Szwaja's Sports Blog

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dear Earl Woods .... Wherever you are,

Before I go any further, let me start by saying thanks for going to war for our country ... twice ... both times in Vietnam. It was a war that cost you your best friend, Tiger Phong, a man you would later name your son after. As a Green Beret, we can only guess that you were one tough S.O.B.

While your contributions for our country on the makeshift battlefields of Vietnam were admirable in the most respected sense of the word, few of us would know your name had you not molded your son into the most intriguing athlete in the world.

Watching your son Tiger's growth as an athlete and a person during the last 13 years has been, with good reason, one of the best sports stories my generation has had to offer. As a sports fan, I thank you for molding Tiger into a great role model.

Okay, so maybe it's a little lame a 23-year-old writing a blog that only a handful of people actually read to admit to anyone that Tiger Woods is a role model, but that's exactly what Tiger is for me.

Truth is, I love sports. Why? That's a question I've asked myself over and over as I've become an even bigger sports fan with age. I have no real answer, except for the fact that watching sports is my addictive drug. For some it's crack cocaine. For some it's alcohol. For some it's cigarettes. For some it's caffeine. For me, it's sports.

It's with ease that I proclaim Tiger Woods as my favorite active athlete to watch compete. And, even though Tiger has most obviously been molded into an athletic machine of sorts, I think it has a lot to do with his personality. In a weird way, I love real Tiger is. Let me explain.

Phil Mickelson seems like a nice guy, but I don't know how it would be to have a beer with him. Would that ear-to-ear smile of his remain embossed on his face? If it did, wouldn't that be a little weird? I think so. For all I know, Phil's an asshole. You just don't know. Ernie Els? Boring. Jack? Too sweater vest and slacks if you know what I mean?

Give me mock turtle necks, cool hats and baggy black pants.

My point is that, at least in my mind, I know exactly what it would be like. Everything wouldn't be funny. The conversations would take on a certain element of seriousness, but they would no doubt turn the corner into jokesville at any given opportunity. There are no smoke screens. When Jimmy Roberts interviews him behind the scorecard shack, Tiger says what's on his mind.

"I pretty much sucked today, Jimmy," I remember him saying once. That's cool, and you'd never hear Mickelson say that.

And on a good day, it's something like this...

"I was on today, Jimmy. I knew this was coming because I've been playing so well. The golf course was in great shape. I had a lot of fun out there."

Tiger on the golf course is no different. If Tiger screws up, you know it. He drops the club before he can finish the swing. He wipes his brow in disgust. He drops an F-bomb. If he, like only Tiger can do, pulls of the impossible, the fist pumps, the pick-an-adjective smile appears and the strut of all golf course struts comes out. It all makes him pretty damn fun to watch.

His focus in immeasurable. If I could focus on anything like Tiger focus on golf, maybe I could live in a $20 million mansion, too.

I heard SI's Rick Reilly say on the radio today that if Earl Woods had been John Daly's father, Daly would have been better than Tiger. That's not a shot at Woods's natural ability, but rather a compliment to Earl. Daly hits for the sinful cycle: he smokes, drinks, eats and gambles all in excess. And, for the most part, he's not what you would consider a nice person.

Wait, Mike, Tiger's not exactly known as a nice guy either, is probably what you're saying, right? Sure, he gives it to photographers who hit the shutter in his back swing. He has trained his caddy to instill fear in onlooking fans. Some say he's a little too cocky. But those are all in-the-moment things. How often have you seen or heard of Tiger getting into some kind of trouble? Almost never. Plus, when you're that good at something, you can be as cocky as you want.

So, thank you, Mr. Woods, for molding an athlete who we can respect during and in between competitions. Without your tutelage, golf would be a lot less interesting that it is right now. Thanks, and rest in peace.


Mike Szwaja