No other golfer elicits myth, legend and anecdotal storytelling like Tiger Woods. Usually the stories entail some lesser-known evidence of his golf genius—an unreal display of power here, a touch of imagination there and competitive fire everywhere. If the punch lines share a common theme, it’s that Tiger does things with a golf club that ordinary humans can’t do.
But it’s not just his golf. Many stories provide a peek behind the curtain and reveal Tiger the person—his values, attitudes, lifestyle, simple likes and dislikes and his relationships with family and friends. A lot of stories don’t reveal everything, and instead are cryptic parables left to our interpretation. They only deepen the mystery of what Tiger thinks and how he sees the world.
The stories are numerous already and are so ubiquitous and oft-told, they’ve formed their own lexicon. But new ones are always surfacing, and we can count on more for as long as he’s in view. With Tiger, golfers can’t get enough.
PGA TOUR / 1980 TO 2006
During a fog delay at Torrey Pines in 2003, my buddy Mark Calcavecchia and I decided to get something to eat. We sat in player dining, and Bernhard Langer joined us. Tiger came by and, seeing the extra seat, asked to join us. We said sure. It was the first time we’d met, and he remembered me leading the 1986 Masters after the first round and my sister, Shelley, caddieing for me. I was impressed. Tiger was only 10 when that happened.
Calc and I liked to play a game when we ate. We’d take a packet of sugar, put it on the handle of a fork and whack the tines with our hand. It would catapult the sugar packet across the table, and the object was to see who was most accurate. If you landed the sugar packet on the other guy’s plate, you got a point. If you landed it in his coffee cup, you got two points. First guy to six wins. It’s harder than it looks.
After a couple of rounds, Tiger said, “That looks easy. Can I try?” We passed him the sugar-packet holder. His first try, the sugar packet just missed Bernhard’s head. Bernhard is big on manners, and the look on his face said he didn’t appreciate almost getting beaned.
Tiger reloaded. He aimed for my plate. This time it went off crooked and landed on Bernhard’s plate. Without saying a word, Bernhard picked up his plate and walked to another table. I said, “Tiger, you may be the best golfer in the world, but you suck at games.”
“HE WAS LOCKED IN, HAD THE DEATH STARE GOING AND WAS IN FULL ‘TERMINATOR’ MODE.”
At last year’s Presidents Cup in Australia, everyone was drained and struggling with jet lag. We were down after each of the first three sessions before cutting it to two points heading into Sunday’s singles. At that point it would have been easy for Tiger to give a fiery locker-room speech to pump everyone up. Instead, he never said a word that we needed to turn things around, and his demeanor made us feel like we were the ones in control.
On Saturday, he picks up Xander [Schauffele] and me in a cart after we’d lost our morning match, and I asked if he was playing with Justin Thomas in the afternoon [they’d played together earlier in the week], and he says he’s not playing until Sunday. I said, ‘That’s a mistake. We need you out there.’ He just calmly said he’d already announced the afternoon pairings, and he was going to rest until Sunday. In a silent way, he gave everyone a confidence boost, in essence saying he trusted us to go out and do our job.
When he walked out Sunday morning, he was a different person. He was locked in, had the death stare going and was in full “Terminator” mode. Then he went out first and played amazing. Seeing his name on the board leading set the tone for the day. Not only was he never panicked when he was in captain mode, he delivered the goods on Sunday morning. It was insight into how his brain works, and it was cool to see.
There’s the Tiger the public and the media know, and there’s the Tiger a select few of us have gotten to know. But he’s changed a lot during the past 10 years. Before, he was this ruthless, single-minded competitor. That’s still in there, but with everything that’s gone on in his life, he has mellowed and become more compassionate and empathetic. Every tournament I win, he’s the first person to send me a text congratulating me. In 2019, when I won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, the first text was from him; I replied that I enjoyed the walk down 18 more than I did the year before when he won and got swallowed up by the fans.
His effort feels genuine. There’s a happiness from him that you’ve done something good. That says a lot about him and the relationship we’ve been able to build over the past few years. He’s a caring guy. That sometimes gets lost.
“I TURNED AROUND, LOOKED AT HIM AND KICKED HIS BALLS DOWN THE RANGE.”
I’ve played a fair number of practice rounds with Tiger before major championships. Most of them at 5:30 in the morning. Once we were the only two players on the range. For the first 15 minutes or so, I was there by myself. The rest of the range was empty. But that didn’t stop Tiger from dropping his basket of balls as close to my heels as he could possibly get without touching. It was all in fun, of course. But it was also his way of saying, “Here I am.”
This went on for a little while, him hitting right behind me. But I soon got tired of that. I turned around, looked at him and kicked his balls down the range. I remember Steve Williams gasping as I did so. At first Tiger said nothing. He just stared at me. Then he burst out laughing.
PLAYED AGAINST WOODS IN JUNIOR GOLF AND ON THE PGA TOUR
I was just north of L.A., and Tiger was the Long Beach area. I’m a year and a half older, but Tiger always played up an age division. I think I beat him twice. The thing that set him apart: He wanted to embarrass you. He wanted to beat you as bad as it was possible to be beaten. Right from the beginning his will to win was something you could see. And it’s not like God sprinkled some magic dust on him and he just cruised. He worked and worked and worked. He was keeping stats before they were even a thing. [Tiger’s mother] Tida would keep track of everything on a scorecard, and they’d go talk about the round and figure out where he could improve. I was just trying to figure out where I could use my hot-dog ticket.
