I grew up around golf. My dad is a golf course superintendent so I've always been familiar with the sport. But, I wasn't always a fan.
I mean, let's be honest, watching golf can be a downright painful, mind-numbingly boring experience. While it was often on the TV in my house, a lot of times it was just a good soundtrack for my dad to take a nap to. My birthday also happens to fall during Masters week every year, so I grew to hate competing with the tournament.
Throughout history, golf was always known as an old white man's sport. Like I said, I grew up around a golf course, so I can pretty much attest to that firsthand.
Before you write off my boredom as a lack of attention span or my ability to see the appeal of watching any sport at that age, I did stay up to watch the Braves win the 1995 World Series when I was 5, and you better believe I wasn't bored.
It wasn't me. It was golf.
The year I turned 7, though, everything about my relationship with the game completely changed. It was 1997, the year Tiger Woods became the youngest golfer and the first African American to ever win the Masters with an unbelievable 12-shot lead. Golf was not boring that day. And for me, it never would be again.
No one could predict at that time just how great Tiger would become, and I won't lie and say I transformed into an avid golf fan over night. Still, tournament after tournament, as the announcers' attention started falling on Woods, so did mine.
I didn't become a fan of Tiger because he was breaking boundaries in the sports world, and I didn't become a fan of him because he was becoming a cultural phenomenon.
I became a fan of Tiger because he was fun to watch. I became a fan of Tiger because he was an athlete, and he went out and competed in a way I had never before seen on the golf course.
I'd like to say I'm not competitive, but that's another thing I got from my dad. So when I watch a sport, I get fairly invested in the winner. It was easy to be a competitive Tiger spectator in the 2000s.
Tiger ranked at number one for a combined total of 545 weeks between October 1999 and October 2010. He became the highest paid golfer in the history of the sport and sat atop the list of highest paid athletes in the world. His name became synonymous with the Nike swoosh.
Tiger looked the part of the athlete in a way the other golfers didn't. He was young, he was fit and he was focused.
With the right amount of personality, a background that authentically stood out from the pack and the unbridled joy with which he fist-pumped to celebrate a sunken putt, Tiger captured my heart -- along with the hearts of millions of others.
After Tiger came onto the scene, I became invested in him the same way others get invested in their favorite sports teams. I watched tournaments to cheer for him, and only for him.
When the media went through the phase of questioning him about his mood on the course, I was outraged on his behalf and thrilled with his responses. Tiger was, and still is, unapologetically competitive. He plays to win.
While I think professional athletes should show an appreciation for their fans, I've never believed they competed for me. He appears to play for the love of winning. I admire Tiger's tunnel vision from the driving range to the green to the clubhouse.
My interest in Tiger, and yes, golf as a byproduct, hasn't waned, either. To this day, if Tiger is in a tournament, I am watching, and I know I'm not the only one.
I will (begrudgingly) admit Tiger's game isn't what it once was. Injuries have gotten him down, and it's not the first time. The fact he won't be walking the holes of Augusta this weekend puts a different kind of taint on my birthday.
I know most people my age still consider watching golf boring. But, if you look at the game of golf as it is today, it has unarguably come a long way. The guys who are dominating the field now are young and energetic, and they're out there to break Tiger's records. It's thrilling to see the life in the game right now.
I would argue Woods paved the way for the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. In fact, for the past decade, everyone has tried to dub someone “The Next Tiger.”
The problem is no one has dominated like Tiger.
This is the part where all the Spieth fans get super fired up, and that's their right, but I'd argue people getting “fired up” about the competition in golf right now is because of what Tiger did to the game.
Nike pretty much backed me up on this point.
Tiger Tracker and I may be watching from a distance this year while Tiger works to get back to competing again, but I truly believe if one 21-year-old athlete can infuse energy into a tired, old game to the point that a 7-year-old girl takes notice, his comeback will be worth the wait.
And if he doesn't come back? Maybe I'll find someone else who can satisfy my competitive spirit with a 300-yard drive, 20-foot put and fist pump.
But make no mistake about it, I'm only turning on the TV because of the guy who changed the game all those years ago.