I spent several hours over the weekend watching Tiger Woods almost score his first tournament win in over a year. And I don't quite get it.
I've always had a bit of the sports bug. Though I'm not one of them, I understand the behavior of sports fanatics who follow their teams zealously, even when they are mired in last place, play pitifully, and have no chance of success. I've had my own teams over the years, the ones you feel joy for when they win, and get depressed over when they're losing. I understand the communal high of entire communities and nations when their teams win championships, and the dip in gross national self-esteem when the nation's team loses the Big One.
But this Tiger thing is a little different. I have to confess that it's as much a celebrity thing as it is a sports thing. But I've never had a celebrity jones. And even in this case, I haven't followed the turmoil in Tiger's personal life. I don't have much to say about the infidelity, the scandal or the divorce. But I am one of those people (there are LOTS of us, I understand) who never watched golf before Tiger, who began watching it when he turned pro, who pay little of no attention to even the major tournaments when Tiger isn't in contention, and who basically took the last year off, because Tiger has had such a lousy year. And the moment I learned that his form was back and that he might actually win this weekend, I was there!
As I say, I don't really understand it. Until a couple of months ago, I'd never hit a golf ball in my life. I don't have any particular draw to Tiger as a human being. And yet, when it comes to Tiger on the golf course, I can't get enough of him.
Part of my fascination has to do with the simple fact that he is, without doubt, an exceptional athelete. But I didn't really know that when he started his career. Part of it has to do with the fact that he's a young man of color who took a sport that was the very reserve and symbol of exclusive, privileged, white, elite society, completely and mercilessly by storm. And over time, what has grown is my admiration for the incredible will, focus and tenacity he has demonstrated throughout his career, overcoming all doubters, beating back all challengers, unashamedly claiming and jealously guarding the title "World Best". Ah, but to possess such confidence and power of mind!
I find the psychology of sports fandom fascinating anyway. I'd love to get hold of a well-researched scientific study on the subject - insight into the tribal dynamic that is tapped into, the projection and identification with idols, the compensation for and escape from the failures and the drudgery of ordinary life, the release for all our violent, competitive urges, and our ego needs. From the point of view of my intellectual curiosity, all of this fascinates me.
But on a gut level, I don't know or much care how many of these factors were at play while I watched the tounament this weekend. I just can't wait for the 2011 season to kick off. And I can't wait to watch Tiger kick some serious ass.