SENIOR WRITER / GOLF DIGEST
Tiger has a long memory. The first time I met him was on the practice range at Stanford Golf Course in 1994, midway through his freshman season. As he hit balls, I made conversation and took notes. A few minutes in I asked for a closer look at the 9-iron he was hitting. He handed me the club, pointed to his spot and said, “Go ahead.” After my second swing, he said, “Man, you take it back too far inside.” He pulled another club from his carry bag and demonstrated a better takeaway. Tiger liked talking about his swing—and mine—more than he did his personal life and points of views on things. By the time my hour was up, we’d spent most of it talking about swing mechanics. He checked the time, abruptly put his bag on his shoulder and started to walk in. “But . . . ” I said, and he said, “Sorry, gotta get to class.”
Two years passed. In December 1996, I was one of a dozen writers invited to attend kind of a Tiger town-hall meeting at Bay Hill in Orlando. Tiger’s management set it up. The idea was for national writers to get to know him better over lunch, then break out into foursomes and play the course. Tiger would play a few holes with each group.
It was a cold, rainy day. As we warmed up on the range, Tiger walked by and out of the corner of his eye saw my driver swing. “Anyone ever mention you take it back inside?” he said. “No, never,” I said. Tiger laughed. I hit another shot and said, “What club would you need to hit it by my driver?” He said, “Bunt 3-iron.” To that I said, “Oh, please” and added a fake yawn. Tiger took that as a challenge, I guess, because he asked where his clubs were. His handler, the late Bev Norwood, shot me a look. “That’s a bad idea. Tiger’s not warmed up yet.” He said to Tiger, “We really don’t have time for this.” Tiger replied, “It’s OK. I want my clubs.”
Members were gathering. There was a little gallery now. Someone drove up with Tiger’s clubs. He pulled out an iron and said, “We both get one shot.” It started raining harder. I hit the driver well, 225 yards maybe. It stopped where it landed. It was Tiger’s turn. “Get him, Tiger!” one of the members shouted.
Tiger pushed a ball up on a swatch of turf. He ripped it. The ball went so high it was hard to pick up on the way down. When it did land, I thought I squeaked him. “I got you, Tiger! I got you, man!” I exclaimed. Tiger said, “No way” and turned to the gallery for an official determination. With their shouts, they voted him the winner. Tiger then held the iron close to my eyes and peeled his hand away to reveal the number: It wasn’t a 3-iron, it was a 4-iron. His smile was good-natured but also said, You really don’t want to mess with me. One of the writers walked past. “Way to represent,” he said.
At the 2015 Memorial Tournament, I spoke with Tiger briefly on the practice putting green. It was 19 years after the my-driver-versushis-4-iron disaster. As I approached, he said, “Still taking it back inside?” Like I say, he has a long memory.
“HE LOOKED AT ME IN DISBELIEF AND JUST SAID, “F___ YOU, I’M WINNING THIS TOURNAMENT.”
CADDIE FOR WOODS 1999 TO 2011
During the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, we all remember that he played that week with a torn ACL and a double-stress fracture of his tibia, but few knew during the tournament the extent of his injury.
At the start of the second round, Tiger began the day on the 10th hole and had hit a wayward tee shot that settled on the cartpath. Rather than take a drop in the rough, he played the shot off the path, and at impact there was this horrible sound, like his leg had just broken. The look of pain on Tiger’s face was something I’ll never forget. I said to him that perhaps now was a good time to call it quits. He looked at me in disbelief and just said, “F___ you, I’m winning this tournament.” His determination, desire to win and ability to play through pain was never greater than that week.
I’ve never known the old Tiger. People tell me all the time that I never would’ve had this friendship with him in his prime. But this is the only Tiger I know. We text each other pretty much every day. When I was at East Lake this year for the Tour Championship, I FaceTimed him from the 18th fairway during a practice round to remind him what it looks like since he didn’t qualify. A few hours later, he FaceTimed me wearing the green jacket. That’s our relationship. It’s a lot of competitive banter. I think it’s that way because I got to know him when he was hurt and wasn’t out on tour. The friendship just grew from there. Sometimes we’ll have dinner and hang out at his house playing video games or pingpong.
Once we played home-run derby with his son, Charlie, inside Tiger’s living room. Charlie’s using a golf club, and Tiger’s pitching, but Charlie wanted a bigger bat, so he grabbed an actual bat. Tiger takes his turn, and he’s swinging full speed, just ripping them. Then I go, and I hit one off the end of the bat, and it hits a candle and breaks it. So that’s another one he has on me now. He’s also very supportive—and I am, too, of anything he does—and will always text me after a win. But we’re also pretty sarcastic with each other and say things that aren’t fit for print.
