by Jeff Skinner
This past weekend at The Deutsche Bank Championship I was able to do something many golf fanatics can only dream of. Sunday morning was cool and crisp, with a hint of the impending New England fall in the air. I stood behind the first tee and watched a few groups tee off. Along with hundreds of other patrons I eagerly awaited the arrival of the 10:55 pairing: Tiger Woods and Lucas Glover. I have seen Tiger play many times before and I walked with Glover at The Travelers this past June right after he won The Open, but this day was going to be different. There was a difference between me and all those hundreds of fans cheering for Tiger as he got out of his golf cart. They were outside the ropes, cordoned off from Tiger and Glover. They were forced to stay behind the ropes and follow the most dynamic golfer in the world from a distance. I stood inside the ropes. I was on the tee with the starter, the marshals, and the policemen. Tiger and Lucas and their caddies stood a few feet from me. On that glorious Sunday morning, I was afforded the opportunity that many fans dream of: I was walking inside the ropes with Tiger Woods.
Watching Tiger play every shot during a round is relatively easy. All you need to do is turn on your television any time Woods is playing and the networks will show every one of his shots. If you wish to see Tiger in person, as most every fan that buys a ticket does, it can be a daunting task. Since thousands of people surround each hole that Woods is on, and cover the next few holes, it makes seeing Tiger hole by hole almost in possible. If you are able to see him putt on a green, then watching his next tee ball is impossible because that tee is surrounded by fans. I would not have that problem as I was inside the ropes and would be totally unencumbered from those poor souls who stood on the outside looking in.
On the first tee Woods and Glover introduced themselves to the scorer and their standard bearer. I couldn’t get over the fact that when Tiger held out his hand to the scorer he said,” Tiger” as if he needed to introduce himself. Glover joked with the guys as he introduced himself. This was to be a great pairing: the greatest player of the day and the reigning US Open Champion, both ready to make a charge on “moving day.” After his introduction, Tiger acknowledged the cheers and prepared to hit his drive, he switched on that legendary “Tiger focus.” He can switch it on at off at will. It is that focus and concentration that many say separates him from all the other players on tour. Tiger pulled out his driver and his fans hushed as he took a mighty wail at the ball. Seconds later the mood changed abruptly as he pushed his Nike way right for what was a terrible opening shot. It was not the start he had envisioned. He had to drop another ball, then took relief from the cart path and after a chip and a putt for bogey he was one over for the day already and not a happy camper. It didn’t get much better on the second tee as Tiger screamed “fore” as soon as his ball left the clubhead. This time he was in the left rough. Glover had to be feeling like he was playing alone as he was stroking his tee ball into the middle of the fairway and Tiger was nowhere close. As Woods strode off the tee a young kid called out to him. Woods nodded and gave the kid a little wave, acknowledged by Tiger, not bad for a youngster. After Woods missed the green at the par three third, he got up and down with a nice chip and a short putt. From the third green to the fourth tee is a long walk and Tiger seemed unconcerned with his poor play as he and Glover chatted and laughed as they walked side by side along a hidden cart path.
Each hole was surrounded with fans at least five people deep. It was like every hole was a stadium and the passionate Tiger fans would cheer and call to Tiger as he walked by. The fans were feeling Tiger’s frustration and were waiting for Tiger to break out. The next hole was just the place to do it. The fourth at The TPC Boston is a drivable par four, a great birdie hole and an eagle is certainly in the mix also. Glover and Woods both hit 3 woods at the green 294 yards away. Neither of their balls was close to the green. Glover was bunkered and Woods hit is so far right he yelled” come on, woody….go” as he watched his ball go thirty yards right. Both had to settle for disappointing pars. Woods was so frustrated he walked off the green before Glover putted out.
The fifth tee is a good ways from the fourth green and the players walk along a secluded, shaded cart path out of sight of the fans. There we were: Tiger, Glover, one photographer, myself and two cops, walking alone through the woods watching Tiger and Glover laugh at each other’s jokes. I started to realize that Woods isn’t that stone faced, focused, determined machine that he appears to be. In between shots, when he has that focus turned off, he laughs and jokes and relaxes. You rarely see this on television.
On the fifth fairway I watched Woods toss grass to check the wind at least four times. He was concerned and confused with the winds at The TPC. He and Stevie Williams were constantly checking the wind trying to decide on the right club. He misjudged the wind here and left his approach short of the green and scrambled for par. It was not Tiger’s day.
On the sixth tee they had to wait to hit and the two of them were chatting away and appeared to be enjoying each other’s company. Glover is a likable, easy going guy that is well liked on tour. Woods is the guy Glover beat at The US Open this year. Maybe they were trash talking about next year’s Open. The sixth tee is small and as usual was crammed with fans. The half dozen photographers and I had to sit down so we wouldn’t block the view of the fans. We were so close that when Tiger crushed his three wood stinger I swear I was sucked into its wake. It was a great tee shot followed by a mediocre approach and another disappointing par. After a lipped putt on the seventh, a birdie putt that missed by two inches on eight, and a standard par on the ninth, Tiger had three more pars: he was wasting holes and moving nowhere on moving day.
