Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Conversation About: Tiger Woods

Down Sainsbury’s the other day reading the label on a jar of Patak’s Balti sauce, trying to discern its nutritional merits, when some kid no older than three, waddles up to me licking this massive round lollipop...
I can’t see his mum or anything so I lower myself to his eye level and say:
            “Are you alright lad? Where’s your mum?” He doesn’t say anything. Just carries on licking his lolly. “That’s a big lolly,” I remark. Then feeling like I’m the stranger in a ‘JUST SAY NO!’ advertisement, I quickly stand up to my full height and ask him again where his mum is.
          “She’s still in the fruit and veg section. She stands there for ages prodding aubergines and squeezing melons.” He says.
            “Oh right.” We stand there in silence for a bit then he comes out with:
            “Did you see Tiger finally won a PGA tour event again over the weekend?”
            “Yes I did.”
            “Yeah it was a good win too, under a lot of pressure on the final day, he had to really hold his nerve to see off the challenge of McDowell. Couldn’t have been easy for a player who, although accustomed to winning, can no longer be said to be used to it.”
            “So I hear.”
            “I bet you were too busy watching football to take any notice of another sport eh?” He points the lolly at me like a gun.
            “Do you like Tiger?” He says ‘Tiger’ like he knows him.
            “I don’t really know him.”
            “Okay fair enough. Let me rephrase the question then. Do you root for Tiger? Do you want him to win, when you see him on TV?”
            “Well, after the British players I suppose I just want the best players to win.”
            “Oh God ‘the British players’,” the kid spins around, seemingly in exasperation. “Don’t pretend like we have an actual national identity in this country and we all root for our own kind. I’m just asking about Tiger as an individual. Do you like it when he wins or do you prefer to see someone else win?”
            “Alright keep your hair on,” I say showing him the palm of my free hand. “I suppose I always liked to see Tiger...” Great, now I’m saying ‘Tiger’ like I know him too, goes through my head, “...winning things.”
            “Why is that?” The kid says.
            “I dunno. Because he’s the best, or was the best anyway.” He smiles and snaps off a chink of the lolly between his tiny milk teeth.
            “Good. You know I believe it says a lot about you, the sportsmen or teams you follow.”
            “In what sense?”
            “For example; pre-scandal Tiger was undoubtedly the number one golfer in the world and had been for ages. The people who liked to see him win and carry on winning are themselves people with confidence, people who don’t need the boost to their morale that comes with seeing someone less likely prevail. These are people comfortable in their own ability to succeed.”
            “Interesting,” I say.
            “People love an underdog don’t they? But I think rooting for an underdog is like admitting you’re an underdog yourself. It’s like saying: Maybe if this guy wins then there’s a chance I could still do something with my life too. I get that. I understand the logic of that hope but I just find it so defeatist. What they ought to be saying is: Right, this Tiger Woods guy has been number one for ages, what is it that he’s doing that sets him apart? But most people would rather believe that Tiger’s success is purely down to innate talent and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, that it’s just ‘the hand he was dealt’ at birth. This provides them with the perfect excuse for their own failures in life. But you know what?”
            “Eh?” I mutter, stunned into unintelligibility by the eloquence of this toddler.
            “It’s not talent that makes someone great. It’s skill. Talent can only take someone so far, it is those sportsmen and athletes that develop their talent into tangible skills who achieve greatness, which requires dedication.”
            “Dedication,” I repeat solemnly.
            “Dedication. Just like Roy Castle’s Record Breakers,” he licks the ever reducing lolly, “It’s what you need.”
            “Dedication,” I say again.
            “That’s why I always root for the favourite. I always wanted Schumacher to win when he was with Ferrari. I always want to see Federer win because I believe he’s the most skilful player. I want LeBron James’ Heat to win something because I think he’s the strongest player in the NBA.”
            “Fair enough.”
            “So, I get annoyed when people support the underdogs. I hated seeing Greece win Euro 2004. It irritated me when everyone wanted Jimmy White to beat Stephen Hendry in all those finals just because he’s English.”
            “Hang on a minute…what year were you born in?”
            “I was upset that Colin Jackson never won an Olympic gold,” he continues ignoring my question. “Imagine that, being the best for all that time, winning all those races at all those meets and then somehow managing to always come up short on the biggest stage.
            “So I take it you’ll be rooting for Luke Donald at The Masters then seeing as he is now the number one player? You do know Tiger is now officially only the sixth best player in the world?” The kid balances on one leg but I don’t think there’s any meaning to it.
            “Your obsession with stats; it’s insane. Here are some stats for you: only Jack Nicklaus, on eighteen, has won more major tournaments than Tiger Woods, on fourteen, who also has the third most wins in PGA Tour history, winning seventy-two to Nicklaus’ seventy-three and Sam Snead’s eighty-two. That makes him the greatest player still active on the tour. So no I will not be rooting for Luke Donald at The Masters.” He seems annoyed.
“Do you watch football?” I ask.
            “Yes but I’m not going to say who I follow. That would be too inflammatory. You know how people get about their football.”
            “Yes I do.” Then I look up and a worried looking woman pushing a trolley comes careering around the corner and up to the kid.
            “I told you not to wander off!” she scalds him. “Sorry,” she says to me with a grimace and yanks the kid away by the wrist.
I’m left holding the Patak’s jar in an empty aisle and I know the conversation is over.

Written by Andrew Hatch


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