I was with Darren Clarke when he beat Tiger in the final of the World Match Play at La Costa in 2000. Afterward, Darren did all his media stuff, and maybe 90 minutes had gone by before we got to his locker. There was a hand-written note on the back of the door. My memory is not perfect, but it went something like this: D, you’ve had a great day. Well played. Be very proud of yourself. You’ll always be a friend. Best wishes, Tiggy. PS. You’ll always be a fat f___.
COACHED WOODS FROM 1980 TO 1986
Tiger and I would go around Heartwell, an 18-hole par-3 course in Long Beach, and I came up with what I considered par for him as a 5-year-old—67. What solidified that I wasn’t crazy was when he shot 59—eight under his personal par. He played every ball down, made every putt and never let up. Going lower and lower never got too big for him, even when he was that small. A lot of it comes from how he thinks. So much of the culture in golf is this toxic negativity: What mistakes am I making, and how do I fix them? For him, it was, What do I do well, and how do I do more of it? Even when he’d mess up a hole, he’d have his moment of little-kid anger, but by the time he was on the next tee, his focus was on the next shot. There are other players who can hit the ball as well as Tiger Woods can. But they can’t use those swings to shoot scores like he does.
BAY HILL LOCKER-ROOM ATTENDANT
I’ve been at Bay Hill for 19 years, but my first year in the locker room was 2003, when Tiger won his fourth in a row here. The weather was awful and rainy, and he was very sick from food poisoning, and every few holes he was throwing up. At the turn he came into the locker room and splashed water on his face. Then he put his head down on his arm, and his legs kind of buckled, and I thought there was no way he was going to finish. I asked if he needed anything, and he asked for a Gatorade. His voice was kind of weak, but he thanked me, headed out and shot 68 and won by 11. When it was over, a veteran player came in and said that there was no way anyone could shoot 68 that day, let alone Tiger as sick as he was. That’s when I saw firsthand what Tiger Woods was all about. Sheer will.
“HE’S GOT NO SHIRT ON, HE’S WEARING SUNGLASSES, HIS HAT IS TURNED BACKWARD AND HE’S SWEATING LIKE CRAZY.”
After Tiger had won the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002, he kind of laid low for a week before gearing up for the Open Championship at Muirfield, where he was going to be trying for the third leg of the Grand Slam. Mark O’Meara and I didn’t see him much. One day Mark and I were on the back of the range at Isleworth trying to hit 3-irons down to this one green about 220 yards out. We had played Bethpage, and unlike Tiger, every hole for us was like a driver and 3-iron or 4-iron or even a wood. So we’re trying to get the ball up higher with our 3-irons, just seeing if we can launch them.
All of a sudden here comes Tiger getting back from a six-mile run. He’s got no shirt on, he’s wearing sunglasses, his hat is turned backward and he’s sweating like crazy. He sees us, and he stops to watch, but he doesn’t say anything. Finally, he asks, “Hey, what are you guys working on?” We tell him we’re trying to hit these longer clubs higher in the air. So he says to me, “Let me see your 3-iron.” Now he just got back from a run, he hasn’t hit a ball, he’s got running shoes on. But without a practice swing he hits this 3-iron not at the green Mark and I were aiming at but at the next green, about 245 yards out. He flew it right into the middle of that green, handed the club back to me and said, “Just do that.” Mark and I looked at each other like, We’re trying to beat that? I put the club back in my bag and said, “I’m going to go over here and putt more; maybe that will help.”
I have never seen anything more impressive than the time I spent hitting balls alongside Tiger at a tournament in Germany. It must have been in the early 2000s. We were on the range, and there was some banter between us, as usual. But it didn’t take long for me to notice what he was doing. I hadn’t seen anything like it, and I haven’t seen anything as good since. Every shot Tiger hit was perfect. He must have hit about 200—all pure.
When Tiger finished, I had a look at where he had been. What I would normally call his “divot pattern” was the size of a dinner plate, but there wasn’t a bit of brown earth to be seen. Every blade of grass had been lightly brushed in the same direction. There wasn’t even the hint of a divot. All of which is unbelievable, considering he had used about every club in his bag. It verged on impossible. And it remains the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen. Ridiculous.
“IT TURNS OUT THAT HE WAS ON A 50-MILE BIKE RIDE BECAUSE HE WAS NOT ALLOWED TO RUN OR LIFT WEIGHTS.”
—DAVIS LOVE III
Davis Love III
I can’t remember what year it was, but I called him a few days after one of his knee surgeries to see how he was getting along and if he was up and moving and starting rehab yet. He answers, and I hear a lot of wind in the background, and he’s out of breath. It turns out that he was on a 50-mile bike ride because he was not allowed to run or lift weights. I just had to laugh.
COACHED WOODS FROM 1993 TO 2004
In May 1997, I was in Houston for the NBA playoff s, and Tiger was in Dallas playing the Byron Nelson. A month earlier he had won the Masters by 12 shots. At halftime, I went up to the bar and began watching live coverage of the day’s play. Tiger had shot 64-64 in the first two rounds, but his driving was off on Saturday. He was backing up on his tee shots and flipping his hands through. He missed a few drives left, which Tiger hated to do. I called him from the game and said, “I see something in your driver swing. Get me a room in Dallas, and I’ll drive there tonight. I’ll show you in the morning what I see.”
