By JIM LITKE – Columnist for AP Sports
Tiger Woods spoke for about 15 minutes, almost all of it dedicated to his parents and everyone else who nurtured his love of the game. It even lacked a mention of one of the stunning achievements that earned him a podium in the World Golf Hall of Fame in the first place.
Perhaps equally revealing, Woods gave no hints as to what might come next.
“I know golf is an individual sport. We do a lot of things alone for hours, but in my case,” Woods said, “I didn’t come here alone.”
It was a very personal speech, a portrait of the golf artist at a very young age. Woods recalled being dropped off at the local community every morning as an 8-year-old, with plenty of time to quarters the older kids at putting competitions and skin games, and then spending hours catching up while waiting for lost balls looking for his father, Earl, to come home from work at 4 p.m. and pick him up in a golf cart.
“It was already dark by then, especially in winter,” Woods recalls. “So we had a rule if you ever lost the golf ball we were done and had to drive in.
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“Part of understanding how to shape shots and knowing where to hit it on the face, where I would hit it, it all started back then. … The furthest I’ve ever done was 17 holes in the dark,” he added, laughing. “Never quite got to 18.”
Woods did it almost every time it mattered thereafter, winning 15 major championships and a record-breaking 82 on the PGA Tour, and who knows how many more he would have added if he hadn’t endured the eight surgeries. Woods did not mention this either. But 14-year-old Sam Woods, who introduced her dad, did.
Referring to Woods’ February 2021 car accident in Los Angeles, she said, “We didn’t know if you were going to come home with two legs or not. Now you’re not only going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, you’re standing here on your own two feet.
“That’s why you deserve this,” she added, “because you’re a fighter.”
Ten months later, Woods was playing in the PNC Championship with his 12-year-old son, Charlie, and finished second in the team event. Despite needing a wagon to get around, Woods displayed many flashes of championship that made him nearly unbeatable for more than two decades. Inevitably, the questions began: could he come back again?
Woods answered the final round just as he had in the past – nothing was certain, but he wouldn’t be closing the door on at least a limited return. Then his caddy, Joe LaCava, threw more kindling onto the embers.
“I think it’s going to be more work than coming back from fusion surgery with his back and things like that, but I think he’s ready to do it at that age,” LaCava said in an interview with Sirius XM PGA on Wednesday -Tour radio.
“Maybe that father-son tournament gave him a little more motivation because as most people saw – if they saw it – he didn’t lose much. He may not be quite as long as he used to be, but he can still hit the ball and still putt and chip. So, I mean, if he can avoid a golf course, he could still be dangerous if that happens.”
Woods, as mentioned above, spoke about the distant past and said nothing about his future. But golf is that rare game where Hall of Famers can collect their plaque, put it in the trophy box, and step back onto the field. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els were both already alumni when they won in recent years.
Referring to those wins not long ago, Woods called its induction “a recognition that you’ve had a successful career.
“I feel like I did it,” he added, “but it feels like it’s not over yet.”
The best have the hardest time letting go. Woods wouldn’t be the first GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) to push the envelope.
“One day you might look up and see me playing at 50,” Michael Jordan concluded his induction into the Hall of Fame. Knowing laughter erupted on all sides of him.
“Oh, don’t laugh,” he said. “Never say Never.”
Woods can’t walk on a golf course right now, so he avoided idle boasts or self-deprecating jokes, and it’s hard to imagine he’d show up at the first tee just for the sake of the game. But Jordan and Jack Nicklaus and even Muhammad Ali said almost the same thing and they all came back looking for another transcendent run, another moment where they felt like the king of the world.
“I would never be rejected,” Woods said mid-speech on Wednesday night, recalling the moment he inherited his father’s passion for the game. “I loved it. I had this burning desire to express myself through this game of golf.”
A badge won’t change that.
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