I've played video games as 7-foot-centers and hulking first basemen, I've probably pitched to or hit against the virtual counterpart of every Hall of Fame ballplayer who has appeared in the last 20 or so years. The idea of playing a sport as someone famous has well lost its novelty in the modern era of video games.
But playing a professional golf tournament as a 2-year-old? That's not something I'd ever done before this past week.
When EA Sports first told me about the "Tiger Legacy Challenge," in which you relive more than just the great professional moments of Tiger Woods' life, I was rather skeptical. Using child-age Tiger Woods golfers to recreate how he learned the game (and also, future visions of Woods setting a record for Major championship wins) sounded gimmicky, or at least had the potential to veer in that direction.
That was my biggest concern when executive producer Brent Nielsen mentioned, back in January, that the adolescent version of Tiger wore "big Urkel sunglasses" and could be unlocked for use in the main game. Recreating events from his career also sounded like a panicked attempt to offer something much easier than last year's extremely difficult "Masters Moments," which drove golfers crazy trying to recreate Gene Sarazen's double-eagle on No. 15, for example.
Nielsen, in January, told me they expected skepticism from Woods himself when they first proposed the Legacy Challenge to him. "We weren't sure how he'd react to it," he said. Especially playing Woods as a child, it would seem to be open to all sorts of gamer abuse and zany YouTube videos, no matter what the intent behind it was.
After a few rounds as toddler Tiger, though, I'm strangely compelled to play all my one-off rounds as the younger Tigers, from age 2 through his tween years. As you can see in this series of videos, he's not restricted to the real world limitations you'd expect of a boy his age, even one as gifted as Woods. It presents a stout challenge on the longer holes, but on the shorter ones, you can shoot par or better with anyone.
Gimmicky? There's too much content offered to slap it with that label. Does it have a novelty appeal, though? Yes. I don't know when it will wear off. I'm having too much fun seeing Toddler Tiger birdie Augusta's No. 16 like he owns the joint, even at that age.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears weekends.
Do you think a 2-year-old can drive even the green of No. 16, Augusta National's second-shortest hole, at 170 yards? Well, he can. Toddler Tiger is rated 6—out of 99—in power and a 17 in accuracy, but the stats are basically meaningless on this hole, on Pro difficulty, anyway.
If the game restricted you to the actual distance a two-year-old could drive—and who the hell knows what that is, really—there would be no point to playing because you'd probably shoot a quadruple bogey on every hole, and your shots wouldn't be long enough to require creative decision making or any real accuracy.
But check out the roll on that putt! I went well right of the stick on the drive because I wasn't really paying attention. That, however, is at least a 30-foot putt, evocative of Woods' chip-in at the same hole in 2005.
A few years ago, Nike released this ad, which placed young Tiger Woods in action on St. Andrews Links at The British Open. That had to be on the minds of the EA Sports developers as they built out this feature. Here I've put Woods, as a 10-year-old, on the famous "Road Hole" No. 17 of the Old Course. That's a double bogey, folks.
While Tiger Woods, or his people, have considerable input and final approval over this product, it's still remarkable that a star who prizes his privacy so much agreed to, essentially, turn part of his childhood into a video game. The first episode in the Tiger Legacy Challenge is an example.
This is his famous appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, at age 2, in 1978. In real life, Woods showed off his skill with a driver and a putter, showing startling accuracy for a child who probably hadn't been walking for much more than a year. Of note: In the driving sequence, you can see Earl Woods in the shadows ahead of Tiger, next to anonymous figure I assume is Bob Hope, a guest appearing on the Douglas show with the Woodses.
In this video, you can see me deliberately try to fail a shot, or send a wacky drive sky high into the lights. You'd have to actively try to flunk this, and if you do, it's not like they show you a crying 2-year-old boy. But you're still toying with someone else's rather special memory.
Here's another example of playing with someone's memories, somewhat. There are several sequences that take you to the Woods family back yard in Orange County, Calif. in the 1970s and 1980s. Here he is chipping balls into his mother's handbag in an improvised accuracy drill.
When I asked Nielsen if Earl Woods, now deceased, would appear in the game as a playable golfer, he quickly said no. Even though Earl golfed and played against Tiger, a scene many fans would love to create, Woods likely set the boundary early in discussions, if it was even proposed. Family's off limits with him, but his childhood home, evidently, is alright.
You can't take off and roam around the yard, kick over the bag or vandalize the place. But still, when my parents sold my childhood home, I swore I'd never go back there because I didn't want my most recent memory of it to be as something other than where I grew up. I don't know I would want to turn my own back yard into a level in a video game for others to play.
The Challenge isn't entirely sentimental, there are 10 stages, and some of the tasks within the early ones are damn hard, mostly because you are dealing with an underpowered golfer. You can compensate for accuracy by really concentrating hard, but the lack of distance will force you to hit some shots with very little margin for error.
This is the "distraction training" in which Earl Woods would interrupt Tiger's backswing, in order to build his focus and confidence. The distractions offered here are more annoyances than obstacles. After trying this about six times I finally beat the mode last night.
The Legacy Challenge also does a rather sweet-hearted thing, setting up Tiger as a 10-year-old in 1986 reliving Jack Nicklaus' victory at Augusta National that year as if Tiger was the one making the charge on the 16th, 17th and 18th holes. Again, distance is your biggest enemy, especially on the Par 4, 440-yard No. 17, as you must go through this stretch 2-under par.
No. 16 is one of my favorite holes to play in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, and it's very satisfying to do it as one of the youth Tiger Woods. Some enhancements to the gallery audio mean that when you pull off a great shot you really hear the cheering, as any 10-year-old golf fan would imagine it.