Tiger Woods was in a single-car accident in Southern California on Tuesday, and with a story like this, speculation always sprints to an early lead over the facts. First, the facts. Woods was driving fast and his car flipped. He has multiple leg injuries, agent Mark Steinberg told media outlets, leading to immediate surgery. The L.A. Sheriff’s Department says the injuries are not life-threatening. What we can say here is simple and not particularly profound, but it is the frame, perhaps, in which all thoughts should hang:
We don’t know and it’s OK to worry.
Worry like you know him well enough to love him. The most compelling athletes make us feel that way, and Woods is among the most compelling in history. So worry for his kids, Sam and Charlie; for his mom, Kultida; for his girlfriend, Erica Herman; and for everybody in their orbit. Worry for Tiger, too, who has lived several lifetimes in the public’s imagination but is still only 45 years old in his real one.
And yes, it’s reasonable to worry about what caused the accident. We don’t know and it’s OK to worry. We know that Woods has battled prescription-drug addiction, that he has played through excruciating pain and been sidelined by pain that was even worse, and that he recently underwent yet another microdiscectomy surgery. If he were your friend, you would worry. It is rational and not malicious. But we don’t know and sure as hell should not assume.
We don’t need to know, either. Not now. Not soon. We also do not need to know when, or if, he can swing a golf club again. Tiger Woods the golfer belongs to all of us, but Tiger Woods the dad belongs to two people. If you have seen Tiger with Sam and Charlie, or just heard him talk about them, or even just heard anybody who knows the family talk about them, you know they are the center of his life. Part of what made Tiger’s 2019 Masters triumph so compelling is that winning wasn’t everything to him. Sam and Charlie are. The next thing anybody should want is for him to hug them. Everything else can wait.
Woods is fascinating for many reasons, but one is this: He mastered a confounding game at a preposterously young age, but he needed years to figure himself out. There were times in his 20s when he could hit every shot imaginable, at any point in a tournament, but didn’t seem to know how to handle basic human interactions with strangers. For various reasons, he was forced to take a hard look at himself—and he changed. Think of how hard that is for anyone, and Tiger did it.
The Woods we saw in his prime seemed like he had dropped in from another planet. The Woods we saw in the last decade was as Earth-bound as the rest of us, with good days and bad ones, triumphs and failures, challenges he could meet and some he couldn’t. He has been, delightfully, comfortable with this. He has his flaws and his failures; we all do. But he seems at peace with a life in which he doesn’t try to conquer the world. That is why it was so much fun when he did.
Woods was always a riveting figure but now he is an endearing one. That is the Tiger Woods who got in a car accident Tuesday, and that is the Tiger Woods we should all hope to see again soon. Hopefully only his legs are injured. Hopefully he recovers quickly. Hopefully he can go home and be the best version of himself. We don’t know and it’s OK to worry.
Hopefully he plays golf again, not to chase Jack Nicklaus’s record or to entertain us, but because Charlie Woods is 12 years old and he should have hundreds of rounds left with his favorite playing partner.