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Eye of the Tiger

Posted By Josh Hoffman On Aug 24 2009 @ 11:18 pm In Los Angeles Lakers | 4 Comments

With Lakerland all quiet on the front, I decided to switch gears and tackle Tiger Woods' supposed poor sportsmanship and temper:

I was having breakfast with my grandpa Stan during the week that followed the 91st PGA Championship – which saw Tiger Woods relinquish his three-round lead to victor Y.E. Yang on the final day – when the Stan The Man mentioned his distaste for the poor sportsmanship that Woods displayed after Yang became the first Asian-born player to win a major championship. (In Woods’ defense, he gave Yang a congratulatory handshake; in my grandpa’s, he left the last hole with a “Did this dude really just beat me?” look on his face and showed up late to the press conference.) About a month earlier, ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly argued in his column that Tiger’s temper is disgraceful to the game of golf and needs to change.

While my grandpa and Reilly are both role models of mine for unrelated reasons, their aforementioned  opinions about the number-one ranked golfer are a little off tee.

First of all, I am not a fan of Woods. I think he is an exceptional athlete who should go down as the all-time greatest golfer, but life goes on with or without Tiger on top. (As for the Lakers, that’s a different story.) But what I am a fan of is competition at the highest level, something Woods – along with the Kobe Bryants, Derek Jeters and Peyton Mannings – consistently brings to the table. These guys thrive on the very thought of competition like OPEC thrives on oil.

America is code for “competition”. It’s in our DNA and encompasses all walks of life – from education to the economy, society to sports and everything in between. Simply stated: If you can’t handle it, you’re probably not going to succeed. Just ask Vince Young.

Everyone reacts to winning and losing in different ways and to different degrees, perhaps because everyone has different self-set expectations. Whenever Woods steps foot on a golf course, he expects to hit every fairway, green every par-three and sink every put, especially when it matters most. The other three competitors all have similar expectations: Bryant to hit each game-winning shot; Jeter to repeatedly deliver in the clutch with base hits and defense; and Manning to culminate every two-minute drill with a touchdown. Is it practical approach? Of course not. But when you’re the best of the best, anything less than perfection is unfathomable.

I get it: Golf has higher standards of respect and etiquette than the average sport. As Reilly wrote, it’s “a gentlemen’s game.” But why? Because golf is predominantly a white man’s sport – and God forbid it reaches the second-rate standards of, say, football and basketball.

For decades, segregation plagued the PGA Tour much like it did the MLB, which desegregated in 1948. It wasn’t until 1975 when African Americans were permitted to play in the Masters, the first of four major tournaments per year. If you would have said to someone pre-1975 that a black golfer will eventually have four Masters victories to his name, your credibility would have gone further south in one sentence than George W. Bush’s did in two terms.

So why don’t we hold baseball – you know, our national pastime – to the same standards as we do golf? After all, Major Leaguers chew tobacco, adjust their genitalia every five seconds, spit like their salivary glands are waterfalls, heave coolers out of frustration … and don’t get me started on steroids. Tiger curses when he isn’t satisfied with a shot, beats his club into the ground every now and again and occasionally storms off because he squandered a prime opportunity. Big deal.

In the current FedEx Cup standings, Woods has over 1,200 more points than second-place Steve Stricker who has played in five additional events. (To give you an idea of how hellacious that is, Stricker is 136 points ahead of third-ranked Zach Johnson.) He surrendered a final-round lead during a major championship for the first time in 15 career chances. He’s virtually the only reason golf at every level has remained relevant.

He’s one-of-a-kind. He’s Tiger.

Josh Hoffman is a college junior working to become a sports journalist. You can contact him at joshuahoffman@sportstalkbuzz.com.

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