The nation’s capital has not exactly been fertile ground for athletes who have dominated elsewhere in the nation.
Albert Haynesworth and Deion Sanders were feared and respected throughout the NFL until they signed with the Redskins. Jaromir Jagr, the NHL’s top player in Pittsburgh, was humbled in Washington. Denny McLain, 55-15 in his final two full seasons with the Detroit Tigers, was 10-22 in his lone year with the Senators.
Washington hasn’t had quite that deleterious an effect on Tiger Woods, the most dominant individual sport athlete of our time, but not long after he won his own AT&T National at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club in 2009, Woods’ game fell off as dramatically as some of his long putts used to on the way to the hole back when he was at his peak.
Woods, who had tied for 6th in the inaugural AT&T National in 2007 and missed the 2008 event following knee surgery, won three of his next seven tournaments after edging Hunter Mahan at Congressional in 2009. However, those three victories match Woods’ total since, a period in which his reputation has been forever scarred by the revelation of his marital infidelities for which he apologized on national television in 2010.
At the same time, the AT&T National was held at suburban Philadelphia the past two years while Congressional prepared for, and then played host to, the 2011 U.S. Open. Woods didn’t play in the tournament or in the Open so the June 28-July1 event at Congressional will mark a reunion of course, golfer and city, the one where he chose to bring the PGA Tour to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project and his foundation, which focuses on improving college access for underprivileged young people and which recently launched programs at charter schools in Wards 6 and 7 of the District.
“The event is bigger than what I do on the golf course,” said Woods, who was at Congressional yesterday to promote the tournament and the charities it supports. “I could be dead in the next 30 seconds, but I want this foundation to live on for perpetuity. This is about education (he attended Stanford for two years before turning pro in August 1996). This is about kids making something of themselves and then, obviously, giving back and becoming mentors themselves.”
Woods, whose late father, Earl, served 21 years in the Army including two tours in Vietnam, is also devoted to helping veterans.
“I think coming together and being together is healing,” he said. “Nobody understands what (wounded veterans) are going through except for the men and women actually going through it … and to be able to share their experiences … is probably the best way to heal.”
As far as Woods’ golf game is concerned, he doesn’t agree that it needs a lot of healing.
“I remember that I had a pretty good year in 2000, (but) I didn’t win for a couple months and the word ‘slump’ came about,” said Woods, who’s fifth in the PGA rankings. “ ‘When are you back?’ I just won (the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25). I think that I’m headed in the right direction. If I get more efficient at what I’m doing, then I’m going to win golf tournaments.”
But Woods tied for 40th twice and missed the cut in his three events since the Arnold Palmer, including the Masters which he won four times from 1997-2005. At 36, Woods will likely never regain the dominance that made him the PGA Player of the Year 10 times, the money list leader nine times and the champion of 72 PGA tournaments (third all-time to Sam Snead’s 82 and Jack Nicklaus’ 73) including 14 majors (second to Nicklaus’ 18).
And when you’re the most famous and richest athlete in the world, the expectations are always stratospheric.
“(People said) the other day if LeBron didn’t have a good game then the (Miami) Heat are done and he should retire,” Woods lamented in a comment on the scrutiny that he and fellow Florida superstar James face. “I’m like, ‘Geez, guys, he just won MVP (for the third time).’ But I think that’s just the nature of the volatility of the new media in which are involved in now.”
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.