Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Books: "Drive," By Bob Harig, On Tiger Woods' Remarkably Complex Career


DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods

By Bob Harig

St. Martin's Press; hardcover, 336 pages plus one 8-page photo insert; $30.00; available today, Tuesday, March 26th

Bob Harig is a writer for Sports Illustrated, formerly of ESPN and the Tampa Bay Times, who has covered Tiger Woods since the very beginning of his career nearly three decades ago. Harig is one of the few authors who has conducted dozens of one-on-one interviews with Tiger, and is the author of Tiger & Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry (click here for our review from April 2022).

DRIVE is Harig's look at the remarkable career of Tiger Woods, and this book comes five years after his improbable win at the 2019 Masters. Improbable because of all that Woods had been through in the prior decade, from injuries to multiple car accidents to revelations of extramarital affairs, but not unlikely if you have witnessed the determination Woods has had throughout his career.

Just two years before his triumph at Augusta, Woods had severe back injuries that resulted in spinal fusion surgery that he feared would be career-ending. That same year, in May 2017, Woods was arrested after he was found by police asleep in his car on the side of the road. He spent the next two years finding his way back from surgery to the golf course. 

That all came to fruition as he approached the 18th Green on Sunday at The Masters in 2019, and when the final putt landed in the hole, CBS announcer Jim Nantz proclaimed it, "The return to glory." To Harig, it was that and more, as it brought together all the qualities that compose someone who is not only an enduring figure in sports, but a supremely-gifted athlete whose drive to succeed transcended all the greats. 

Then, in October 2019, after Woods underwent arthroscopic knee surgery just two months before, he won the inaugural ZOZO Championship, the first event sanctioned by the PGA Tour in Japan. That gave Woods his 82nd win on the PGA Tour, which tied him with Sam Snead for the all-time record, and he has not won since.

Woods was then faced with more adversity less than a couple years later, as he was badly injured when the car he was operating rolled over in Los Angeles just two days after he hosted the Genesis Open in February 2021. Extensive leg surgery and rehabilitation followed, and another comeback - one Harig feels is possibly more remarkable than the 2019 victory - came just 14 months later, when Woods played in The Masters in 2022, and made the cut. 

Woods was known as a golf prodigy from a very young age, but he burst into stardom when he appeared at The Masters for the first time, at just 21 years old, in 1997, and won by a record twelve strokes and breaking the Augusta record. This was his first appearance in a major tournament, and it was the first victory in a major for an African-American or Asian-American player. Incredible to note also is the fact that Woods shot a 40 on the front nine in the first round and still won by 12 strokes.

This began a 15-year run of dominance for Tiger, becoming arguably the most famous athlete in the world, as he transformed golf by setting course records and winning majors at a pace that was never thought possible. Woods is tied for the most wins in PGA history, with 82, and is second in major tournament wins, with 15. He spent more than 600 weeks ranked as the #1 player in the world.

Woods impact extended beyond what he did on the course, as brought more fans to the game of golf than ever before, which let to record television ratings, as marketing the game was never so successful. That led him to become a billionaire who earned over $110 million in prize winnings, as well as over a billion dollars in endorsement money. One of the many companies Woods endorsed, and whose gear he wore, was Nike, which is why it was front-page news when their partnership ended in January after 27 years. He also endorsed numerous products, such as Gillette razors, with one of his memorable ads for them being one in which he appeared with tennis legend Roger Federer and soccer star Thierry Henry in 2007, and Yankees superstar Derek Jeter appeared in later versions.

That 1997 Masters win began Tiger's run of greatness, which included him not missing a 36-hole cut, a record 142 consecutive tournaments, from 1998 to 2005, which well surpassed the previous record of 113 by Byron Nelson. In the modern era, no current player has approached even half of Tiger's record. 

