Culbreath: Tiger follows ‘Hero’s Journey’Written by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | email@example.com
It’s hard to believe this weekend will mark Tiger Woods’ 19th time playing in The Masters. It’s also hard to believe he’s back in a position to win another green jacket.
After his career spiraled in the past couple of years, Tiger finally has his ducks in a row. He has three wins this year, regained his No. 1 ranking after the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and has a new blonde lady friend. Up next: a fifth win at Augusta.
It’s amazing, because it’s almost as if Wood’s career has plucked parts of it right out of the old “Hero’s Journey” storyline. Also known as the monomyth, it’s a basic outline of storytelling, both in historical and modern stories, as first written down by Joseph Campbell. In it, a hero is called into the unknown, is transformed through a series of trials, and comes out having succeeded in not only his quest, but having become a better person. It’s not a perfect allegory, but bear with me as I go step by step.
The start of the monomyth is the toughest part of making the allegory work. The “Call to Adventure” and “Refusal of the Call” simply doesn’t fit: Woods has golfed since he was 2 years old. You’ve seen the Bob Hope video. The “Supernatural Aid” could work if you just call it his unreal natural talent at the game. “Crossing the First Threshold” could be his first amateur win, and entering “The Belly of the Beast” could point to his going pro and signing his endorsement deals.
The middle part of the journey is when this really takes off. The Road of Trials: a series of tasks that the hero must face to begin his transformation. Tournament win after tournament win builds Woods up into the monster of the fairway. An unstoppable being. Golf courses have to change their layouts just so Woods doesn’t completely destroy them.
I’m not so keen on the next part of the myth: “The Meeting With the Goddess.” At first glance, you’d say that was Elin Nordegren, but not so fast — the Meeting is supposed to be one that introduces the hero to all-encompassing, all-powerful love. It’s necessary to anchor the hero for the trials yet to come. I’m going to say this belongs to Woods’ children, because the next step is the one that fits almost too well.
“The Woman as Temptress.” While the myth doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to a woman, it is supposed to be the temptation of the hero to draw him away from his quest.
The next step comes into the story thanks to the good folks at Nike — remember the commercial that featured a lone shot of Woods in black and white, looking beaten and broken while a recording of his late father berated him? It was a strange bit of advertising, but it also represents the “Atonement With the Father”: a moment where the hero must come face to face with an ultimate power. Earl Woods had always been that central figure: a single-digit handicapped golfer himself, not to mention a baseball player at Kansas State, it was his father that set him on the course of being a golfer. The words that Nike chose to use in the ad, pulled from older audio, were selected very carefully to make the hero look inside himself: “I want to find out what your thinking was … Did you learn anything?”
Finally, up to this point, is “Apotheosis.” Woods’ life and career fell apart for four years, unable to find his stroke. He lost his No. 1 ranking. He started missing cuts. Even as recently as last year, he finished 40th at Augusta. Then, sufficiently humbled and transformed, he finds himself this year. Three wins so far, and the favorite to win his fifth green jacket. What’s next? The “Ultimate Boon.” The goal of the original quest. It’s simple: pass Arnold Palmer. But that’s not the end of the monomyth. The ultimate end is to be the master of both the world you came from, and the world you entered. For professional athletes, the balance of being a player and a person is a difficult one. Woods learned that in 2009. He can only hope that, in the end, he’ll earn that mastery.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD.