As I've gotten older, I've had a weird and possibly desperate idea in the back of my head: As long as somebody roughly my age is still playing professional sports, I'm still plausibly young. It's a silly notion, though one I've clung to even as most of the athletes of my generation played out their careers, retired, and moved on to the next thing. But I turned 49 last week. Time is running out.
It's not quite gone, though.
On Thursday, 46-year-old Tiger Woods played 18 holes at the Masters, and he did so on a right leg that was nearly amputated after a horrific car crash more than a year ago. What's more, he did pretty well, finishing at one under par and tied for 10th. He had some tricky moments on the course at Augusta, but those mistakes merely served as a bit of stage-setting for his greatness. Take this:
Not bad for an older, injured man.
Listen, I'm not a huge golf fan. But like a lot of non-golf fans, I'm a Tiger Woods fan. For younger viewers, it might seem like he's been around forever — he did win his first Masters 25 years ago this week — so it's hard to explain what it was like when he burst on the scene as a young man, seemingly a fully formed cultural phenomenon from the very beginning. He was on magazine covers and commercials and young people started thinking of golf not as the musty sport old rich white guys played, but as the game Tiger played. The NBA spent a few years in the late 1990s and early aughts trying to find "the next Michael Jordan." But the next Michael Jordan had already arrived. He just played another sport.
Is there anybody, in any part of our culture, who can thrill us like that anymore?
Here's the thing, kids. It will shock you just how fast you can go from being an up-and-comer to being a grizzled vet just trying to hang on doing whatever it is you love, whether it's a job or a game or something else. This is the case for most of us, and it was certainly the case for Tiger as he aged. There was the hugely public breakup of his marriage, and then injuries that seemed destined to rob him of his powerful game. So much of the last 10 years of his career has been about proving us wrong — that he still had it, could still dominate and still win. Golf fans will talk about his 2019 victory at the Masters for a long time. The Masters tournament was always where he shined brightest.
The car crash could have ended his career. Instead, Tiger is out there this week, grinding out shots, and expecting to win. He would be the oldest Masters winner ever. It probably won't happen. For those of us of a certain age, though, it's a thrill that we keep getting to root for him. We're not done yet.