This past week something amazing happened in Washington, D.C. Washingtonians put aside political differences, cheered competitors on, and had a great time — all for a good cause! What was the reason for this sudden change in character? Two words: Tiger Woods.
When Washington wants to be hospitable, and charitable, she does so on a grand scale. Yet, obsessed 24/7 with her own internal power structure, sometimes she needs an outsider to show her the path back to human kindness. Tiger Woods, one of the best athletes of all time, reminded us all how easy it can be to give back.
Tiger Woods, the Tiger Woods Foundation (whose good work also extends to the D.C. area), and the PGA Tour combined forces to bring the AT&T National to Congressional Country Club in Potomac, Maryland, July 3-8. Replete with big name players and big time sponsors, Tiger’s Foundation and the Tour pulled the event off in 116 days. That is a little less than four months time. For a tournament that expects a daily average of 35,000 spectators, that is quite a feat by any standard. But Tiger’s Foundation and the Tour know how to put on such an event, and the key is those three little magical words they understand inside and out — organization, organization, organization. The presidential campaigns today would do well to steal a page out of that playbook.
D.C., being D.C. though, couldn’t help but show a few fleeting signs of its schizophrenic nature. The course and weather were challenging and oppressive, the players tried to make heads or tails of the slow greens, and yet the crowds were jubilant to be watching a sport as entertaining as the newly elected Democrat Congress. As with any good Washington story, alas, there had to be a sacrifical lamb. Phil Mickelson, always a crowd pleaser and the world’s No. 2 golfer, after a disastrous double bogey on the 16th on Friday, failed to make the final cut. He did, however, succeed in making the rest of us feel just a little bit better about our own games.
With lots of fine play by many fine players and a flip-flopping of the leaderboard on Sunday, there was never a dull moment to sit back, but every reason to marvel about being at the famed Congressional. Faced with such competition, Washington couldn’t help but trot out a few or her own big shots. Former President George H.W. Bush had the honor of hitting the Inaugural drive of the tournament, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an appearance on Friday, and even Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley — who’d love to be Hillary’s veep — stopped by late Sunday to watch the leaders come in.
But the real celebrities of the tournament were the men and women the AT&T National hosted by Tiger Woods was dedicated to — our Armed Forces. Tiger, who wanted to thank our military for what they do for us (lest we ever forget) and whose father was in the Special Forces, personally ensured that any active military that came to the event were able to watch for free. Besides the occasional happy hour the word “free” is rarely used, much less ever applicable, in Washington. Special transportation was even arranged for troops wounded in action to come to the course from Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical Center each day of play. Could there be a more perfect locale for such an event over the Fourth of July holiday? Nope.
Following Tiger’s lead, the PGA Tour ran a new commercial on TV for the tournament that was a takeoff on its advertising slogan “These Guys Are Good.” The Tour not only pulled together a montage of the best shots by the players then black screened to the words, “These Guys Are Good,” but added a montage of our military fighting and helping others, ending with the words, “These Guys Are Great.” A hole in one.
Perched in a skybox along the 18th on Sunday afternoon, with cool Tiger’s in hand (two parts Grey Goose, two parts cranberry, which by day’s end turned into three parts Goose, splash cran while I stuck to the Tiger-tini — all cran), we watched the players as they made their final approaches. Representatives from each branch of the military waited in the shade of one of the skyboxes across the way and walked onto the fairway to announce the player’s arrival at the hole.
The spectators shouted to each passing golfer, “Shake his hand!” Intent on finishing the game, but not without that golf etiquette that attracts players and fans alike, the majority of the players nodded and took off their golf caps in deference to the soldier at post — Justin Rose (a Brit!) being the only exception that I saw to walk over and shake a soldier’s hand on the final approach. A huge American flag levitated on the 10th tee, held up by members of the military for the crowd to see at the 18th. And then there was silence, Tiger was coming.
There is no denying Tiger’s charisma and power — the real power player in Washington for the week. Like bees to honey, spectators had followed him over hill, over dale, traversing Congressional’s grassy trails in the 100 degree heat every day. With a master’s stroke Tiger hit his second shot on the Par 4, the ball landing just a few feet from the 18th hole. He didn’t disappoint. Amid whooping cheers Tiger birdied the 18th where the crowd had seen enough balls go into the water to choke a crocodile.
Baggar Vance said that golf is “a game that can’t be won, only played.” Although Tiger didn’t win his Inaugural tournament, I hope he didn’t mind, not after all the generosity and pleasure he brought to Washington, D.C., for a few summer days in 2007. Let’s all be gracious guests, thank him, and hope they all return year after year.