Compare Tiger Woods to Walter Hagen, not Jack Nicklaus
I’ve been asked dozens of times over the past several months about Tiger Woods, and for the most part, I’ve kept as tight-lipped as el Tigre himself. But now that he’s getting pressed by the British media, and looking more unappealingly petulant than ever, I thought I’d share a couple of random thoughts.
First, Tiger is switching putters for the first time in 11 years. His loyalty to a putter is rather remarkable, considering “loyal” isn’t exactly one of the adjectives that springs to mind when you think of him (at least not over the past several months).
Nike’s Method putter will be Tiger’s flat-stick of choice at the upcoming Open Championship, and given that the putter already has two majors to its credit (Cink, Glover), maybe it will restore some magic to the Striped One’s short game.
Second, I’m sick of our collective continued insistence on comparing Tiger to Jack Nicklaus. Tiger is not Jack: Jack was not the most gregarious of golfers, either with fans or with the media, but he was a stolid ambassador of the game (though far less so than Arnold Palmer), and moreover, he was (and is) a devoted family man and, by his own admission, a rather ineffectual businessman – Jack’s lost more money on questionable business deals than most players will ever earn to begin with.
Tiger appears to be the mirror-image of Jack on these counts.
The player we should be comparing Woods to is Walter Hagen. Hagen was the first true golf professional, and as such, he opened doors for golf pros around the world, and can be credited with making the PGA Tour what it is today. Similarly, Tiger is the proverbial tide that has raised all boats – purses and winnings have ballooned in the Time of Tigger, and every single professional golfer playing the game today should send him a thank-you note for it.
By the numbers: Hagen became the first millionaire golfer, and Tiger is the first billionaire golfer.
Furthermore, Hagen, who once said, “I never wanted to be a millionaire, just to live like one,” was famed for his extravagant lifestyle. Some of the stories of his carousing were exaggerated, but not completely. Paul Runyan is quoted as follows in a 1999 article in Golf Digest recounting a match-play round with Hagen:
“I was paired with him in the International Four-Ball Matches, and we were scheduled to go off third. When we were called to the tee, he was nowhere on the premises. I was sure we’d be disqualified, but they moved our time to last. He finally showed up just as we were called again, climbing out of a cab wearing a tuxedo. He’d been partying all night on a yacht that was late getting back. Hagen apologized for being late, and picked up on the first five holes. ‘Paul can play ‘em on this hole,’ he’d say.”
Finally, Hagen won 11 majors, behind only Nicklaus and, yep, Tiger. So if we compare Woods to Hagen, we can take a blessed rest from the purgatorial speculation about whether Tiger will beat the competition. He already has.
Perhaps Tiger should just quit with the “better person” schtick and start showing up now and then for early-morning rounds in a Nike tuxedo, pouring out of a bimbo-filled limo and tossing aside a champagne flute as he steps to the first tee. After a while, we’d all get used to it and move on to the next “big” story.
Everyone, including Tiger himself, needs to stop holding Woods up to Nicklaus. He’s not Jack. Consider him instead as a modern-day Walter Hagen: a professional golfer who liked his booze and starlets, and appreciated the high life. A golfer who was without peer in his day, and who made the game better for everyone fortunate enough to play with him and after him.
Really, how much more can anyone—even The Anointed One—ask?
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Eldrick will eventually be comparable only to OJ.
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