John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
As someone who was forced to retire from his sport while still an elite athlete due to spine-related injuries, few people in the universe could relate to Tiger Woods' winning the Masters on Sunday quite like David Wright.
As such Wright had planned his Sunday afternoon/evening to make sure he was in front of his TV at home in Virginia.
Only he hadn't planned on the tournament organizers moving tee times up several hours to avoid late-day rain. So as Tiger was teeing off at 9:20 a.m., Wright and his wife, Molly, were getting ready to take their two young daughters to see Paw Patrol Live, a sold-out event the girls had been talking about for weeks.
"So I had to TiVo the golf," Wright was saying with a chuckle over the phone on Monday. "But I was still pumped to see it."
He took the precaution of turning off his phone, not wanting to know the outcome before he watched it.
"But afterward I turned it on to get directions, and I got an alert, telling me what happened," Wright said. "It took some of the suspense out of it for me, but I still watched all of it when I got home. I would have watched anyway, but knowing the feeling of what Tiger has been through, with his back surgeries and his injuries, it was special to me.
"From what I know, there are a lot of similarities between what he and I have been through with our backs, so I kind of look at it through a different lens. To see him come full circle and win The Masters again, you have a little more respect and understanding for what he's been through. It was pretty cool to see it."
As a golfer Wright can't relate as much, carrying a 14-handicap these days. During his years with the Mets he played golf occasionally in the off-season and during spring training, but now the sport is helping fill a void for him as he watches baseball as a spectator for the first time since he can remember.
"I can't play as much as I'd like," he said, "but I play enough that it keeps my competitive juices flowing. Once baseball is gone, you kind of feel like the competitive aspect of your life is gone too.
"I'd like to get my handicap down. I was probably a 12 back when (Jeff) Francoeur and (Tom) Glavine were on the Mets and I was playing with them. But I'd also like to make sure I keep my back healthy."
Wright is connected to golf this year in another way, as the official New York ambassador for the PGA Championship at Bethpage on Long Island in May. The idea is to have a local sports figure help drum up interest, something the PGA began last year with Ozzie Smith promoting the tournament in St. Louis.
This was already going to be a unique event, with the PGA Championship moving from late summer to the spring for the first time since the 1940s. But now, as the next major on the calendar, it will have a much higher profile with all eyes on Tiger, watching to see if he can do make it two straight majors -- at a venue where he won the U.S. Open in 2002.
"It certainly adds to the intrigue," was the way Wright put it.
Like so many others, Wright says he wonders now if Tiger has re-started his climb toward catching Jack Nicklaus' record total of 18 majors. Tiger had gone winless in majors since 2008, his career derailed by his various injuries and personal scandals, but now he has 15, and came close in both the British Open and PGA last year before breaking through at Augusta National.
Can he still do it?
"Why not?" Wright said. "If he can win that tournament on Sunday, with that leaderboard full of so many great players, he's back at the top of his game. I was watching the commentary during the tournament and they were saying some of these young guys don't have holes in their games that the guys did he was beating years ago.
"But then you saw the Tiger effect still in play on Sunday, the way it always was. The guys around him made critical mistakes that cost them, and Tiger just played his game. It was pretty cool to see that."
Wright said he never singled out Tiger or Phil Mickelson or any other player over the years as somebody he rooted for, other than Marc Leishman, a top player with whom he has become friendly. Mostly he rooted for high drama, which is always the appeal of golf.
But on Saturday evening he was struck by hearing Tiger say on TV that he'd have to get up about 3:45 a.m. Sunday to get his back and his 43-year old body ready for his 9:20 tee time. To Wright that sounded like what he'd gone through his last few years with the Mets, getting to the ballpark early in the afternoon to get his back ready for a 7 p.m. game.
"I could really relate, hearing him say that," Wright said. "It made me appreciate what he did that much more. I'll put it this way: those of us with bad backs are feeling pretty good today."