Tiger

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece months ago, had it edited, scrapped most of it, then rewrote it. I had planned on posting it during Masters Week, but Tiger wasn’t playing and it felt less important, so I’m just posting it now.

Almost all of my memories of watching Tiger Woods include my dad. Like a lot of people I know, I didn’t have any interest in golf before Tiger turned pro in 1996. Any golf highlights I saw were mostly seen on SportsCenter between the baseball highlights I was actually interested in. I also had no plans on starting to watch golf until he hit the mainstream. And in only his fourth professional tournament, Tiger came to play the B.C. Open1, a now-defunct PGA Tour event in Endicott, NY. This was a stone’s throw from my hometown of Vestal. My family owned and operated a landscaping business at that time and were sponsors of the tournament, which meant my dad was able to get tickets. 

We went to the final round on Sunday. Storm clouds were looming in the forecast, but we couldn’t resist a chance to see the golf’s future Michael Jordan in the flesh. We made our way inside the gates of Enjoie Golf Course and saw a crowd gathered around the practice green. A sea of pleated khaki shorts crowded the putting surface the way the waves crash onto the oceanside green of Pebble Beach #7. My dad and I watched as Tiger took a few putts, while his caddy, Mike “Fluff” Cowan looked on. Looking over at the first tee, another crowd was gathered. This was the normal group that camps out to see everyone tee off, along with an additional layer of people waiting for Tiger. Realizing we didn’t have a chance to see him tee off, we walked the next few holes and took in the tournament. However, the rainstorm made its way in and play was suspended and eventually called after Tiger played the seventh hole. He finished third at 16 under, three strokes behind winner Fred Funk and runner-up Pete Jordan. 

It would be another seven months before I watched Tiger again.

This might be the only publicly available clip of Tiger playing at the B.C. Open.

It was Sunday, April 13, 1997, and my dad was watching the Masters tournament down in our family room. I vaguely remember being in the living room, but my father soon called me downstairs.

As I made my way down and took a look at the tv, I saw Tiger crouched and lining up what would be his final putt of the tournament. I didn’t really understand the relevance of his winning the Masters by the all-time lowest score (-18)  and largest margin of victory (12 strokes) in tournament history. Thankfully, my dad did. 

“You need to watch this.” My father said this to me without taking his eyes off of the tv.

As Tiger sank his last putt and the crowd roared, my father pumped his fist. I remember watching as Tiger made his way up the gallery and embraced his father.

Skip to 47:40 for his final putt.

I watch that clip on YouTube now and think of my father. Not because of the raw emotion of that father/son moment,  but because my father understood the importance of the moment and wanted me to have that memory, even if I wasn’t fully aware of how important it was at the time.

Fast forward to Sunday, April 14, 2019. My wife and I had been married a year and a half and welcomed our first child into the world the following spring. My life was vastly different than it was in 1997.

That Sunday morning, I sat in the back room of our house watching the Masters while my wife worked in the other room.  This particular Sunday round started earlier than normal due to the impending weather in Augusta, which was great for me as our son napped in the morning and early afternoon, giving me a chance to watch the majority of the tournament. Watching that round on Sunday was like stepping into a time machine. The Tiger Effect that ripped the soul out of so many pros in the late 90s and 2000s was alive and well, still able to make professional golfers beg for mercy. I watched as Francesco Molinari, the leader going into the final round, crack and choke under pressure, shooting a 2-over 74 in the final round. I watched Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau fall victim as well. Watching the final group play #12 is forever burned into my memory.

It had been 22 years, a full drinking age adult plus one year, since Tiger’s first green jacket. As Tiger approached the 18th green, I immediately thought about my dad, who made sure I watched Tiger’s first Masters victory. I also thought of my son, who at the time was only a year old. I reflected on the significance of this moment, understanding how my father must have felt in 1997. Finally, I watched as Tiger sank his final putt, threw his arms into the air with the roar of the crowd electrifying the moment. I watched him embrace his son. I started to tear up as I watched one of the greatest moments in sports that I had ever seen. I thought about my father and what this moment meant; all of a sudden, that April of 1997 in our old house took on added significance. 

I took a beat to allow the moment to sink in and then reached for my phone, texting my dad, “TIGER!!”

1. If you’re interested in things like this, Jaime Diaz wrote a piece on Tiger for Sports Illustrated that took place the week of the tournament.

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