There is an anecdote about Tiger Woods that I’ve thought about endlessly.

It came from an interview Tiger gave when he was on the cusp of turning 40. For the majority of his career, Tiger treated interviews like interrogation sessions. Journalists could try to pry information out of him, try and convince him to share his emotions, his perspective, his wisdom,  but his job — as he viewed it — was to withhold. Any vulnerabilities he revealed might be somehow used against him. It was his job to maintain the aura that surrounded him like a protective charm, to keep almost everyone at arm’s length.

But as he wrestled with the idea that his career might be over, there was a subtle shift in tone, in the way he told stories. He began to see the value of letting his guard down, of letting us inside his world, if only briefly. Thus, weeks before he turned 40, he opened up in a surprise interview with Time Magazine about a moment that made him wonder if his golfing life was finished.

He was practicing in his backyard, gently hitting flop shots over a bunker, when something in the movement tweaked a nerve in his spine. He crumpled to the turf, and could not get up. Pain radiated through his body. He was all alone, as he often liked to be — no security, no friends, no family to distract him. Just the quiet rhythms of golf and his own thoughts. He didn’t even have his phone, so he could not call for help. He might have shouted, but on his vast estate, who would even hear him? The greatest golfer of his generation, likely the greatest golfer of all time, lay twisted and broken in his own backyard, uncertain of what to do next.

And then, an unlikely hero arrived.

Tiger’s daughter Samantha, 10 years old at the time, came looking for him.

“Daddy, what are you doing lying on the ground?” she asked.

“Sam, thank goodness you’re here,” Tiger replied. “Can you go tell the guys inside to try and get the cart out, to help me back up?”

“What’s wrong?”

“My back’s not doing very good.”


“Yes, again, Sam.”

The rest of the story — the miracle back surgery, the unlikely return to golf, the improbable Masters victory — has been well chronicled. But that moment in the yard, and Tiger’s willingness to share it, was the first time I felt like I could relate to him, if only a little. I am not good at golf, but I’ve had a back so sore I could barely walk, and I’ve felt humbled and disappointed by life. I’ve tried to be a good dad through a divorce. There was a larger metaphor there, even if he was merely hinting at it. In his weakest moment, Tiger was sharing that he’d been rescued by the love of his daughter. Instead of deflecting vulnerability, or perceiving it as weakness, he was leaning into it. 

I thought about that story years later, when Tiger was on the back nine at Augusta, trying to close out his 15th major.

I was at home on my couch, sulking because I wasn’t in attendance. I had covered the previous three Masters, but had not been tapped by my employer for this one.

As I watched Tiger strategize his way around Amen Corner, I was having trouble enjoying the moment. I hated myself for thinking it, but selfishly, I wanted someone else — anyone else — to win. Just for a moment. Not because I was rooting against him, but because I wanted to be there when he pulled it off.

As a journalist, I missed Tiger’s prime. I’d spent half my life writing about football. I saw layers in the game, and details too, that produced interesting stories. I’d written about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers over the course of 11 years at ESPN, a place where the appetite for more football stories could never be satiated. But golf writing, an offseason gig I’d come to late in my career, started to feel strangely spiritual to me. The quiet rhythms of the game, the way tension hung heavily but wordlessly in the air in big moments, the way the ball knifed through the sky and made you hold your breath as you traced its intended arc, all of it brought me — and I have no better way to describe it — joy. I wasn't particularly romantic about golf’s haughty traditions, and I loathed its exclusionary history, but playing the game and writing about it in my 20s and 30s helped me find my tribe.

By the time I had the chance to see Tiger in person, I mostly had to write about the way the game broke him. I even penned a column imploring him to transition into coaching, an endeavor that clearly gave him joy. But there was always a flicker of hope buried somewhere inside me that he wasn’t truly finished. As it grew larger that Sunday in 2019, I realized I had spent more hours and years than I could count anticipating this, wanting this, awaiting this. It was like the arrival of Halley’s Comet. There would be no second chance. I needed more time.

My daughter did not see it that way. Her 7-year-old brain could sense my discomfort. Around the 15th hole, she crawled into my lap and became highly invested in the outcome. Tiger Woods, a man whose last major victory came four years before she was born, was suddenly her favorite golfer. For years, I’d been trying to explain to her why he was special, but for the entirety of her life, he was little more than a grainy figure on YouTube. Now here he was in real time, offering her proof that I had not been exaggerating his gifts.

