The Importance of Resilience
A lesson in how to face obstacles and overcome them
On 16 June 2008, Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open, the 14th major title of his career. He was closing in on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 titles, with no obstacle in his way.
It was a question of when not if, Woods would break the record.
He achieved this victory despite competing with a broken leg. If Woods could beat the world’s best golfers on one leg, what hope did they have when he was fully fit? There seemed to be no stopping him. Only there was.
Woods did not win another major until the Masters in 2019. A period of eleven years without a victory for the man considered the greatest to ever play the game would have been unthinkable in 2008.
During those eleven years, Woods body failed him, his marriage fell apart and it appeared as though he would struggle to play golf again, never mind compete at the highest level.
There have been many great comebacks in sport, but perhaps none as great as this. Not only was Woods’s turmoil physical, but psychological too. His life hit rock bottom more than once, but each time he was able to pick himself off the floor, literally in one case, to return to the pinnacle of his sport.
His story tells us that life will throw us obstacles along the way. We cannot avoid them, instead, we must meet them head-on. Resilience is a trait Woods has in abundance, it is one we will all need at some point.
On 27 November 2009, Woods collided with a fire hydrant while driving from his Florida mansion. At the time, it seemed like a harmless accident, but it held a deeper resonance.
This crash was the moment Woods’ failing marriage was thrust into the public sphere. Before this, he had maintained a clean-cut image and seemed to be able to do no wrong.
Within days of the crash, Woods released a statement admitting to infidelity with numerous women. Companies such as AT&T, Gatorade and Gillette, dropped their sponsorship details and there was widespread condemnation of his actions.
For a man who went to extreme lengths to protect his privacy, it was particularly galling and ironic, to have his private life played out in public. Through his own actions, he had made himself front-page news, not just back page news.
On 19 February 2010, Woods released a televised statement, apologising for his indiscretions and indicating he had booked himself into therapy.
“I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to, I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them. I was wrong. I was foolish.”
He was contrite in his apology, acknowledging that he had strayed down the wrong path. His marriage was over and six months later in August, his divorce was settled.
The breakup of a marriage would be enough to cause grief to even the most hardened of people, never mind a relentless competitor such as Woods. However, it was not the only issue he would face during his hallow mind.
His body was failing him too. The years of hard work and stress he had put it under were beginning to show.
A Broken Man
In the Spring of 2014, Woods went out to practice his short game at the range around the back of his house. A few days before, he had shot a 78 in the final round of the Cadillac Championship. It was the worst fourth-round total of his career.
During the round, he had felt his back spasm on several occasions, which continued into the days afterwards. Nevertheless, he felt it was necessary to go out and exercise.
Woods practised a number of shots that he had executed thousands of time during his career, however, one such shot felt different this time. Once he had finished his swing, he fell flat on his back in searing pain.
The pain was so severe could hardly breathe, never mind stand up. He was too far away for anyone to hear him and with his mobile phone back at his house, he had no choice but to remain on the floor until someone came.
That someone was his seven-year-old daughter, Sam. He asked his daughter to go and tell his friends what had happened so he could get off the ground. The once-great champion had been reduced to such a state that he was unable to help himself off the ground.
His body was in disarray. It seemed unlikely that he would play golf again, let alone compete at the highest level. From September 2015 to April 2017, Woods underwent four surgeries in an effort to cure his back.
The last one, a spinal fusion surgery, was a last-ditch attempt to compete again and return to the top echelon of the golfing world. Privately, Woods remarked to his friends that he was done, but the surgery offered the last vestige of hope he had of getting back to his previous standard.
Woods did not play for the remainder of 2017, but he was able to return to competitive golf in March 2018. By the end of the year, he was a winner once again, claiming his 80th tour win at The Tour Championship.
Against all the adversity he faced, Woods was able to get through it and come out the other side. His resilience, one of his strongest points, was a key factor in overcoming the turmoil he faced.
While Woods’ comeback is one of the greatest ever in sport, this is not the place to discuss that. The ranking of the comeback is not important, it is the comeback itself which is important.
Not only did Woods have to deal with a broken marriage, but he also had to deal with a broken body. Most of us would crumble under the pressure of one of these issues, never mind dealing with both.
To make matters worse, Woods’ travails were played out in public, making the situation all the more awful. While his actions during his marriage were inexcusable, it’s not nice to have your life pored over in detail in the media.
He may be Tiger Woods, but he is still human. He may not have appeared so in his halcyon days, but his troubles proved beyond all doubt he is as fallible as you and me.
What is remarkable is that Woods did not let this turmoil bring him down. There will have been times when he doubted he would ever be able to walk properly again, never mind play golf again. There will have been times he deeply regretted his behaviour during his marriage, yet he did not let it drag him down.
Resilience is something we will all need at some point. There will be moments in life that test us, that causes us to bend, but we must not break. We must not let these moments define us. We need to learn from, to be humble in the face of our greatest weaknesses and use it as fuel to power us forward.
As the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius stated:
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”