly closed the deal.

Tiger was back, back again.

After watching what I consider to be the greatest comeback story in the history of American sports, I know why I doubted Tiger, but surely won’t make that mistake again.

I never thought Tiger would win another Major, unlike several friends who had the utmost faith in him. My certainty was due primarily to his injury history below, most notably those 3 back surgeries, along with the ‘fear factor’ that seemed to be missing.

Tiger’s Injury History:

2008 – Torn ACL
2010 – Neck Injury
2011 – Sprained MCL, Achilles
2012 – Achilles Injury
2014 – Back Surgery
2015 – Back Surgery
2017 – Spinal Fusion (Back Surgery) Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion

With the old Tiger (1996 -2009), he would show up on Sunday with the familiar red NIKE shirt and golfers would often wilt or play a game they weren’t familiar with.  It happened time and time again and the fear was glaring. They knew if Tiger was in the lead on Sunday, they had little to no chance to win.  In Majors, he is 14-0 when having at least a share of the lead.

In addition, the young golfers today are much better, stronger and less fearful compared to his competition from his dominant 13 year run with 14 Majors. To give you an idea of how incredible Woods was back then, the top players (Mickelson, Els and Singh) during that time had 9 Majors combined. They only have 11 Majors now.

I don’t know of any professional golfer who has played with a fused back.  The fact that Tiger was competitive in two Majors last year (and won the Tour Championship) with that back, blew my mind, considering by his own admission that he wasn't able to play with his kids two short years ago.

I attributed his strong showing in the Majors last season (2018) more to his vast experience, supreme talent and knowing how to win. I didn’t think his back would hold up and never thought he wouldn’t have at least a few back issues. I expected 2 or 3 strong rounds in a Major, although couldn't imagine that he could string together 4 of them.

He must have had superb doctors and/or surgeons or maybe it’s just that golf is a sport where one’s mind can overcome the constraints of the body.  I also should have remembered that Tom Watson almost won the 2009 Open Championship at age 59!

I’ve followed and been a fan of Tiger’s since his teenage days, where he won 3 consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur titles – that event’s only three-time winner.

The 1997 Masters win at age 21 was as thrilling as any event I witnessed on TV. To see him annihilate (by 12 strokes) the older and more experienced competition was surreal.

At the 2000 PGA Championship, Tiger had to make a difficult 10 foot putt on the last hole to force a playoff with Bob May. If he misses that shot, Bob May would have been a first time winner. He nailed it of course and went on to defeat May in a 3 hole playoff.  It was Tiger’s fifth Major and gave us a glimpse of his toughness and steely nerves.

Another brilliant scene was during the 2000 RBC Canadian Open, where he hit an impossible 6 iron from the bunker (213 yards over water) and landed it softly on the green. I don’t know if any professional would even attempt that shot.

Beating Rocco Mediate on an injured left knee at the 2008 US Open is another phenomenal memory. I was in a sports restaurant at the time and the entire place was glued to the TV.

A few other notable points as it relates to Tiger:

·   Arnold Palmer is an icon and a big reason why golf is so popular. He won 7 Majors to Tiger's 15. Think about that.

·    Two of the best golfers of all time, Gary Player and Ben Hogan each won 9 Majors.

·    Tiger has held the outright 54-hole lead 46 times in his PGA Tour career. He went on to win 44 of them.

·     He is the only golfer to win 4 consecutive Majors - called the Tiger Slam.

His 14 Majors and vast regular PGA Tour victories were electrifying, including an era where Ernie Els finished 2nd to Tiger on 5 occasions - the most of any golfer. If not for Woods, Els may have 6 Majors instead of 4, as he was second in two of Tiger’s 14 Major victories. 

For this 15th win at Augusta, it was the first time he has come from behind on Sunday to win a Major.

When the 2009 sex scandal with his wife Elin occurred, I’ll never forget the anger and jokes that were thrown Tiger’s way, especially here in Sweden since his now ex-wife is a Swede. I heard several say that they would boycott the products that Tiger endorsed. 

Others found pleasure in his demise, although I saw an equal amount of sadness. It didn’t help that the old Tiger was never warm to the public or open to the media. His arrogance didn’t sit well with lots of folks, so it’s no surprise that people piled on after his reputation took such a potent hit. 

The fall from grace was profound for someone many thought had it all. 

Not only did multiple sponsors drop Tiger (not NIKE), but much of the public was no longer in his corner. The downfall was swift and he wouldn’t win another Major until this year – an 11 year gap.

The divorce, personal issues, injuries and worldwide attention on his scandal might have ruined the condition and psyche of another, but not Tiger. In 2013, he was ‘Player of the Year’ and won 5 tournaments; history many forget when his golf years after the scandal are mentioned.

I’m most impressed with the work ethic and ambition needed to climb back into competition. It’s amazing how quickly Tiger was able to get his body and mind back in shape to contend. We may revel in the glory now, but the grinding and work and patience and pain it took to get to this Masters victory, may be the biggest lesson from his 2019 Major championship.

Despite the plentiful doubts, Tiger never gave up or stopped believing in himself, even when it seemed like it would have been easy to do so.  It's inspiring.

It was a thing of beauty to watch this spectacular finish. I was communicating with friends in Europe and the States during the tournament.  I’ve never used social media this extensively with such a variety of cultures during a live sports event.

Our problems were put to the side and the often daily deluge of politics was nowhere to be found. It was just golf, The Masters and Tiger. I warned my wife beforehand that I had to watch the final round and that was my sole afternoon and evening focus.

In 1997 (his first Masters win), he embraced his late dad Earl on the 18th hole. This time, it was his 10 year old son Charlie jumping in his arms. 

The new Tiger is more open, humble and warm according to several reports. To see the genuine emotion after this win was refreshing as he was never one to wear his emotion on his sleeve. What a day and comeback story; the likes of which we may never see again. It is redemption at the highest level.

I’d like to see him break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors. If he stays healthy, that record could be within reach before his 50th birthday. Until he officially retires, I will give him the benefit of any doubts I have.

I wrote this in 2007:

“Jack Nicklaus always speaks fondly of Tiger and I admire that about him. He should know greatness in golf better than anyone. Tiger will easily break Jack's Major championship record of 18 as long as he stays healthy. Keep in mind, that Jack's most impressive record may be that he came in 2nd place in Majors a record 19 times!

My prediction is that Tiger will have won 26 Majors when he hangs up the clubs. Over 30 would not surprise me but life and kids could mellow his desire.”

Winning one Major a year until his 55th birthday would give him 26 Majors. Who am I to say he can’t do it? 

Whatever happens, let’s enjoy this magical ride while it lasts.

Never doubt a Tiger.