Tiger said, “Just tell me. I want to know now.” I insisted on showing him in person, and he finally agreed. We met after breakfast the next morning and started working on the range. After a while, he said, “Thanks, Butchie. I got it. I appreciate you coming.”
That was it. I wished him luck, and he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll win today.” And he did. But what amazed me was, from the first tee that day, he never made the mistake he was making the day before. He committed 100 percent to what we worked on that morning, and he drove the ball beautifully.
It proved again what I had seen before: When Tiger trusts something, he plays with it right away, no matter the situation. He knows the only real test of something is whether it works under pressure. He always wanted to keep getting better, and as a result, he has made changes— changes that nobody ever knew—while he was winning golf tournaments. That, to me, is one thing that has made Tiger great.
When Tiger and I lived in Orlando and were both ranked No. 1 in the world, I would go over to Isleworth to practice with him on a number of occasions. What I remember most was that he loved trying difficult shots and always wanted to learn something new.
He would also observe what I was doing and ask a lot of questions. He was especially interested to know how I hit the ball so straight without sacrificing length, especially off the tee. He was just really curious, always trying to get better. I admire that.
A week before the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, right before I turned pro, Tiger was in Las Vegas working with Butch Harmon and so was I. Butch set up a game with me and Tiger at Rio Secco, and I thought, This sounds incredible. He was 1 up at the turn, and I thought I was doing pretty good, really. Then he hits this 375-yard drive onto the 10th green—keep in mind, this is in 2000, when very few people were capable of hitting the ball that far—and he made eagle. He birdied each of the next four holes and closed out the match. I was in shock. It was quite the introduction. He won the U.S. Open by 15 the next week.
“I GREW UP READING TIGER’S BOOK HOW I PLAY GOLF AND ABSOLUTELY IDOLIZED HIM.”
I grew up reading Tiger’s book How I Play Golf and absolutely idolized him. In November 2011, just before I turned 22, I got paired with Tiger for the first two rounds of the Australian Open. It was like it wasn’t real. I watched him on television for so long, and then I’m standing there with him. What I remember most was seeing him hit his famous stinger in person for the first time. It was on the par-5 eighth, and he had like 300 yards into a 20-yard wind on his second shot, and he hits this low, bullet 3-wood. It flew only 10 feet off the ground, never left the flag, and landed about 20 feet away. I hit driver off the deck and came up 20 yards short. I just shook my head. It was so cool, though—like seeing a video game unfold in real life.
EDITORIAL DIRECTOR GOLF DIGEST
The first time I met Tiger was at a photoshoot for a Golf Digest cover at Medalist Golf Club in 2018. Because we needed high ceilings, our set was inside the maintenance barn where the mowers are normally parked. Tiger arrives, says, “Hi, I’m Tiger,” and politely shakes hands with each person in our crew.
If handshaking becomes a ritual of the past as we move into the era of fist- and elbow-bumps, certain memorable experiences in pro golf will be lost. The right hand of Nick Price brings to mind a vice-grip, Tony Finau a baseball glove, Alex Noren sandpaper. Between Tiger’s thumb and index finger—the muscle called the abductor pollicis brevis, though commonly thought of as what forms the “V” of the grip—there’s a lump the size and firmness of half a golf ball. Tiger has talked before about the firmness of his grip pressure, squeezing the club tightly to limit face rotation, and you just can’t fathom how many balls he has hit in his life with ultimate intensity. But shaking his hand gives you an idea.
I was washing my hands and face in the locker room at Pinehurst, only minutes after holing the winning putt in the 2005 U.S. Open. My thoughts were all over the place as I tried to digest what had just happened. I thought I was alone until I heard a urinal flush behind me. Seconds later, Tiger appeared beside me. He had just finished second, having, I heard later, missed a few vital putts down the stretch.
Nothing was said as we both stood there in front of a big mirror. It was pretty intense. Then he walked away without a word, which I thought was a bit strange given that we knew each other reasonably well. But then he came back seconds later, tapped me on the shoulder, shook my hand and said, “Well done.” He had just needed a little bit of time to get over the loss of a battle he had been expected to win. I understood that.
At the 1998 Sprint International, I got paired with Tiger in the third round. We’ve got 10,000 people at least lining the first fairway. There is no escaping the anxiety. On the first hole he hit a 4-iron that punched a hole in the clouds and stopped dead to the hole from about 250 yards. He made eagle. At the sixth, I hit it to 10 feet. He was just outside me, and he circles his putt, working his quiet into the crowd. He pures it, and the crowd goes nuts. He punches the air, does the whole big-putt celebration. I remember thinking that I’ve never been that excited on a golf course in my life. Next hole is a par 3, and he has the honor. Pin is tucked back right. Tough to get to. He makes it. Hole-in-one. Crowd erupts. He does his thing.
Finally, it’s my turn to hit, and as I’m settling in, I hear him whisper to Fluff, his caddie, “God, I love this game.” I stop, look up at him and said, “Well, of course you love it! You make $50 million a year and hole about every other shot you hit. You should try loving it from my perspective.” The crowd laughs. He smiled. That was a transition year for Tiger. He was changing his swing to the one that would win four straight majors, but he did things that day I’d never seen before and haven’t since. Except from him. I won my only tour event the next week, and I couldn’t help but think the experience of playing with Tiger contributed to the calm I had down the stretch.
