Tiger Woods has perfected the art of saying nothing in his press conferences, but sometimes he can’t help himself. He is occasionally profound and often sensible. Asked once to summarize what his father, Earl, gave him, Tiger answered in a word: love. When asked about making a swing change or his wife’s goal of running a marathon or his own rehab from surgery, he often repeats the same phrase: “You have to take baby steps.”
I’ve always despised running, but my son, Ian, enjoys those Saturday-morning 5K fund-raisers, and for the last couple of years I’d been taking him to them, standing at the finish line with my coffee and paper. At one point my friend Jay Hass said, “Do you ever run the races with him?” That’s Jay Hass, the distance runner/10 handicapper from Philadelphia, not Jay Haas, the Champions tour stalwart, although at the Sawgrass Marriott one time, I did get Jay Haas’s room when I was trying to reach Jay Hass.
Inspired by Jay Hass, and thinking of Tiger and his baby steps, I entered a three-mile race with Ian a year ago in downtown Philadelphia. I jogged and finished. Last Thanksgiving brought the Turkey Trot in Fairmount Park, a five-miler. Jogged, finished. The other day I was among 19,172 folks gathered in North Philadelphia for the Broad Street Run, a 10-mile race. For the first seven or eight miles I went at the pace that the latter-day Barry Bonds employed to crawl to first after drawing yet another walk.
They share much, golf and running, chiefly the ruthlessness of the numbers, if you’re keeping score. There’s no place to hide. With every step and every shot, your number goes up. Watching Tiger run on some suburban road somewhere — early morning, alone, big sweat, wearing a watch, an afternoon tee time awaiting him — is inspiring. Elin, Tiger’s missus, is working her way toward a 26.2-miler, but a half-marathon is as far as Tiger wants to race, he says. Earl used to say that Tiger could have been an Olympic hurdler. Tiger’s fitness is part of his superiority complex, not that he’d ever admit to it. But down the stretch he thinks he deserves victory more than the other guys because he has worked harder.
The 10-miler was a straight shot down Broad Street, past raise-the-dead churches and City Hall and pricey hotels and Philadelphia’s temples of sport, the homes of the Eagles and the Sixers and the others. I high-fived the mayor and the governor and, near the end, my own missus. In my mind (and in my mind only), I was actually running by then. I could see taking on a half-marathon, someday. Baby steps.
In the afternoon, legs sore, I went to the range, driver in hand. I’ve been hitting pull-hooks all season long, short and in the trees. I worked on cutting out the hook part. A pull you can talk to, but not a hook.
Baby steps, baby steps.