There’s little doubt in my mind that Tiger Woods has never shown up for a tournament thinking he was not the favorite. Sure, he has had all sorts of setbacks ranging from the mundane–various swing changes–to the crazy–winning a U.S. Open on a stress fracture–to the insane–allegedly cheating on his now-ex-wife with upwards of 10 mistresses.
Through it all, however, Tiger remains Tiger. This week, he is just down the coast in Pebble Beach opening his 2012 PGA Tour campaign at the AT&T Pro-Am. It’s the first time he’s played at Pebble since the U.S. Open in 2010, and he hasn’t won on tour since 2009.
But man, does he look happy.
And that’s good for the game of golf. Although Woods was recently revealed to be one of America’s most disliked athletes–coming in just behind Michael Vick, with 60 percent of those polled disapproving of both high-profile sports figures–there is simply something about the man that makes people tune in to see him play.
In an individual sport that has plenty of “stars” you might not recognize if they were taking your order at The Axe and Palm–Kyle Stanley, Spencer Levin, every other golfer not named Phil–Tiger is the rock that anchors the tour and allows the other players to reap the benefits when millions tune in.
After watching Tiger’s press conference yesterday–when he finally seemed to be emerging from his shell and showing off the same smile that captivated audiences while he fist-pumped his way to victory after victory earlier in his career–I got to thinking: when will Stanford turn out the next superstar?
Will it be football player Andrew Luck? How about baseball stars Mark Appel and Stephen Piscotty? Might freshman swimming sensation David Nolan have what it takes to captivate audiences in an Olympic sport?
It’s hard to say, particularly because Tiger and John Elway and stars like them often follow very different paths to success.
Woods has yet to graduate from Stanford but has maintained that he will eventually earn his degree to fulfill a promise he made to his mother when he left the Farm after two years in 1996.
Elway stayed all four years and then took another four before finally taking the Broncos to a Super Bowl.
With the 24-hour ESPN news cycle, Twitter and the constant access to athletes even at the collegiate level, I think it could be a little while longer before we see the next star emerge from the Farm.
Increasingly, the players who make an instant impact in the headlines and in the rarified air of stardom are players who are less mature and rawer than the caliber of student-athlete I think this school produces.
We don’t have one-and-done players on our basketball teams (at least not since the Lopez twins), and the baseball players looking to make it to the Show have all been here for at least three years. The football guys heading to the NFL are almost all seniors set to walk across the stage at Radio City Hall, but also to shake President Hennessy’s hand at Commencement.
The players like Tiger are the anomaly, which is why I think me and other people flock to them just like people went to watch Justin Bieber when he was a young unknown flipping his hair and belting out pop songs.
And even with all that, maybe Stanford’s next superstar could come from outside of the sports world. It’s probably more likely that another Stanford grad will end up as President before another grad wins the Masters. And with all the impressive people on this campus, the next Stanford superstar could even be you. As Justin Bieber would say, “Never say never.”
Only Miles Bennett-Smith would think a two-time Heisman runner-up and future number one draft pick doesn’t count as “superstar status.” Tell him why you’ll be the biggest thing since Kanye at milesbs “at” stanford.edu, and check him out on Twitter “at” smilesbsmith.