I played with Tiger in the final round of the 1997 Masters. He was well ahead, so I suppose I knew what to expect. But wow. He was fantastic. He hit the ball so far. On one hole I had a 1-iron to the green, and he flew the putting surface with a 6-iron. I couldn’t believe it. On the 18th green I said: “Thank you for the lesson.”
But that round at Augusta helped me a lot when I beat Tiger in the Ryder Cup singles at Valderrama later that year. I played my game and never watched him hit a shot. He was hitting 2-irons past my driver. I was hitting the second shot first every time. But even when I was 4 up at the turn, he never gave up. That’s maybe the most impressive thing about him.
Charles Howell III
In 2003, he let my wife, Heather, and me fly with him to South Africa for the Presidents Cup. He could tell I was nervous—it was my first time playing in the event. He came over and said, “You’re a great player. That’s why you’re here. I’m here for you all week, whatever you need.”
SENIOR WRITER / GOLF DIGEST
The late Earl Woods once suggested Tiger could have been a world-class athlete in other sports. But I wonder if that’s true. When I visited the Stanford campus in the fall of Tiger’s freshman year, in 1994, Notah Begay mentioned that Tiger was a terrible basketball player and that he’d kidded Tiger for putting up zero points and assists in a recent intramural game. When I heard Tiger was at the gym playing a pickup game at that moment, I had to watch for myself.
Tiger indeed wasn’t very good. He had a hard time keeping his head up when he dribbled and used his right hand almost exclusively. Instead of gathering the ball in his palm, he kind of slapped at it. On offense he went to the No. 2 guard position and more or less stayed there, waiting for someone to pass him the ball. On defense, when a guy with the ball got past him, it was over. It was inexperience.
Maybe he improved. After Tiger turned pro, I heard he played pick-up games with other pros, some of whom were pretty good. But it’s telling that over the years, when players named other pros who were exceptionally talented basketball players—Billy Andrade, Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Smylie Kaufman and Jordan Spieth—Tiger’s name never came up. It might be that Tiger, in one way at least, is just an ordinary gym rat.
“TIGER SHOULD HAVE BEEN SITTING WITH HIS LEG UP IN A CHAIR AT HOME AND GOING TO THE KITCHEN ON CRUTCHES, NOT PLAYING GOLF.”
COACHED TIGER FROM 2004 TO 2010
I always thought Jack and Tiger were the two best pressure putters, but even Jack didn’t make a putt like the one Tiger made on Sunday during the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines to get into that playoff with Rocco Mediate. I was listening in on the consultations with the doctors going into that week, and Tiger should have been sitting with his leg up in a chair at home and going to the kitchen on crutches, not playing golf.
Think about the mental strength it took to not just make that putt on 18 with everything that was on the line, but do it after walking around the whole week in incredible pain in which it took hours of treatment each night from his trainer, Keith Kleven, to be able to stand, never mind walk or hit balls. And to make that putt knowing it was going to mean another 18 the next day.
LONGTIME TEACHING PROFESSIONAL IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Tiger, as one might imagine, was a dominant junior player in Southern California. When he was 11, he won 30 junior events. When he was 12, in 1988, he was playing in the Yorba Linda Junior Invitational at Yorba Linda Country Club. Though he was competing in the 12-and 13-year-old division, he entered the final round with the lowest score among all divisions, including the 14 to 15 and 16 to 17 divisions.
For the final round, the upper two divisions were moving to the blue tees, so I asked Tiger if he’d prefer moving to the blue tees to compete for the overall championship. Tiger declined, choosing to remain in his age bracket and telling me there’d be time for that later. To an extent it was wisdom— 12-year-old wisdom if there is such a thing.
I lost to him in a playoff in the 2006 WGC-Bridgestone in Ohio. He beat me with a birdie on the fourth hole. It was something like his 50th win, and I was grinding my butt off trying to get my fifth. Anyway, about a month later we’re on the plane to Ireland for the Ryder Cup. He’s sitting there, and as I’m walking by, I say, “You couldn’t have let me win just one?” He did not turn his head, did not laugh, did not smile. He just looked at me with his eyes for half a second, then went back to what he was doing. And we were friends! He was just different, man.
VICE PRESIDENT FOR TGR VENTURES
It was my sophomore year at Santa Clara, and Tiger’s freshman year at Stanford. Stanford had this event in the fall that was our first big event of the year. We were all aware of Tiger—he was the reigning U.S. Amateur champ and already a pretty big deal in the golf world.
The first hole at Stanford has this elevated tee box, and there’s a bunker out there in the fairway. My teammates and I had been talking about that bunker all day—how far is the carry? Should I lay it up short or challenge it? Tiger, then probably only 140 pounds, steps up to the first tee and does not even consider the bunker. He makes this smooth swing and flies it by 30 yards. We all looked at each other, my teammates and guys from other schools, and immediately knew he was playing a different game.
“IF YOU CAN HIT 4-IRONS INSIDE GUYS WHO ARE HITTING 8-IRONS, WELL, THAT’S A VERY TIGERESQUE MOMENT.”
