The Old Man and The Tiger

We have all heard the story of David versus Goliath. It’s the historical lesson of how a young, courageous soldier defeats a mighty warrior in battle. We know it as the classic tale of the underdog beating the favorite. It teaches us the lesson of how brains can beat brawn and how courage and heart can trump size and strength. And the story empowers us to believe that we are capable of doing the unthinkable…that no single obstacle in life is too large to conquer if we set our minds to it.

But have you heard the story of The Old Guy versus The Tiger? Don’t worry if you haven’t…it’s not as well known just yet since it only happened last weekend. This story isn’t rooted in the Bible, it is tied to golf. The battlefield was one of Southern California’s most scenic and breathtaking coastal vistas. In this case, David was played by 45 year-old, Rocco Mediate, and Goliath was played by the world’s best golfer, Tiger Woods.

No one told Rocco Mediate that he wasn’t supposed to be there just like no one told David not to take on Goliath. He wasn’t supposed to be the guy who played spoiler. You see, Mediate was ranked outside golf’s top 150 and had never won a major tournament. In fact, no one his age in history had ever won one of golf’s majors. Mediate barely qualified to play just a week beforehand and admitted he would have been happy just to be in the mix. Talk about being a self-proclaimed David.

Woods had history on his side. He had already won one tournament on the very same course this year. He entered as the favorite to win his third U.S. Open title and 14th major championship. The greatest golfer in the world hoped to become only the 6th player to win the US Open three or more times and the odds were in his favor.

But things weren’t right for Goliath. Coming off his third knee surgery, Woods hadn’t played 18 holes of golf in weeks. If his knee wasn’t right, maybe the others had a chance. Perhaps their best chance in years. At his physical best, many believed Woods would only be able to give everyone else a run for their money.

For a long weekend plus one extra playoff day, the Old Man and the Tiger waged an epic battle. As the tournament came to a close, the two rose to the top of the scoreboard. Both players showed signs of fatigue and strain. Then Mediate nearly pulled off the impossible. The Old Man almost beat The Tiger twice. And in the process, he redefined what it means for David to battle Goliath.

Some say Mediate lost the tournament. Others believe Woods won it. Had Woods not made 2 Eagles, a slew of birdies and two incredible “do or die” putts on the 18th, he would have barely made the top twenty. If Mediate did not roll in three consecutive birdies during their mano-a-mano Monday playoff, the extra day at Torrey Pines might have been nothing more than a Southern California sunny knee rehab exercise for Woods and 35,000 of his closest friends. You decide on your own.

For those of us who tuned in to watch, we know the lessons of this story aren’t in the final outcome but in the story itself. The moral of The Old Man and The Tiger is not about raising a severed head in triumph or pumping a fist in jubilation. In this story, there were two winners.

As Woods and Mediate walked off the green following the conclusion of the tournament after the first sudden death playoff hole, they were exhausted. And the gallery was almost too tired to applaud. Was the battle really over? Who was the winner?

Tiger Woods called his one stroke victory over Rocco Mediate in the 2008 US Open his greatest tournament victory ever. Mediate said he had never had more fun playing golf in his life. Mediate, with his bad back, and Woods, with his hobbled knee, proved that while they were the greatest golfers at Torrey Pines last weekend, they were human, too. There is hope for us after all.

It is an adage in sports that no one ever remembers the guy who finished second. Maybe this adage will again hold true and, years down the road, we will forget what happened this past weekend on a golf course that doubled as a battlefield. For now, I’ll remember it as a modern day David versus Goliath where both warriors were triumphant.

From now on, I think I’ll be proud of my five o’clock shadow like Rocco Mediate. I think I’ll wear red on the golf course on Sundays like Tiger Woods. And maybe, every now and then, I’ll think I’ll do both on a Monday, too.