They say no one can be bigger than the game. But some men do come close. One such man is Tiger Woods. He is one of those rare examples who are sometimes followed more than the sport itself. Such has been Tiger’s impact that when he plays, the world watches and suddenly golf becomes the fastest growing sport in the world. And when he is out action? Well, that’s a different story.
Some people might not agree but in my professional opinion, Tiger is by far the greatest golfer in history. But I have my reasons for making what might seem like a sweeping statement.
There have been many golfing greats but Tiger has dominated the world of golf in the modern era with all its technology that has changed the sport with new equipment, golf balls and coaching software. Somebody once said that the world’s top 200 players have for years been chasing one man — Tiger Woods. For years, the pole position was taken by Tiger with the rest battling it out for the second spot.
Tiger actually changed the way golf is played. He brought the element of fitness to golf. Being one of the fittest athletes in international sport, Tiger made big bellies a thing of the past in the world of golf. When he was on top of his game, Tiger was a fearless golfer with nerves of steel. He would hit the ball aggressively even from the most difficult of lies and that the beauty of his game. His short game was also incredible. He would sink long putts almost at will. Once jack Nicklaus famously said that if his life was on line and if somebody had to putt to save him it should be nobody except for Tiger Woods.
I know that Tiger will also become part of history and new champions will take over, players like Rory McIlroy are already ruling the sport but I don’t think that even the talented Rory is in the same league as Tiger Woods. What Tiger has done for golf, I don’t think anybody else will even able to do that.
Whenever I’m thinking about Tiger, the one name that comes to my mind is Shabbir Iqbal, the undisputed Pakistan No 1. Just like Tiger ran roughshod over his rivals in international golf, Shabbir has been dominating the sport at the national level for the last 13 years. But due to a variety of reasons, we have wasted Shabbir. Had he been properly supported I have no doubt in my mind that Shabbir would have won great laurels for Pakistan. But unfortunately, Shabbir hails from a modest background and that’s a big handicap in the world of Pakistan golf.
Over the years, I have coached Shabbir from time to time but unfortunately we live in separate cities with Shabbir in Islamabad and I myself living in Karachi. Frankly, I know that once Shabbir fades we will not have any one like him on our national circuit. The main reason for my pessimism is that there is no junior development programme in Pakistan. As a golf coach, I know for sure that there is a lot of golfing talent in our country but because of a lack of vision shown by our authorities we have failed to devise any ways and means to groom that talent into world class players.
Reverting to Tiger Woods, I still remember the kids I coach last summer in Michigan (USA). By the way, I’m the only Pakistani coach to have ever taught golf in America. Many of my students told me that they have diminished interest in golf since Tiger took a sabbatical from the game.
I first met Tiger a long time ago at a golf course in North Carolina. I met him again after twenty years in Dubai and was stunned when he recognized me after I reminded him about the few holes we played together in a practice round.
One of the prime reasons why Tiger became a great golfer was because he started very early. By the time he was eight, Tiger was already making waves. He turned professional in 1996, and by April 1997 he had already won his first major, the 1997 Masters in a record-breaking performance, winning the tournament by 12 strokes.
Here in Pakistan, we should also have proper programmes to train kids at a very young age. Instead of growing, golf is declining in Pakistan and that’s really bad news. All of us who share a love for this great game should join hands to lift this sport. I know we can do it.