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Brandon Tierney: After Win, Tiger Woods A Redemptive Hero

Tiger Woods may be flawed, but after Sunday, he's also a redemptive hero, Brandon Tierney says

November 01, 2018 - 5:30 pm
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Imagine opening your eyes in the morning and truly not knowing what to expect. Imagine dropping the bottle of body wash in the shower and literally getting on your hands and knees to retrieve it. Imagine getting in your car for a quick trip to the store to grab milk or diapers, and nearly ten minutes later – after gently manipulating and contorting your body inside – you eventually settle into the driver's seat and tap the ignition key.

Now, imagine going through this human hell on seven or eight different occasions with no road map of what to expect because every battle is different and there's no guarantee that your body will emerge victoriously. 

You wait. You hope. You pray. You cry. You rationalize. But the one thing you do not do, the one thing that you cannot do, is accept this as permanent. Because if you do, you are mentally signing a death sentence. Not a literal one, but in essence, you are saying goodbye to your life the way you once knew it. The way you loved it. 

To make the pain fade and dilute the reality, perhaps you self-medicate. Not to enjoy a high, but rather, to function. To will yourself through another day. To kick this dastardly can down the road for a few more hours. To gain a temporary respite from the walls that are closing fast and without mercy like the scene in the garbage compactor in Star Wars. Only R2-D2 isn't there to save you. This is real life, not some imaginary planet that defies most laws of gravity and physics.

If you are somehow able to resist the temptation of pills, something many people sadly cannot, there's a pretty good chance at some point in this hellish journey you've been stretched out on a table, extremely vulnerable, with a doctor slowly guiding a long needle into the lumbar portion of your back. It's called an epidural. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When it works, it's glorious. When it doesn't, there's a pretty good chance you sink deeper into a state of fear. There are only so many options, and when this one fails, more serious and more invasive options begin to enter the equation. And the walls close faster.

Now, imagine opening your eyes one morning and somehow, miraculously, the searing pain has faded. Same thing the next day. And the day after. It slowly dulls before altogether disappearing. Is this just a cruel joke? Another chapter in a book you want zero part of?

Is this my new reality? Is this real? And if so, am I able to begin plotting out a path back to my old life? Mixing it up in the gym a few days a week, teeing it up on Saturdays with the boys? Shooting hoops. And if so, will my body allow me to partake in such activities the following week? The following month? Next year?

These questions are always centrally on your mind, and you are aware of them during the activities. You juggle the physical activity itself while simultaneously navigating the mental dance and game you hate playing but, invariably, are forced to play.

Now, for a moment, allow your mind to drift here: imagine being so desperate, so physically compromised, so beaten down mentally that the only possible solution to reverse this slow unraveling is to agree to having a surgeon perform fusion on your back.

Many people hear the word "fusion" and while they know it's bad and they know it's invasive, they don't really know because they can't possibly know. Luckily, they don't have to know. Their reality is not your reality, and let's face it: their reality is a whole hell of a lot better.

Here's a description everyone can understand: imagine an individual opening you up from the front, cutting through muscles, ripping flesh and temporarily removing certain organs to avoid permanent damage all while simply trying to get to the source of the pain: the back. Once there, they take a medical tool, let's call it a metal ladder, a few screws and bolts and literally drill the metal ladder to the vertebrae. This metal ladder, while limiting your range of motion in terms of twisting and bending, will hopefully prevent the bones from collapsing.  Clearly, this description won't find its way into any medical journals, but trust me, it's on point.

Now, after months and months and months of slow, gradual and incremental improvement, if it actually works, imagine grabbing a pitching wedge and trying to chip a ball five yards. Then eight.

Now imagine trying to hit another one from 20 yards. Then 30 yards.

Once you get to that point, if you get to that point, imagine stretching that back to a full 120 yards. And then eventually working your way through the entire bag. 

Mid-irons.

Hybrids.

3-woods off the deck.

Drivers. 

And imagine after all that your body has been through, imagine being able to actually generate ball and swing speeds that somehow, miraculously, mirror the metrics of the biggest mashers on Tour, like Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy.

Now, imagine doing that on a Thursday. And then a Friday. And doing it well enough to see the weekend. And then you have to dial it up again on Saturday and again on Sunday, navigating deep, unpredictable rough – rough that will grab the face of your club so viciously that it will contort your entire body and thrust it into a position you cannot guard against. 

You emerge unscathed. 

This is a glimpse into Tiger Woods' past. A past many of you have navigated, including myself, privately, minus the public adulation and biting criticism. Sure, his past has been complicated by on-course petulance and off-the-course indiscretion.

He's different in so many ways because he is Tiger Woods. Part golfing prodigy, part flawed individual, part redemptive hero. You don't need to be a golf fan or a weekend hack to truly understand what transpired Sunday in Atlanta. 

But if you've ever teed it up at a local muni and also stared into your physical future truly not knowing what was next, you deeply understand.

You understand that what Tiger Woods accomplished yesterday was part hard work, part destiny and part Hail Mary.

But 100% amazing.