For reasons both sentimental and aesthetic, much was made of how Tiger Woods’ emotional embrace with his son Charlie last Sunday mirrored a hug in a similar spot 22 years ago.
In 1997, it was Earl Woods waiting for Tiger behind the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club. In 2019, Tiger was the daddy, but he was again the conquering hero.
The scene was so perfect, I’m still looking for a director’s chair in the background somewhere.
I’m a father now myself, with a beautiful little boy at home, so believe me when I say that I get the appeal. Parent-child parallelism is almost always compelling, and especially in this case when one of sports’ all-time greatest performers returns to glory with loved ones on hand.
THEN AND NOW: Tiger Woods hugs his son, Charlie, after his fifth Masters win yesterday, mirroring the moment his own father, Earl, hugged him after Tiger’s first Masters win in 1997. https://t.co/51hANddKwy pic.twitter.com/coF7OtfSv8
— ABC News (@ABC) April 15, 2019
I found myself just as moved by what happened next, though. There, behind a giddy, disbelieving 10-year-old Charlie, was Tiger’s 75-year-old mother Kultida, looking as proud as we’ve ever seen her.
It was Kultida who let cub-Tiger practice his short game in the Woods’ house. More to the point, it was Kultida who endured Earl’s serial extramarital affairs (“Any woman who ventured within fifty feet of Earl was a potential plaintiff,” wrote author Tom Callahan in a book on Tiger’s dad), and it was Kultida who planted herself front and center for that stark, stilted apology press conference in Feburary 2010.
“I brought this shame on myself,” Tiger said in front of that infamous blue curtain at PGA Tour headquarters. “I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother.”
If you have 15 minutes to spare, it’s worth it to go back and watch that Tiger monologue, just to get an appreciation for the distance he’s traveled since then.
I wrote earlier this week about Tiger’s accomplishment and why it resonates with so many sports fans, even amidst all the moral ambiguity of the situation.
Ultimately, it’s your call if you want to praise the man or shun him in your own way. But when I see his mother beaming on that manicured hillside in Georgia, how can you not feel some reflected happiness … and even relief?
The brunt of the pain inflicted by Tiger’s reckless infidelities will always land on the shoulders of his ex-wife Elin, but Kultida is on top when it comes to the collateral damage.
Earl was three years gone by the time of the Tiger Scandal, and, really, Mom Woods was clearly the disciplinarian of the house anyway. On top of that, she told frequent Tiger biographer Jaime Diaz many years ago that punishment for her young son was more severe if he acted up in public.
“You will not embarrass me,” the Thai woman better known as ‘Tida’ recalled for Diaz. “I will not have a spoiled child.”
Imagine her emotion in that excruciatingly awkward press conference nine years ago, when Tiger raised eyebrows by referencing his mom’s Buddhist beliefs as a bedrock in his rehabilitation.
Now, imagine her feelings amidst those famed Georgia pines last weekend.
That mirror image with mom didn’t ring the circle-of-life bell that Tiger’s greeting for his son did, but the latter of the two embraces was more earned, if not quite as overtly poetic for the viewing public.
“It’s not what you achieve in life that matters,” Tiger said before that national TV audience in 2010. “It’s what you overcome.”
If anyone other than the man himself can appreciate what Tiger’s endured to miraculously climb the mountaintop again, it’s Kultida.
In Augusta, Mother’s Day came a month early.