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Tiger Woods: When our heroes become mortals

Yes, Pop, Tiger can afford it

How did Tiger Woods survive this wreck? The 45-year-old, 15-time Major champion is lucky to be alive and this would be a good time to remember that our athletic heroes are people, too. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

My father never heard of Tiger Woods until he became his client.

Pop, who died in 2006, knew his wild, rebellious son — and, yes, I was; Pop hated sports and I’m your sports editor — played golf, so sometime between 2000-2005, we had the following conversation.

Pop: “Have you heard of this golfer Tiger Woods?”



Chris: “Yeah, Pop.”

Pop: “Can he afford my retainer?”



Chris: “Don’t worry about it, Pop.”

In addition to being an international tax attorney and estate planner, Pop was a professional worrier. Telling Pop, “Don’t worry about it,” was tantamount to taking my life into my own hands, but I felt good on that count.

I still ended up having to send Pop a lot golf magazines, testifying to Tiger’s wealth and his ability to play an attorney’s hourly rate.

Sticky note attached to golf magazine: “Pop, by winning this green jacket, Tiger just won a ton a money.”

For the past 24 hours or so, we thought Tiger Woods might have been dead — and just looking at what’s left of his car, wow, he’s darn lucky he isn’t. We hear Jim Nantz calling all the moments — “A win for the ages,” “As grand as it gets,” and “The return to glory.”

You see Tiger at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines at the U.S. Open, his hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale, the “Better than most” putt on TPC Sawgrass No. 17, and, of course, the chip on 16 at the 2004 Masters. (“In your life, have you ever seen anything like that?” Thanks, Verne Lundquist.)

Inevitably, we flash back to his auto accident during Thanksgiving 2009 and his 2017 traffic stop involving the use of prescription drugs. (Dude’s got a punch card for surgeries — 10th one’s free — particularly with regard to back and knee injuries. We have to consider it.)

While I recognize a lot of people had this moment with Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, a little more than a year ago, we are seeing a lot of athletic heroes become all too mortal.

And it hurts.

Growing up in the cult of San Francisco sports, the Giants and 49ers were and always will be my teams. Willie McCovey, my first Giants hero and franchise legend, Bill Walsh, the genius, the architect of the West Coast offense and general savior of the 49ers, and Dwight Clark, he of The Catch, which we all replicated during the last play of recess, all have died.

Willie Mays is 89.The Giants of my youth, say, 1977-1990, are getting older — Vida Blue, 71, Jack Clark, 65, Johnnie LeMaster, our wretched shortstop for forever and a day, 66, and Will Clark is 56. Joe Montana, may his name be praised always, is 66.

I’ll be honest: I have no clue what I’ll do when Montana heads to the pearly gates. That will be a day. Broncos fans: Substitute John Elway for Montana and think about it. That will rock your world, even though, for the record, we must declare that Montana is infinitely better than Elway.

However, as we grow and so do our heroes we learn that they are human. They make mistakes just like us. Now, of course, were I married to Elin Nordegren, like Tiger, I probably never would have left my bedroom during the course of my marriage — and likely would have died with a smile on my face — but well, that didn’t happen.

Tiger spent the 10 years after his marriage ended in the golfing wilderness, battling his way through injuries and occasionally hitting shots that we would hit during our weekend rounds. That was shocking to see.

Then he manages to find his game again and win the Tour Championship in 2018 and the 2019 Masters. By all reports, in addition to success again on the golf course, Woods was also letting his guard down when it came to his professional colleagues, just becoming a more personable human being as well.

And then came Tuesday. Though the reports have varied considerably as the news broke, the New York Times is saying that Woods had a severe break in his right leg and that his right ankle is in tatters. There may be more injuries — his left leg? — but it’s what we know now.

Tiger’s 45 — we share a birthday as well as a tax lawyer; the little punk was born on Dec. 30, 1975, four years after me, and still outdrives me off the tee by 200 or so yards. This is not about him returning to golf. That would be nice. I want to see him be able to walk and chase after his kids.

Truthfully, what really got me about Bryant’s helicopter crash was not so much the loss of an iconic talent — I’m not an NBA guy growing up with the Warriors of the 1980s — but that Gianna, 13, died and that Kobe’s wife and family are growing up /going through life without their dad and their sister.

Tiger was fortunate on this count. Pop still has a client.


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