In 2006, I played with Tiger the first two days of the Open at Hoylake. It was a strange pairing; I was already starting TV at that point. I had played against Tiger in the World Match Play in 1999 a few years after he’d turned pro [losing 4 and 3], but I never played good enough after that to go against him when he grinds you into the ground. I knew I was an observer more than I was a competitor at the Open.
We all remember he hit only one driver that week—in the opening round on the 16th hole that went about 45 degrees to the left—and hit irons off the tee the rest of the week and won the claret jug. That made the course the equivalent of at least 700 yards longer than what the scorecard said. It was cool to see, perfection, really, and if you can hit 4-iron inside guys who are hitting 8-iron, well, that’s a very Tigeresque moment.
We came off 18, and I joked that if he wasn’t going to use his driver the rest of the week, could he give it to my son, Matthew, who was caddieing for me that week. He laughed, but then he signed the glove that he just shot 65 with [in the second round] and gave it to him. That was cool.
CADDIE FOR CAMERON CHAMP. HAS ALSO LOOPED FOR MATT KUCHAR AND HUNTER MAHAN
At the Open Championship at Hoylake, he was leading going into Saturday. All week long he had hit balls on the very left side of the range, right next to the trailers. It was kind of his spot. On Saturday, after Hunter had finished his round, we went to hit some balls. I kid you not, there were 2,000 people in the stands and 50 guys hitting balls. You did not hear a word, did not hear a shot from any of the other guys on the range. Everyone just stood there, watching. I look at Hunter, and I go, “He just won the tournament, you realize that?” He goes. “Oh, yeah. I do.” It was a moment I’ll never forget.
One day Tiger invited me to play with him at Isleworth. This was in 2006, and I had just won the Western Open for my first tour win, and we were getting ready for the Open Championship. Hank Haney was with us. Tiger was testing 2-irons.
I’ll never forget a shot he played on the 17th hole, a long par 5 with a narrow green. It’s more than 600 yards, so back then it wasn’t really reachable. I hit a perfect drive and layed up with a 5-iron. Tiger pulled his drive into the rough and these mounds on the left. He had a decent lie, but the ball was above his feet sort of halfway up a mound. He pulls out his driver, and I’m thinking What in the world? Well, he crushes this driver, and it bounces up on the green and rolls to about eight feet from the hole. He made the putt for eagle. This shot had to be over 300 yards, and nobody could have pulled that off except Tiger. It was easily the greatest shot I ever saw. Funny thing was, he went on to win the Open at Hoylake and hit only one driver in the entire tournament. I still laugh about that.
My all-time favorite Tiger Woods moment was when he beat Stephen Ames, 9 and 8, at the 2006 Match Play. Of course, everyone remembers it because of not just how badly Tiger had beaten him but what poor Stephen had said beforehand, that “anything could happen, especially where Tiger is hitting the ball.” It was comical to me that he’d say that, especially about Tiger, even if he had withdrawn from his previous start before the Match Play.
I’m a pretty confident guy, some might even say cocky, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 20 years going against Tiger, it’s that you don’t talk shit to him, certainly not before a match.
I don’t think Tiger missed a green against Stephen. I lost to Henrik Stenson in the first round that year, but I must not have been that upset because when I saw Tiger’s score, it made me laugh out loud.
GOLF DIGEST 50 BEST TEACHER
I remember when I caddied for Jay Haas. Jack, Seve, Norman, Tiger . . . once or twice a round, they would hit shots every other player knew they couldn’t hit. I’ll give Jay credit—when they hit a shot like that, he’d admire it in the most respectful way. Jack hit a 1-iron out of a bunker at Muirfield Village three feet from the hole, and Jay turned to me and said, “How about that f___ing shot?” He knew that was a shot he could never hit. Same thing happened in 1998, when Tiger and Jay were paired together at the Masters. Jay hit driver/3-wood and had 90 yards left. He was trying to figure out why Tiger was waiting to hit, and then Tiger hits 3-wood 10 feet from the hole. He turned to me and said, “How about that f___ing shot?”
I never met Tiger until I was paired with him in the second round of the Masters in 1995, and, frankly, at that time, I didn’t know that much about him, except he was the U.S. Amateur champion. I had never seen him play. I just knew that he was dominating amateur golf. I mean, three U.S. Junior Amateur wins in a row? Of all the things he’s done in the game, that gets almost no mention, and it’s one of his greatest accomplishments. He has to win the first one when he’s 15. Think about that.
So I knew he had to be darn good, but on the first hole I found out why he was beating the other amateurs at will. He had a sand wedge into the first green. I had 7-iron. He hit a 6-iron for his second into the par-5 second. He hit a wedge into No. 5, and I was back there with a 6-iron. This went on all day. His game wasn’t quite polished yet, but we know how soon that changed.
I played in the 1996 Milwaukee Open, where Tiger made his pro debut, and Payne Stewart and I were traveling together and ran into him on the tarmac in Milwaukee the day after he won the U.S. Amateur again. We congratulated him on winning, and then Payne spent about 10 minutes trying to talk him out of turning pro and staying in college. Payne knew what was coming.
