Christmas. A frightening time of year in the Craven household. Mam swinging from the light fittings trying to clean them. Dad sitting down watching her.
I could just about understand the fuss in years past. The house was a revolving door for neighbours dropping by. An aroma of cloves in the air. Hot whiskeys. The odd slice of hang. And the annual judging of the Christmas tree.
Dad likes a real tree. He likes the smell of the pines like I do a freshly mown fairway. Mam hates the pines. It’s hard to know who’s more exhausted during festive season, Mam or the Dyson trying to keep up with the shedding.
They came to a compromise years back. Not the hoover and Mam. Dad and Mam. If the old man could find a real tree that’s artificially perfect, the tradition would remain.
Sure enough, ructions ensued; Dad bringing home Redwoods that barely fit out the back garden, never mind the house. A few scraped ceilings and tree-sap stained carpets later and now each year either me or one of my siblings accompanies Dad on this mission impossible to find a tree worthy of our lord and saviour, our Mother.
This year was my turn.
We avoided the too cheap to be true €25 bargains at Lidl to support local business, the radio blabbering on about booster jabs as we made our way there. We talked about the seemingly never-ending Covid situation and the lasting effects it could have on so many, especially young people, the best part of two years and counting taken away. Dad’s 77 but he agreed the youth are worst affected.
“A week feels like an eternity when you’re young,” he said. “It’s only as you get older and you’ve lived hundreds of them that you realise how quickly they pass you by.”
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting to question the rate of my mortality on the way to buying a Christmas tree but I’m 31 now, and time is flying. Toys I played with as a kid are suddenly relics worth fortunes. Facebook is out. TikTok is in. Messi and Ronaldo are nearing the end of their playing careers and Tiger Woods is… back!
It was a Christmas Miracle, an early gift as welcomed as it was unexpected. A victory, not just for Woods, but for so many people he inspired to take up this great game, fans who feared Tiger would be placed prematurely upon the scrap heap and with him, another lost link to their youth.
Dad paid the membership fee but Tiger Woods was the reason I played golf. He was like nothing that came before him. A killer like Terminator. A swagger like Jordan. A swing forged by the golfing gods themselves.
We all mimicked Woods. We walked in putts whether they were dropping or not. We twirled clubs, played Nike swoosh balls. I even wore red on Sundays at Mass, though Mam was mortified by my Robbie Fowler embroidered Liverpool jersey beside her in the pew.
That was the measure of Tiger. He transcended sports, and religion. He was a proper athlete single-handedly ridding golf of its stuffy white stereotypes. The only sports star, bar Jonah Lomu, who could humanly produce moments of brilliance that even his PlayStation avatar couldn’t muster.
Tiger Woods was cool, and by association, golf was cool.
When he came to Mount Juliet for the American Express, you couldn’t get near him. Woods had more security than the U.S. President. All we wanted was a glimpse, never mind an autograph. But he was untouchable, and to star-struck young me all the way back when, I was sure he was invincible too.
It was in 2009 that the story of Woods’ sex scandal broke. I’d just started college after six years in an all-boys’ school and I remember thinking, lucky bastard. Little did I realise that first chink in Woods’ armour would bring the walls down with it.
Fire-hydrants, divorce, a DUI, back problems, surgeries, sponsors fleeing the scene, Woods was written off from all angles before he fused himself back together for a 15th Major win. Getting to 18 and Jack’s record somehow felt realistic again, until Woods wrote his car off and nearly himself in that horror February smash.
He’ll be 46 making the turn into 2022 (it’s actually his birthday today) and although he tempers expectation, somehow, even knowing all I do about this flawed genius, I still see the same superhuman I did all the way back at Mount Juliet. If that’s me clinging to the past and the last great icon of my youth, I don’t care.
Woods makes me believe in magic. I know he’s not immortal. Feck, I know Dad isn’t either, but we managed to pick out a doozy of a tree this year so he’ll live to fight another day at least. I won’t bet against Tiger either.