I teared up as we watched Tiger seal the win, watched him hug his own kids just behind the 18th green. Something in me had shifted. If I’d been in Georgia, I would have witnessed history, but I would not have shared that moment with her.

Later that night, Chris Solomon, the co-founder of this website, texted me: Come on the podcast tomorrow. Tell me what you would have written about Tiger.

Then, a few days later: And if you ever want to come work here, just know, we’ll find a place for you.

I filed it away.

Four years later, my daughter remains a golf obsessive. We frequently practice putting in our backyard, and have plans to erect our own driving range net soon. (Pray for the neighbors.) She asked for a box of Pro V1s in her stocking at Christmas. Charlie and Tiger playing together this year in the PNC Championship was basically her Super Bowl. She rages after bad shots, a habit I can’t tell if she picked up from me or Tiger. At night, before bed, we read at her insistence chapters from Tiger’s instructional tome How I Play Golf. Every day, I am thankful for how it played out.

After thinking about it a long time, I decided to run toward joy.

Today is my first day with No Laying Up. I’m going to serve as NLU’s Editorial Director, a title we made up because it sounds interesting and we wanted something that could cover just about everything. It turns out, you can do that at a small company. For now, I’ll anchor the expansion of our written content, lead some new content for Nest members and continue annoying you with my ridiculous Gary Player impression.

Sometimes life, and golf, gives you exactly what you need when you least expect it.

The past several years away from golf (at least writing regularly about it) gave me plenty of time to think about what it means to me, and what it means to others. Not only did I miss Tiger’s win at Augusta, I missed Phil’s win at Kiawah. I decided I could not stomach missing whatever once-in-a-generation celestial event came next, only to be surprised when the next one turned out to be the arrival of LIV.

What LIV lacked in sentiment it more than made up for with intrigue. At Centurion Club outside London, I shadowed Phil Mickelson as much as I could, longing to chronicle the return of the swashbuckling, shit-talking artist who was a magnet throughout my youth. That I instead saw him operate like a hollowed out, zombified version of himself was disconcerting, but interesting in its own way. I left England wondering how different the landscape of professional golf might look in 2023 if Greg Norman’s father would have simply hugged him more, snuffing out his inner Bond villain instead of fueling it. I also left with the understanding that it would take years to sort out the winners from the losers.

The professional game, despite its massive influence, is also only a fraction of what matters. Golf is a funnel, and while greatness exists in the narrowest part, what feeds into it is just as important. It has zero impact on my regular Sunday game with friends, where shooting 78 on a humid afternoon with a hot dog at the turn and a handful of warm beers still feels like a series of small miracles. Those stories — not necessarily my own, but ones like it — are worth telling too. At No Laying Up, I finally feel like I have the chance to do both.

I remain in awe of Tiger, though, and his commitment to an idea that rewards should be earned, that no answers are as satisfying as the ones found in the dirt. Some of his philosophies are corny, but I’ve realized in studying him over the years, so am I. I also missed his wistful but hasty march across the Swilcan Bridge this past summer. If he ever makes it back to St. Andrews, I know I’m going to be in attendance, notebook in hand, scribbling down whatever details I can. This is the last gasp of the greatest athlete of my lifetime, and whatever magic he has left, I want to see it with my own eyes.

I doubt there will be a 16th major. A fused back and a crooked leg is so much to overcome. In all likelihood, I missed my chance. But something about his stubborn insistence to keep on trying, the refusal to shut down his pursuit of one more (or three more) is just as compelling. I’ve been wrong about him in the past. But it’s been fun to be wrong, those moments when I’m surprised and elated by an outcome I once deemed a fantasy. I hope I’m wrong repeatedly.

Someday, I know, one of my daughters may have to pick me up when I am broken. There will be a time when my body, or my mind, deteriorates to the point where I cannot hide my weaknesses from them. But that’s okay. There is much to be done in the interim, courses to see and memories to make and majors to cover. All any of us can hope for is that we’ve led a life that makes someone we love want to find us when we’re vulnerable, someone who will prop us up, nurse us back to health, and steer us toward the proper tees, confident this is right where we belong.

Kevin Van Valkenburg spent 11 years at ESPN as a senior writer, and 11 years prior to that at the Baltimore Sun. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and three daughters.