As Tiger Woods completed an improbable, decade-long comeback not many predicted would evolve from pipe dream to green jacket, his 10-year-old son made good on a New Year’s resolution on Sunday. In a fourth-grade classroom, Charlie Woods was asked at the beginning of the year to write down his goal for 2019. His answer was easy: He wanted to see his father, arguably the most transcendent athlete in modern history, victorious.
“He wanted to actually witness me winning a golf tournament,” Woods told CBS’s Jim Nantz. “Well, he witnessed me winning a major championship.”
With the roar of the crowd deafening, Woods, grinning from ear to ear with celebratory clenched fists, made the familiar walk to the small holding area behind the 18th green of Augusta National. When he first won the Masters, it was his father, Earl, waiting for a triumphant embrace that has been replayed on a loop since 1997.
But for his children, Charlie and 11-year-old daughter Sam, it was their first time seeing this unfold at Augusta, Ga. And this time, it was Tiger, the 43-year-old father of two whose life has sometimes resembled a Greek tragedy, who embraced his children in his latest career-defining moment at the Masters.
Charlie, in a matching red Nike shirt and black hat, ran past the rope and jumped into his father’s arms, and the golfer lifted his 10-year-old in the air with ease, hooting and hollering as Charlie held on tight. He proceeded to hug everyone in sight, from his mother, Kultida, who was there 22 years earlier for his first win, to his girlfriend, Erica Herman, to Sam, whom he convinced to come to the Masters after her team lost a state soccer tournament in Florida during the weekend.
Almost immediately, Woods’s embrace with Charlie drew immediate parallels to his hug with Earl in 1997, with many noting how his relationship with his children has helped the golfer emerge from an extended dark period marred by extramarital affairs, sex addiction, misuse of prescription drugs, alleged treatments with a doctor linked to performance-enhancing drugs and four back surgeries.
“I never thought we’d see anything that could rival the hug with his father in 1997,” Nantz said, “but we just did.”
“That will be the greatest scene in golf forever, Jim Nantz,” Nick Faldo replied.
“That hug with his children, if that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye if you’re a parent, you’re not human,” Nantz said.
Even Woods couldn’t believe the bookend Masters moments of father and son, from 1997 to 2019.
“I don’t think things get any more special for me, because when I first won here, it was my dad at the back of the green, and now it’s my two kids,” Woods said.
On social media, videos of the embrace have been shared millions of times as of early Monday. The parallels were not lost on the golf tournament or CBS, which teed up the moments of the two hugs in the same spot two decades apart.
“That’s what it looked like 22 years ago,” Nantz said of Woods, then 21, crying into his father’s right shoulder.
By all accounts, Earl Woods should not have been at the 1997 Masters. It had only been six weeks since undergoing triple bypass heart operation to correct several damaged or blocked arteries, the result of years of smoking, drinking and uneven dieting. As authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian reported in the 2018 biography “Tiger Woods,” Earl had flatlined while in recovery, with Woods saying his father at one point told him he “felt he was walking into the light.” (Full disclosure: This reporter was the lead researcher for that 2018 book.) Earl, who labeled his son “a genius” for the game when he was just 11 months old, recalled that his son didn’t have to say anything about the prospect of losing him to know what the youthful golfer was feeling.
“Tiger is not one to over-emotionalize things,” Earl, then 64, said shortly after leaving the hospital. “Neither am I. We don’t have to. We just touch, and it’s all said.”
Earl was practically bedridden when he made it to Augusta, going against doctors order to not travel, Woods said on Sunday.
“My dad shouldn’t have come in ’97. I mean, he had heart complications, and wasn’t supposed to fly, but he flew and came,” Woods said. “Gave me a putting lesson on Wednesday night, and the rest is history.”
No matter how weak he was, he had one of his son’s friends drive him to the course for the end of the final round. Months earlier, Earl had predicted to Sports Illustrated that his son would “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” more so than the likes of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi or Buddha.
“He is the Chosen One,” the father had said.
Unrealistic expectations aside, the father-and-son embrace in April 1997 almost instantly became one of golf’s finest images.
“We made it,” Earl said at the time, sobbing. “We made it. We made it.” With his son not wanting to let go in April 1997, Earl whispered into his ear, “I love you, son, and I’m so proud of you.” According to “Tiger Woods,” the embrace between the two, and eventually Kultida, “may have been the happiest moment of Tiger Woods’s life” at the time.
Earl died in 2006 of prostate cancer at the age of 74.
Later, Woods became a father, the saving grace of a nearly 10-year period of tribulation and tumult. Woods has repeatedly credited his children, who have largely kept away from the public eye, not just for stabilizing his life but also with helping him refocus on golf. It started as early as 2015, according to Benedict and Keteyian. That year, Woods, who was long frustrated whenever back problems prohibited him from playing with his young children, was in the mix at the Masters despite those same health concerns. His motivation was still winning, but one thing had changed for Woods, who went on to finish tied for 17th that year.
“The last time he won the Masters, in 2005, his children weren’t born,” the authors wrote in “Tiger Woods.” “He wanted nothing more than for them to see their dad put on a green jacket.”
A couple years later, during a private meet-and-greet with soccer legend Lionel Messi, Woods wondered again what it would be like to show his kids a taste of what he was like at the height of his powers during Tigermania. According to “Tiger Woods,” when he asked his children how cool it was to meet a living legend, Sam replied, “Yeah. We live with one.”
On social media, golf experts and fans alike compared Sunday’s father-son hug to his iconic 1997 moment with Earl.
“Everyone remembers Tiger’s hug with his father in 1997,” golf broadcaster Kevin Smith tweeted. “No one will ever forget today’s embrace with his son.”
“I’m not crying you’re crying,” said Ben Heisler, a podcast host for the sports media website Awful Announcing.
San Diego-based broadcaster Jeff McAdam expressed similar feelings. “It’s okay to cry,” he tweeted.
Wearing his fifth green jacket and first in 14 years, Woods remembered saying similar words to his mom that his dad told him in 1997: “I just said, ‘We did it. I love you so much, mom.’ ” He admitted he could not hear his children over the thousands screaming in jubilation, himself included.
Throughout a 42-minute news conference, Woods reiterated how he hoped his children were proud of him. That’s all he wanted, he said.
“Their love and their support, I just can’t say enough how much that meant to me throughout my struggles when I really just had a hard time moving around. Just their infectiousness of happiness; you know, I was going through a tough time physically,” he said. “But just to have them there, and then now to have them see their Pops win, just like my Pops saw me win here, it’s pretty special.”
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