573 days to Opening Day of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. On July 24, 2020, all the questions, all the angst, all the planning will end, and all that will matter are the athletes. For now, we can only speculate about what will be, and recall what has been.
Tiger Woodswon the TOUR Championship, his first victory in five years. He slogged his way to the finish with two bogies in the final four holes, but he enjoyed the stroll towards the green of East Lake Golf Course in Atlanta, Georgia, leading a Tiger swarm not seen in years.
“I had a hard time not crying coming up the last hole,” he said. “I had to suck it up and hit some shots.”
And when he hit his final putt on 18, the NBC announcer said what so many thought, that after so much injury, so many surgeries, and a very long championship drought, Tiger was back. “We thought we’d never see it. Probably he didn’t either. Tiger Woods – a winner again. Number 80.”
Up by three holes at 14 in the final round, his closest competitors fading, Woods two putts a birdie chance away, bogies away two shots on 15 and 16, and then hangs on for a 2-shot victory over fellow American Billy Horschel. “It was a just grind,” said Woods on NBC. “I loved every bit of it – the fight and the grind and the tough conditions. I loved every bit of it.
Justin Rose, who won gold at the re-boot of Olympic golf in Rio, finished tied for fourth but with enough points to win the FedEx Cup. Woods is not thinking of Tokyo 2020 right now, but you can bet organizers and members of the Kasumigaseki Country Club are catching Tiger Fever. The Kasumigaseki C. C. in particular does not want the gender controversy to get attention every time their club is mentioned, so a little Tiger magic will distract.
Will Tiger make it to Tokyo, and be one of the incandescent stars of Tokyo2020?
Right now, Tiger doesn’t make the cut.
According to the International Golf Federation (IGF), the Olympics limit the number of players to 60 each for the men’s and women’s competitions. The IGF will look to the official world golf rankings as a basis of their own Olympic World Golf Rankings (OWGR). The top 15 men in the world, ranked over the period of July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020, will be eligible to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There is a caveat – with countries rich in golf talent, there is a limit of four players.
But that was before Woods’ final putt on 18 today. And he had already climbed from 80th in April to 13th in September in the OWGR. What do the coming weeks months have in store? Hopefully, we can follow those tiger tracks all the way to Tokyo in 2020.
Quarterback Tom Brady and Super Model Gisele Bundchen are. So are Tennis great Serena Williams and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. Then there is golf icon Tiger Woods and ski champion Lindsey Vonn, as well as Olympian greats Nadia Comaneci and Bart Connor. These are Sports’ Power Couples, a duo of envious capabilities and qualities that will cause entire rooms to turn heads.
But perhaps the greatest sports power couple of all time is the love match of tennis legends, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.
Andre Agassi, the charismatic, enigmatic tennis tour de force of the 1990s and oughts is one of 8 men to have a career grand slam, having won eight grand slam titles over the course of the four major tournaments: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. To win the biggest tournaments on three different surfaces – hard court, grass and clay – is a testament to versatility and greatness. Additionally, Agassi won gold in men’s singles tennis at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, thus making him the first and only man to earn the informal title of Career Golden Slam, until Rafael Nadal accomplished that with combined Olympic victory in 2008, and US Open victory in 2010.
Steffi Graf tops the accomplishments of her husband. The German superstar of the 1980s and 1990s is arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time. Over her career, Graf has won 22 Grand Slam singles titles (tied with Serena Williams), and in one incredible year, she pulled off a purist’s dream. In 1988, Graf won the Australian, the French, Wimbledon and the US Open, capping it off by winning the gold medal in women’s singles at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
A Golden Slam. Until Steffi Graf, no one, man or woman, had ever done that.
In the years Before Se Ri Pak, professional women’s golf in Korea was essentially non-existent. In the years After Se Ri Pak, women’s golf exploded.
Se Ri Pak, the 38-year old golfer from Daejeon, South Korea, recently announced her retirement. “I learned a lot and I’m trying to share all my skills and all these dreams,” she said. “So that’s where I plan to be the next step of my life. I just want to make dreams come true.”
Pak is already making dreams come true. In fact, one could say, she was the dream for young Koreans, and by extension young Asian women, in the game of golf. When golf returns to the Olympics since its last appearance in 1904, 60 of the best golfers in the world will compete, with a limit of the top four from each country. In the current 2016 Olympic rankings for female golfers, South Koreans make up an amazing four of the top 7 golfers who qualify for Rio. And if you look even closer, 9 of the top 15 are Asian.
“I remember watching [Pak] on TV,” said Christina Kim, a South Korean-American golfer. “She wasn’t blond or blue-eyed, and we were of the same blood…. You say to yourself, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?'”
In the book, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown, Daniel Coyle wrote about Kim, Korean golfers and Se Ri Pak, and called the explosion of talent in Korea an “ignition”. You could be dedicated to developing a skill by practicing consistently and earnestly. But you don’t burn for excellence. You don’t understand what it means to drive yourself to perfection. You never portray your desire as a willingness to die to be the very best.
Until a Hero emerges.
In South Korea, Se Ri Pak emerged. When she hit the professional stage, Korean women were ignited! Coyle writes,
For South Korea’s golfers, it was the afternoon of May 18, 1998, when a twenty-year old named Se Ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and became a national icon. (As one Seoul newspaper put it, “‘Se Ri Pak is not the female Tiger Woods; Tiger Woods is the male Se Ri Pak.”) Before her, no South Korean had succeeded in golf. Flash-forward to ten years later, and Pak’s countrywomen had essentially colonized the LPGA Tour, with forty-five players who collectively won about one-third of the events.
As Coyle explains, ignition is “an awakening”, “lightning flashes of image and emotion”, “the set of signals and subconscious forces that create our identity; the moments that lead us to say that is who I want to be.”