The day before the first round, Butch Harmon came up to me with Tiger and said, “Hey, Zinger, show this kid how you hit a bunker shot.” I had won sand saves on tour three of the past four years. So I hit a few and talked about how I hit ’em. Then Tiger steps in there, and they were every bit as good. I told Butch, “This kid doesn’t need my help.”
E. Michael Johnson
GOLF DIGEST EQUIPMENT EDITOR
In 2003, I got a call from Nike asking if I’d like to sit in on a test session with Tiger for what would become the Nike One ball. I’d never met him but was surprised when he showed up in gym shorts, muscle shirt, sneakers and a Stanford University hat. His perception—like Itzhak Perlman being able to tell a violin’s age by playing one note of music—was unlike anything I had witnessed.
Tiger made decisions about which golf ball he preferred based largely on the trajectory of chip shots. He brushed driver faces against the grass and determined one had a thicker face than the others.
When tees were needed, Tiger said he had some in his bag but not to take the ones from St. Andrews—as if he were protecting a souvenir from a buddies trip. His knowledge of equipment history surprised me, too. When I said that this one driver shaft was reminiscent of a shaft used in an old MacGregor driver from the 1950s, he looked up, smiled, and said, “You remember that f______ shaft?”
Anyone who played late in the third round of the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield is unlikely to forget it. A huge storm blew in the afternoon, bringing with it almost gale-force winds and sideways rain. For 90 minutes or so, playing golf was all but impossible. It was carnage, really. At least it was for Tiger and Colin Montgomerie. Tiger, who was still alive for the Grand Slam after winning the Masters and U.S. Open, made only one birdie and shot 81. Monty— who I was coaching then— shot 84, after going 74-64 the previous two days.
Early the next morning, the two of them were on the practice putting green. I was standing a few yards away from Monty, watching him putt. As I did, Tiger came past and gave me a wink. “Hey, Monty,” he said, “at least I kicked your ass yesterday.” Monty turned around with a smile and replied, “Everyone did, Tiger.” At which they both burst out laughing.
It was a rare moment of humor from Tiger, especially given the disappointment he must have felt at seeing his quest for the Grand Slam end.
Sir Michael Bonallack
LEGENDARY ENGLISH AMATEUR PLAYER
I first came across Tiger during the 1995 Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl. He didn’t have breakfast with the rest of the American team every morning; he went across the road to McDonald’s. Even at that stage he was very much his own man.
As captain of the R&A in 2000, I presented the claret jug to him when he won the Open Championship at St. Andrews. A few weeks earlier—as the official observer—I walked the last two rounds with him inside the ropes at Pebble Beach, when he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots. That was the best golf I have ever seen—and probably the best golf anyone has ever played. I have never seen anyone dominate a field like he did that week. I think he was in the rough once over the 36 holes I was with him.
When I got back to St. Andrews, I was asked what I thought he would do in the Open. My response was simple: “If he doesn’t win, there ought to be a steward’s enquiry.” And he did, of course, by eight shots.
“I’M MORE IMPRESSED—NOW AND ALWAYS—ABOUT THE ENGINE HE HAS IN HIS MIND. TIGER NEVER PUT A LIMIT ON HIMSELF.”
COACHED WOODS FROM 2010 TO 2014
Let’s face it. There are plenty of players who can do amazing things physically. They can hit a ball over impossibly high trees or carry a bunker nobody ever imagined would be in play.
There’s obviously a physical engine inside Tiger that was impressive to see when he was a younger man, but I’m more impressed—now and always— about the engine he has in his mind. The only limit any of us has is our own limit, and Tiger never put a limit on himself.
It starts with his ability to concentrate. He’s the only player I’ve ever been around who hits a few bad shots and yells at himself and tells himself to focus. He’s pointing at something internal, not external like most players do. He’d be hitting balls, and he’d hit one shot that came off a little different, and he’d have such an insightful reaction: He’d go sit in the cart for 10 minutes and think about it. So much of his work happened in those quiet places.
Claude Harmon III
SWING COACH TO DUSTIN JOHNSON
I played nine holes with Tiger late in 2000 in Las Vegas after he had won three legs of the Tiger Slam. I said that he surely must now realize he is better than everyone else in the game. He said “I never think like that. But I know no one is willing to do the things I am, and no one in the game can outwork me or out-think me.”
CADDIE FOR MATTHEW FITZPATRICK, FORMER CADDIE FOR LEE WESTWOOD AND SEVE BALLESTEROS
I caddied for Tiger in the 2005 Presidents Cup in Virginia while Steve Williams was with his fiancee, who was expecting their first child. Tiger and I are walking to the first tee, and there are thousands of people lining the walkway, yelling their heads off: “Tiger!” “Tiger!” It was the first time I’d ever seen the Tiger circus, the hysteria of it, that feeling that this was just so far from a normal human experience. My ears were bleeding. We get to the first tee, and it’s kind of blocked off from the spectators. A moment of tranquility. I turn to Tiger and said, “You might be a billionaire, the best golfer to ever play the game and have any woman in the world. But I wouldn’t swap lives with you.” And I meant it. He looked at me and said, “Thanks for saying that, Billy. That’s why I don’t play very much.”
