Initial reports indicated his injuries were not life-threatening, so for that, thanks. Count him extremely fortunate. His agent told of injuries to both legs, requiring surgery at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Speaking from this week’s PGA Tour stop in Florida just minutes after learning of the crash, Justin Thomas said, “I’m sick to my stomach. You know, it hurts to see now one of my closest friends get in an accident. Man, I just hope he’s all right. Just worry for his kids, you know. I’m sure they’re struggling.”
The reaction to the accident was further proof of how the brilliance of Woods transcends golf. His 15 major championships – second in bulk to only Jack Nicklaus – and 82 PGA Tour victories – second to no one – are only part of the story. He changed the very face of golf racially and culturally. That is why when this player rolls his courtesy SUV, it is more than a sports story; it is one that prompts even CNN to bump the political blather for his breaking news.
“The ’97 Masters (Woods’ first major, won in record-smashing fashion) changed the course of my life, course of my career,” Tony Finau, a player of Tongan and Samoan descent, told reporters in Florida. “Without that event I probably wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be playing golf, so he definitely changed the course of my life, my career. I think I’m one of hundreds of guys out here probably that would say the same thing. He means a lot to the game, but individually I think he means a lot to us just individually, especially for me.”
At the same time, Tuesday was another pointed reminder of just how star-crossed and complicated the greater sweep of Woods’ story really is. The golf always has been the easy part for him to master. But standing between him and the first tee has been a series of mishaps and imperfections, many of his own making.
His marital infidelities became an embarrassing media bonfire. His body began rebelling against all that he asked of it in a quest to be the strength leader in the clubhouse, showing up in a series of knee and back issues. In 2017, two years before he would claim his fifth Masters in a stirring comeback from spinal-fusion surgery, his use of prescription pain medication because of that very back problem reportedly led to a DUI arrest and probation. Now we await the forensics on this puzzling morning crash outside Los Angeles.
If there is any encouragement Woods can take from history, it’s that he is not the first golfing great to face a long, hard slog back from a devastating wreck. Ben Hogan made it back.
On a foggy, icy Texas road during the drive home from a tournament in Arizona in 1949, Hogan, who was 36 at the time, and his wife collided with a Greyhound bus. He took the worst of it, suffering a broken pelvis, ankle and collarbone. Blood clots complicated his recovery. Yet 16 months later, he won the U.S. Open. And in 1953, he won the last three of his nine major titles.
The comeback is woven all through the Woods saga, sadly enough. There must be a limit to how often that theme plays, even for Woods. Can he possibly have one more in him?
We’ll just leave it here with a wish: how grand it would be to see him in Sunday red and black at the 2022 Masters.