Tiger Woods has a son. You know that, because as soon as Woods won the Masters on Sunday, he exited the green, fists high in a gesture of victory, and made a beeline toward little Charlie Axel Woods. Tiger’s face was beaming as he scooped up his boy in a tender, heartfelt, massive bear hug. This was a moment of wholesome, heartfelt masculine bonding between father and son, doubly sweet and fitting given that Woods hugged his father, Earl, who passed away in 2006, in almost the same spot after winning the Masters in 1997. This was Tiger’s fifth overall Masters win, the first after an 11-year recovery stint after torpedoing his marriage and public image, getting slapped with a DUI and enduring four major back surgeries.
And now Tiger Woods has a son — which you probably also know from the sports-page headlines about the “real” story of the win: “Tiger Woods Hugs Son Just as He Hugged His Dad After First Masters Win,” and “Tiger Woods Embraces Son, Charlie Woods, After Masters Win,” to name a few. What a beautiful, tender moment between father and child. What a great American comeback story — all the better seen through the eyes of a little boy watching Dad achieve greatness again. If anyone deserves a father-son moment, as emotionally nourishing as it was cinematically perfect, it’d be Woods, right?
But something else happened, something we didn’t see in the breathless coverage of that sweet celebration. Tiger Woods has a daughter, too, and he also hugged her.
That hug was extremely emotional too. Woods’ daughter is Sam Alexis Woods, 11, born shortly after Earl’s death and named after the nickname Earl used for Tiger. Woods whispered something to Sam during that hug, and she shyly pulled her hat back down quickly over her eyes, as if to hide the fact that she was visibly tearing up.
Woods also embraced his mom, Kultida, who was standing right there — the woman who’s credited with giving him his “mental toughness” in the game. (Quick! Name some famous sports moms. Waiting.) Girlfriend Erica Herman was there too — a champion, it’s safe to say, for taking this all on. Woods also hugged her with the same big, heartfelt, tender embrace. All of this explains some of the backlash to the narrative around Tiger post-Masters — it was all about the father-son thing. The press largely ignored the equally significant father-daughter thing. Or the mother-son thing. Or… well, you get it.
Woods appears, for what it’s worth, pretty devoted to both his children, and Sam is an athlete, too, who plays soccer.
Some of them remember that daughter Sam once found Woods collapsed in the yard due to back pain and went to get him help.
So even though she was only 1 when he hit rock bottom, and neither of his kids actually know him as a golf champion, this would’ve been a big deal for her, too:
Many women were particularly affected by that hug:
Some of them just wanted to share the story of his victory with their daughters.
Some of them shouted out their dads they’d bonded over sports with, too:
And plenty of fathers were ecstatic to share the moment with their daughters, too:
And people wanted to thank those who actually noticed Sam’s existence:
So why did we make such a big deal out of the son?
To Woods’ own credit, he did not highlight the son hug as any more significant, telling media:
It was pretty big embrace … to have my kids there. It’s come full circle. My dad was here in ’97, now I’m the dad sharing it with my kids. I’m at a loss for words. … To see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope it’s something they never forget.
And to be clear, that Charlie hug was damn moving — there’s nothing wrong with admiring its parallel to the Earl hug from 22 years back. But what does make the focus on Tiger’s son so striking is that as much as it looks like a familiar, traditional image of male sports bonding, it ignores the degree to which many women come at sports through their fathers’ passion for it, too, as reporter Cari Wade Gervin pointed out:
“I grew up watching college football like most every other Southern kid,” Gervin told me online. “As my parents went to Mississippi State, which was terrible in the ’80s and ’90s, they adopted the Vols, where my dad went to law school. And then Bo Jackson happened and I became a huge Auburn fan for a couple of years. My dad also would watch the four golf majors every year, and since the US Open is usually Father’s Day weekend, that was our Father’s Day every year. He also made me take golf lessons, but I eventually quit. But still like watching.”
Other women I know offered similar stories of finding a way to sports through their fathers. “I became a sports fan out of necessity,” another told me. “My parents would go to Alabama football games and my dad was so affected by whether they won or lost that we would turn on the game to know if he was going to be in a great mood or a foul mood. Later it was a definite way to bond with my dad when we really didn’t have much in common (other than sarcasm! So much sarcasm!).”
Another woman said she was indoctrinated into sports as an infant. “I went to my first Vanderbilt football game with my dad when I was 6 weeks old,” she said. “We had season tickets for both football and basketball and I went with him every season until I was well into my teens. My love of college football is inextricably linked to my memories of him. He wasn’t really a sports fanatic or anything like that — he just loved the atmosphere and rooting for a team. I think it’s probably one of the subconscious reasons why, even as an angsty 17-year-old, I knew I wanted to go to a big SEC school so I could have that same experience for myself.”
Research shows that fathers and daughters benefit from sports bonding immensely because it gives them a way to connect, and confers competitive skills and standing up for themselves. It’s a unique turning point in their relationship on par with marrying or leaving home. It’s also a way for dads to telegraph their values to girls through a medium they already have an easy conversancy with, psychologist Don Martin notes.
Yes, the “as a father of daughters” trope is a well-documented sneer at how men suddenly and self-servingly become acquainted with aspects of the female experience they never seemed to bother to notice before. But also, having a daughter gives a man an opportunity to become acquainted with aspects of the female experience they never seemed to bother to notice before. Like getting really pissed off about double standards. It’s not perfect or ideal, but in my view, I’ve long argued, it’s something, and I’ll take it as a baby step toward the real deal.
Martin says he observed that men with athlete daughters “couldn’t understand why their daughters were often chastised or punished for being as aggressive as boys within their sport. It was a double standard that infuriated them. These men recounted how they spent hours teaching their daughters to be assertive. Yet, other adults in their lives, including coaches and referees, would tell them the opposite.”
Women don’t need to play a sport that dad watches to get these benefits, either — it can also just be watching a game together.
At any rate, the importance of the entire family supporting Tiger Woods in his victory stroke was not lost on everyone:
And while it may remain debatable whether we’re supposed to celebrate Woods’ victory as all that heroic given the limitations of his past, if we can give him credit for anything, it’s that this wasn’t lost on him, either. He continually points to both his children as the real reason he got his shit together the last 10 years.
“I don’t think things get any more special for me, because when I first won here, it was my dad at the back of the green, and now it’s my two kids,” Woods said.
Given what they have been through, and will still have to endure probably for life about his past, I would argue that is the sort of redemption we should be celebrating, and could actually all agree on — that whatever kind of dad you are, or were, that doing right by your children, and trying to buffer them from your mistakes, is the most important win there is.