What Tiger Woods can learn from 2013’s Major Champions

With Jason Dufner’s win at the PGA Championship, the 2013 major season ended with yet another terrific human-interest story – but without a Tiger Woods victory.

Woods’ underwhelming finish (T-40) at the tournament surprised many, coming on the heels of his dominating performance the week prior at the Bridgestone Invitational. Golf commentators were at a loss on Sunday evening to explain how things went so wrong for Woods at Oak Hill, and speculation continues on whether this generation’s most accomplished player will ever match Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship wins.

And while Woods played well in two of this year’s majors – even having a chance to win on Sunday at the Masters and British Open – there’s a lot that he could learn from the victors.

Most of all, how to win with humility and class.

Make no mistake, Woods has earned the right to be a little cocky and arrogant, having compiled 79 career PGA Tour wins and locked down 14 major championship trophies during his time as a professional. But none of those majors have come after his world unraveled in late 2009, with the revelation of his extra-marital affairs and eventual divorce.

Woods apologized to his fans in early 2010, and promised to show more respect for the game after being taught a valuable life’s lesson in front of the entire world.

Sadly, that respect still seems to be lacking. Even now, Woods curses and mutters after each poor shot – regardless of the presence of the gallery or the TV audience. For someone with such remarkable personal discipline and athletic self-control, you can’t help but wonder why he refuses to clean up his act.

It’s embarrassing to everyone who witnesses it, but apparently not to Woods himself.

In contrast, all of this year’s major winners are true champions – not only on the scorecard, but also in the interview room and with their on-course behavior. Australian Adam Scott, Englishman Justin Rose and Americans Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner have all experienced very public heartache during their careers.

All handled the adversity with class that engendered a healthy dose of respect from golf fans. For that reason, this year’s group of major winners are celebrated as a crop of “good guys.” Their on-course behavior is exemplary and there’s never been a need to tell young folks to “ignore what he just said” or did. Further, they all were quite humble in the wake of their victories, thanking parents, family and fans for their support over the years.

Professional golfers, like all professional athletes, are not necessarily the types of role models that we want to put forward for our kids. After all, they didn’t exactly ask for all the public scrutiny – but it goes along with being special, and talented.

There’s a higher responsibility for those who achieve great things, whether they choose to accept it or not. For those, such as Woods, who also earn millions through the endorsement of products, the duty is even greater. If you want to “be like Tiger,” then Tiger had better be someone that a kid should want to be like.

There’s more to life than hitting a golf ball a long way. To be a true role model, you must also be the type of person that people would look up to.

If the next generation wants to emulate someone, I’d argue that Scott, Rose, Mickelson and Dufner are just the right examples to follow. They’re champions on and off the course – something that even the great Tiger Woods could learn from.

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