GOLF DIGEST CONTRIBUTOR FROM 1984 TO 2014
At a junior clinic in Cincinnati, Tiger was watching teenager Kevin Hall, who was deaf. The kid could really hit it, a rarity at these things. Tiger watched him nail a couple of drivers and whispered something to Hall’s mother, who relayed the advice to Hall using sign language.
The next drive flew 20 yards farther. Hall turned and looked at Tiger with a smile larger than Woods’ own. A few years later, Hall won the Big Ten Championship playing for Ohio State.
COACHED WOODS FROM 2014 TO 2017
It seems like a lifetime ago, but there was a time when Tiger was really struggling with his chip shots. He was nervy, and because of his injury, he’d get these shooters going up his back when he tried to practice. It would’ve been easier to hang it up. He had nothing left to prove. But he didn’t. He followed his intuition, was open to suggestions and worked on it every day for hours, as much as his back would let him, in the face of adversity and tough results. I mean, to go from shooting 82 in Phoenix and WDing at Torrey in 2015 to the Masters two months later, where he was hitting these delicate shots off those tight lies? That’s just pure perseverance and mental toughness.
FORMER DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING, NIKE GOLF
One of the last times I worked with him he was testing a wedge by hitting flop shots off the putting green. That grass on that green was super tight—it was running at 12 or 13 on the Stimpmeter. It blew my mind watching him slide that wedge under the ball without damaging the green.
SENIOR DESIGN CONSULTANT WITH TGR DESIGN
At the opening of The Playgrounds, a 10-hole short course at Bluejack National in Texas, Tiger’s first design in the United States, 11-year-olds Taylor Crozier and Cedi Lococo played with Tiger in front of 600 members and guests. Tiger has said he wants to create fun and playable experiences. When we shaped The Playgrounds, he had the slope left of the first green shaped with the idea it could be used to feed the ball toward pins at the back of the green.
When it was Taylor’s turn to play, he hits his tee shot toward that slope; it rolls down and goes in for an ace. The crowd erupted—the loudest 600-person roar I’ve ever heard—but nobody was happier than Tiger. He was still recovering from a back injury and had decided to play with Taylor and Cedi using only a putter. Now, Tiger appreciates competitiveness, and once the crowd calmed, he takes his putter and lips out from 83 yards. My jaw dropped. When I saw Tiger after the round, he said of Taylor’s ace, “That’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the golf course.”
We were paired for a foursomes match in the 2009 Presidents Cup. Playing your own ball alongside him is one thing, but when you’re playing alternate shot, you feel a lot more pressure. We come to this long par 4, doglegs to the left. I want to hit a 3-wood, but I’m thinking I probably should hit driver. A 3-wood is going to leave him well over 200 yards to the green. I’m waffling a bit, and then he tells me, “Hit the 3-wood in the fairway; I’ll hit a 4-iron to 20 feet, and you make the putt.” So, I hit the 3-wood, he puts the 4-iron onto the green about 20 feet from the pin, and I make the putt. I relaxed from there because Tiger was basically saying to me, Don’t worry, whatever you do, I’ve got this.
“I HAD A FAIRLY SIMPLE 75-YARD PITCH, AND [TIGER] WAVES ME UP. I PROCEED TO HIT IT TO ABOUT 40 FEET. NOT EXACTLY A GREAT FIRST IMPRESSION!”
—ERIK VAN ROOYEN
Erik van Rooyen
In the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, I was hitting into the 15th hole, which shares a green with the fourth. Tiger was on the fourth green. I had a fairly simple 75-yard pitch, and he waves me up, so he’s watching my shot. Now, I’m not sure if it was nerves or what, but I proceed to hit the shot to about 40 feet. Not exactly a great first impression!
STARTED WRITING FOR GOLF DIGEST IN 1989
At the 1994 World Team Amateur, an 18-year-old Tiger was the only player on the range on a chilly morning at the Golf de La Boulie in Versailles, France. After striping a dozen or so 5-irons about 200 yards, he turned and said, “You want to see something weird? Watch this.”
He then performed what would now look like an imitation of Jim Furyk or Matthew Wolff, but which then might have recalled Miller Barber. After taking the club back well to the outside with the face shut, he dropped it into the slot and whiplashed through the ball. The shot took off faster and higher and landed 15 yards beyond his other 5-irons. He chuckled at the sheer perfection. A few minutes later, when he was hitting drivers, I asked him to “do that other swing again.” He did, the ball shooting out with even more startling speed, and flying way past his others. Almost plaintively, he asked, “I mean, what’s wrong with that?” “Nothing,” I said. “You ever think of going with it?” A pause, and then, “Nah. Looks too funny.”
Two things. Tiger was, and I suspect still is, decidedly old school, constitutionally favoring the orthodox over the unconventional. At the time, he was diligently committed to his work with Butch Harmon, who’d been his coach for a year. But Tiger has always been insatiably curious about the swing, and all the more when actual validation is possible.
As a teenager today, he would have tested that “funny” swing on a launch monitor and likely been convinced to adopt at least some—and maybe all—of its principles in competition.
The point is that though Tiger got as much out of his immense talent as any golfer who ever lived and indisputably advanced what was possible in the game, I witnessed an unused reserve that might have made him even better.