Forty-five years ago, on May 13, 1971, Ben Hogan walked away from professional golf. Literally.
This was more than two decades after a near-fatal crash with a Greyhound bus. He wouldn’t just recover from that crash, he would later win four titles at the U.S. Open, two at the Masters and one at the Open Championship.
So yes, Hogan knew a thing or two about dealing with adversity and overcoming it. He also apparently knew when enough was enough.
On that day, nearing his 59th birthday, he opened with an embarrassing 44 on the front-nine of the Houston/Champions International event. On his 11th hole, he tweaked a leg injury while walking into a ravine and withdrew from the tournament.
While riding on a cart back to the clubhouse, Hogan was asked what happened. “Don’t ever get old,” he reportedly answered.
There’s more than a little irony in that scenario.
As Woods was, in theory, preparing to compete this week and the golf world was once again buzzing about his impending return, the highest intrigue stemmed from the fact that once the game’s surest thing, he was now relegated to being the great unknown.
We didn’t know how his swing would look, how he’d chip, how he’d putt, even how his mannerisms would be. Apparently, neither did he.
And so our great unknown is now also his great unknown. Woods admitted that his game is vulnerable, but we can speculate that he himself feels vulnerable right now, as well.
There’s an excellent chance that this isn’t the end of the road, that this is merely a speedbump on his way to a comeback, rather than his Ben Hogan finish.
There’s also a chance, small as it might be, that Woods’ walk-off is more figurative than literal. That after two decades atop the golf world, after 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour victories and the domination of an entire era, this might be the uncelebrated ending. That the great unknown might forever remain concealed.