Tiger Woods & Hero Worship

This is admittedly pretty late, but I need to talk about Tiger Woods. In a way, I have been talking about Tiger Woods my entire life. How could you not as a kid who played golf all of the time in the early 2000’s? Tiger’s impact on my generation of golfers is well documented, but there’s no reason it can’t be reiterated. Tiger, for much of my early golf career, was the only golfer that mattered. Everyone wanted to play like Tiger Woods. Everyone wanted to dress like Tiger Woods (my high school even got mock turtlenecks as one of our uniform shirts for our golf team).

Tiger was king. It’s obvious. It’s been told a million times. But I still think it is a little underrated. However big you think the guy was, he was probably 100 times more important in my generation of golfers’ lives. He was worshiped and idolized. He was definitely the subject of my own hero worship. I wanted to be a great golfer and I thought the church of Tiger Woods was the way to success - so I worshiped at his alter.

And then I didn’t. It turned out that Tiger was a bad guy. A villain. And somebody I didn’t want to model my life after.

I think this happens to most young people at some point in their life. They realize that the people they look up to have flaws and shouldn’t be worshipped. Some people realize it sooner rather than later. Some people never realize it. Some people learn about it from professional athletes. Or musicians. Or actors. Or politicians. Or their own parents. There’s a reason the colloquialism “never meet your heroes” exists.

I came to the conclusion that hero worship was very unhealthy. And that if I wanted to be a great golfer, I had to focus on being the best version of myself. There was no mimic-ing my way to greatness. Although I never really achieved the golfing prowess I hoped for, I have applied these lessons to the rest of my life. I still hold these foundational beliefs - it’s important to be your own person and try not to fit into any pre-made mold. Learn from others but don’t try and be someone else. Now that I am in venture capital, I try not to model my investment attitudes / strategies on specific successful VC’s. Instead I try and pick and choose the theories and ideas that resonate with me. Nothing I am saying is revolutionary - but it was a tough lesson to learn.

But that didn’t stop me from getting choked up watching Tiger Woods tap in for bogey to win his fifth green jacket and fifteenth major championship. It didn’t stop me from consuming every piece of content that described his victory and how he has shared it with his family, his children. I can’t help myself - I am still cheering for Tiger Woods, the golfer.

I don’t know exactly how to square that circle. That this man who so clearly disillusioned me has pulled me back into believing in him. But I have been grappling recently with what it means to have a hero. Maybe a hero doesn’t need to be perfect. And maybe your support for that hero doesn’t need to unconditional. Maybe what you really root for in a hero are the actions they are taking, and not the person that they are. And instead of being obsessed with how to be like Tiger, I should focus more on appreciating all of the things Tiger has helped me experience. Because who he is as a person has nothing to do with Tiger Woods the experience.

His confidence convinced an un-athletic kid who couldn’t play any other sport that maybe golf was something worth his time. Tiger’s ability to change his swing gave me the reassurance when I was 16 that a swing change wasn’t going to ruin my golf career. Tiger’s thrilling play helped me have something to talk about with several family members who I didn’t always connect with. Tiger’s dominance taught me that anything was possible if I worked hard enough. Tiger’s failures showed me that arrogance and selfishness could hurt the people you care about. Tiger’s resilience has helped reinforce that losing is a part of life and can help make you stronger. Tiger’s relationship with his father has helped me appreciate my relationship with my own dad.

Tiger Woods isn’t my hero. I don’t think he is infallible and I don’t look up to him. But I appreciate what he has done for me (and the game of golf). His comeback was incredible, probably the greatest in sports history. I am going to continue to enjoy the Tiger Woods experience. And when he potentially (inevitably), stumbles again, I am going to try and learn more from it. For me, that’s all a hero is, somebody who inspires you and someone you can learn from, not someone you worship.

Peter G Schmidt