When the players leave the ninth green they have to walk through the busiest part of The TPC. The concession stands, the merchandise tent are there and this is the center of the course and thousands of fans are mingling about. Of course the marshals have a lane roped off for the players to pass through, but the fans are as thick as can be and are twenty to thirty deep and they are all screaming for Tiger. As we passed through the lane it was deafening. It sounded more like a football stadium than a golf course. It was like we were charging onto the field at the Super Bowl. You couldn’t help but think how absolutely wild it was. As the cheering subsided on the tenth tee Tiger and Steve shared some trail mix. I sipped my water bottle and relished the moment.
The tenth was Tiger’s ninth consecutive par. You could sense Tiger’s frustration and the fans disappointment. On the eleventh tee Woods and Glover again shared a few laughs while waiting but when it is Tiger’s turn to hit, he flips the switch to focus mode. He rips the glove out of his pocket, Steve moves in with the bag and it is “go time.” The game face is on and he is all business. A three putt bogey on eleven effectively signaled that there would be no charge up the leader board today.
Tiger took his frustration out on the ball on the next tee shot. He ripped a 320 yard drive down the middle of the fairway. But hit his approach short and it landed in the hazard, on a steep side hill lie between two large rocks. This is where Tiger is his most inventive. He needed to hit this shot high and soft from a lie that looked like Fred Flintstone’s back yard. As the Sirius radio guy next to me said, “He’ll be lucky to get it on the green.” He flopped it to four feet and made another, but an interesting par.
The thirteenth tee is very long way from the twelfth green and the players are shuttled by golf cart, the rest of us walk, a long walk. I hustled down the path and after a few minutes I realized I was alone and when Tiger and Lucas drove by, their caddies were not with them and there were no photographers either. This was one of the holes that the caddies leave their guys and take a short cut to the next fairway and wait for them to catch up. After I finally got to the tee, Woods and Glover were again waiting for the fairway to clear and were chatting away on the tee. The only other person besides me was the cop. I had to stop and laugh. Here I was standing on the tee with Tiger Woods and Lucas Glover too bad my boys weren’t here, they would have loved it. We waited so long that the officer and I were sharing our opinions on Tiger’s game and lifestyle. We both agreed that the money would be great but neither of us wanted to live under that microscope.
Woods could not buy a birdie and parred thirteen and fourteen but on his way to the fifteenth tee he got one of the biggest cheers of the day. As he was walking by the gallery he handed his ball to a young boy and all the Tiger fans screamed with joy. He may not be having the day he wanted but he made little Joey Samuelian’s day. That kid was all smiles as was the crowd surrounding him. As it turned out, that may have resulted in some good karma because on that hole Woods scored his first birdie of the day. He stuck his approach to six feet and sank the putt. With his first birdie in the hole he raised his arms in a mock victory celebration. The fans didn’t care if it was too little too late, they went crazy any way.
The celebration didn’t last for long. On the par three sixteenth Woods took forever to commit to his shot. He tested the wind and was confused about what shot to hit. The trees were moving behind the green but the flag was still, perhaps protected by the luxury boxes that encircled the green. Woods was right to be anxious. As he hit his shot the flag straightened with the breeze and his ball fell short into the creek. The moan was overwhelming. He made bogey and headed to the seventeenth, knowing his round had been fruitless. After a poor chip on seventeen cost him a birdie chance he had his fourteenth par.
Tiger stood on the eighteenth tee with one last chance for a little third round magic. When he drove into a fairway bunker he slumped over in disappointment. He punched out to the fairway leaving him 146 yards to the hole. The hole was packed with fans as usual and Tiger gave them what they waited for. He stiffed it to two feet from the hole. A tap in birdie gave him a one over 72 and gave his fans something to cheer about. But Woods knew he had finished “moving day” without making his move.
Watching Tiger up close from the good side of the ropes was very exciting. There is no comparison to watching him from the middle of the crowd that follows him everywhere. I learned a few things during my four hour and five minute trek. He’s human. Tiger seemed to be having fun even though he was not playing his best. He and Glover spent plenty of time laughing among themselves. Woods was more relaxed when he was out of the fans sight. He acknowledged the crowd and fed off them when he could. I watched him and Stevie hand balls to young fans. I watched as the fans cheered him as he exited the port-a-john. He seems to be keenly aware of his surroundings. He knew to wait a few seconds while another player hit from the fairway behind him, while others had no idea what he was doing. I will not question his “grass tossing” again. He even signed some autographs afterward. This guy knows what he is doing.
I had the time of my life walking inside the ropes, although it had a price. I had no bathroom breaks or food, some of Tiger’s trail mix or Tiger Aid would have been nice, but I made it with a single twelve ounce bottle of water. A little sunburn and some sore feet were my biggest complaints. If players walk five miles when they play, those that follow them (along the side, never down the fairway is the rule) must walk seven. That’s all right. I’d do it all over again and maybe catch Tiger on his A game.