What a moment.
But was the 2019 Masters only a moment and not momentous? That’s what we’ll find out – and we can do something about it.
The optimists already are pointing to the sites of the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open – Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach – and talking about Tiger Woods backing up his stunning Masters victory with one or two more major championships this year.
They’re forgetting a couple of things.
First, he won majors at those two courses a lifetime ago. He still was in his mid-20s then; now he’s 43.
Second, the players he’s facing today are much different from the ones he practically ran over in those days. You think Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson and all those great Euros are going to run scared just because Tiger is on their tail?
They were happy to see him win again. But there are so many good players, it’s hard to imagine any of them dominating the majors – Koepka’s recent successes are as close as anyone has come.
What I’m more interested in, though, is how this affects our great game.
A couple of hours after Woods holed out on No. 18 and donned the green jacket, I was on the driving range at a seemingly popular local golf course.
The first thing I noticed was that the parking lot was pretty empty for a Sunday afternoon.
When I got out on the range, there was only one other person there.
And then I looked out at the course: Hole after hole was empty. I couldn’t see the entire course, but it looked to be 30-40% full at best.
That’s the big change we’ve seen in recent years. Sunday used to be a prime day to play golf. The mornings were packed. Tee sheets were filled beyond noon. And then there was another surge of players in the afternoon, especially if the course had a twilight rate.
These days, I don’t see much traffic when I pass a golf course late in the day. Saddens me every time.
So I’ve got to ask the question: If there still is a Tiger Effect – and, judging from the way everyone (even people who aren’t golf fans) seemed to be talking about him today, I’ve got to believe there is – how will it manifest itself?
Will we see another surge in the number of golfers? Or just a trickle? Will young people take up golf just because they admire the comeback of a 43-year-old guy? I doubt it.
It comes down to us – all of us.
In particular, we need to instill in our sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters the same love for the game that we have. It won’t happen overnight. We can’t force it on them. But we certainly can encourage it.
I’ve seen it for myself the last couple of months. I got involved last year in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and my “little,” who’s only 8 years old, has discovered his new favorite activity. You guessed it – it’s golf.
The twinkle in his eye when we go to the driving range is priceless. Sure, putting bores him even though I keep stressing its importance, but he treats a large bucket of balls the way he does an ice cream cone.
His only sadness on the range is when the number of balls starts dwindling. We’ve done other activities that seemed to test his patience, but his fascination with trying to smack a golf ball properly seems endless – even when he whiffs or barely makes contact.
And he’s coachable. When I correct him on his fundamentals, he earnestly tries to do it right. Then he hits a good shot, and it’s as if you just handed him a new toy.
This is what it’s going to take, folks. Young people need to discover this same sense of wonder and elation.
If you get paired with some millennials, make them feel welcome. Laugh. Talk. Share golf stories. Show why you love to do this.
If you get the opportunity to teach some youngsters how to play, be patient with them. Make it fun. Explain the rules. Help them understand why etiquette is part of the deal on the golf course but losing your temper never should be. Be a good role model.
We can’t count on Tiger Woods to singlehandedly bring in record numbers of golfers. Yes, it will help. But let’s build on that magical moment Sunday.
The future of golf depends on you. Yes, you. We might not get a mulligan.