Annals of Heroes Past (and passing)
A commentary on Tiger Woods (and Mickey Mantle) by Paul JJ Payack, the Global Language Monitor, Austin, Texas
For some time now I have been pondering the apparent decline of Tiger Woods.
Over his long career he’s been cut and measured against those of Jack, Arnie, and Sam (sometimes Phil) and, now, Rory, Bubba, and the other Young Guns.
But the comparison to which I keep coming back never played out on the links, or Amen Corner, or even on the hallowed grounds of St. Andrews or Pebble Beach, but on the barren ball fields of Commerce, Oklahoma and later on a particularly verdant patch of grass off the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. Of course I am not writing of one of Tiger’s fellow golfers at all, but rather of The Mick, one Mickey Charles Mantle, of New York Yankees fame.
Both Tiger and Mickey achieved greatness at an early age, to herald the beginnings of long, illustrious careers — and both were destined for that type of glory, perhaps, never (or at least seldom seen) before. Both had peak performances a dozen or so years into their career, then they both continued showing flashes of brilliance, amidst the strongest of suspicions that their careers had peaked in their 32nd years. If their past were prologues — then their prologues had, indeed, passed.
I watched Mickey stumbling through those last painful years, tuning to the game every 20 minutes or so, to catch him lumbering from the batter’s box toward the plate, hoping against hope that he’d collect those few hits that would preserve a career .300 batting average, the last mark of greatness he had left to achieve.
Even then, I had done the math. If only he could finish this last season with eight more hits than his then-current pace he’d achieve his final, career capping goal, then vanishing before his eyes (and mine).
In that context, I have been watching, studying Tiger, since what might now be considered his consummate effort, playing virtually if not literally on one leg, gutting out one last brilliant effort high above the surf at Torrey Pines.
This is not to say that Tiger will never pass Jack in his long-sought goal, the grail of capturing his Nineteenth Major. But the story, like that of The Mick, has taken on many of the trappings of a neo-Greek tragedy.
He, like Mickey, heroes from afar, reach for (and attain) heroic status, they each evince their individual brands of hubris, exhibit an achilles heel (or two), engage in mortal combat with a cast of rivals nearly god-like heroes themselves.
For The Mick there was no Deus ex-Machina to intervene in the final act; for Tiger, the Chorus has yet to sing.