In this excerpt, Harig writes of the depth of Woods and his evolution as a player and person: "Tiger Woods has proven to be a complicated figure throughout his decades in the spotlight. Child prodigy. Guided by a nurturing, some say overbearing, father. An accomplished junior player who turned into a record-setting amateur player and then a pro without peer. Woods transformed the game, turning golf geeks into keen observers, casual golf fans into ardent followers, and even indifferent sports fans into curiosity mavens. 

He will undoubtedly be known for the raw numbers: eighty-two PGA Tour titles, tied for the most all-time with Sam Snead fifteen major championships, three behind Jack Nicklaus; a billionaire, according to Forbes, who amassed more than $110 million in official PGA Tour earnings. He was vastly underpaid, if you think about it.

But even before his historic Masters title at Augusta National in 2019, Woods had emerged with a different outlook and was received with warmth and adulation. Sure, there are still the haters, those who wonder if he continues to play, almost jealous of his accomplishments. But there's undoubtedly been a transformation, due in part to maturity, having two kids, and the perspective that he's lucky to be alive following his February 2021 car crash. And certainly, fortunate to be competing.

It is a long time removed from 'Hello, World,' the words he uttered as part of a marketing slogan for Nike upon turning pro in 1996. And from that 12-shot Masters win in 1997. Or the 'Tiger slam' of 2000-01. The amazing consistency from 2005 through 2009. The scandal of 2010. The return to No. 1 in 2013. And the subsequent back problems that somehow did not keep him from winning a fifteenth major title and tying Sam Snead's PGA Tour record for victories.

Not so long ago was the horrific one-car crash that Woods somehow survived on February 23, 2021. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, 'The primary causal factor for this traffic collision was driving at a speed unsafe for the road conditions and the inability to negotiate the curve of the roadway.' He was traveling at more than 82 miles an hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone, and it was unclear whether Woods attempted to negotiate the curve in the road. 

His Genesis SUV went into a median, struck a curb, knocked down a wooden sign, and drove into opposite lanes before hitting a tree and rolling over.

He suffered broken bones in his right leg and injuries to his right foot and ankle.

That is the straightforward explanation. Woods needed several surgeries to fix the broken bones in his leg. He has never fully disclosed what occurred to his right foot and ankle, other than to suggest he needed 'pins and screws' to put them back together. It's fair to say Woods had multiple tiny broken bones in his foot.

And yet, somehow, barely a year later, he returned to play in the Masters, where he broke par in the first round and made the 36-hole cut. He also played in the PGA Championship, again making the cut but suffering through the third round, then withdrawing - with something amiss, causing him to fly to California afterward to meet with doctors. Woods later disclosed that he had two procedures in 2022 related to his right leg, but didn't say what they were for or when they occurred.

It's reasonable to believe one of the procedures took place following that withdrawal at the PGA Championship. Later, it was learned that one of the screws in his foot was protruding through the skin. Woods then skipped the U.S. Open.

But he returned for The Open at St. Andrews, the one goal he had all year. Woods desperately wanted to be part of the 150th playing of the game's oldest championship at the Old Course, the home of golf. It is where he played as an amateur in 1995, where he won in 2000 and 2005, where he completed six times but might never again as a competitive golfer.

That he managed to get around despite what appeared to be serious limitations was one of the stories of the golf year, despite a score well over par and nowhere near making the cut.

“It’s pretty insane, actually,” says Justin Thomas, who despite an age difference of eighteen years became close to Woods. “To make the cut at Augusta for how he felt early in the year, it’s mind-blowing, honestly. I can’t put into words how much his mind just works in his favor compared to everybody else and how much better it is than everybody else’s.

“He’s a different person when he gets out there, and especially at Augusta, all the good vibes and memories and everything he has. When that focus clicks on, it’s a different person.”

The latter years of Woods’ career help form a different picture. Sure, all the records remain framed for history, and his overall resume of greatness will be how he is remembered most. But all along, there was in inner drive, a never-say-quit attitude that served him extremely well when he made the game look easy - and that was all the more apparent when the game suddenly was not easy.”

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