Nothing moves the proverbial needle in golf more than Tiger Woods.
The Forecaddie has been pleased to see the 42-year-old’s game showing signs of life, even if his play at the Masters was a bit rough. Still, the 14-time major champion’s healthy return brings back so many memories.
When The Man Out Front recently ran into Dwaine Knight, UNLV’s men’s golf coach for more than 30 years, he thought, why not gather some lost details from UNLV’s side of the Tiger recruiting battle?
Most know Woods chose Stanford, but many forget just how close UNLV was to snatching up the California kid. Charley Hoffman, who competed for UNLV from 1995-1999, recently half-joked, “Dwaine still probably loses sleep over not getting Tiger. He thought he had him.”
Many thought Woods would choose UNLV, a young program fiercely on the rise. As Knight recalls, he never quite felt the Rebels had the phenom locked up. But that didn’t make losing out on him any less of a blow.
“It was heartbreaking to lose him right at the end,” Knight told TMOF. “I really thought we had a good shot at getting him.”
Theories abound about why Woods chose Stanford – his mom, Kultida, preferring the Palo Alto, Calif., school being among them – with Knight noting that Stanford’s name and history probably helped it win out for the teenager.
Still, even the losing side had plenty of fond memories from trying to track down Tiger.
Knight noted that in his year of recruiting Woods, there would seemingly always be 25-30 coaches around watching the prodigy at his junior events. The UNLV coach couldn’t help but feel a presence even then that Woods would be a historical figure in golf.
But Knight most marveled at his visit to Woods’ house in California during recruiting. For a burgeoning star, it was a remarkably down-to-earth occasion. Woods picked Knight up from the airport, showed him the course where he started playing golf, hosted him for a family dinner and took him to his high school’s football game.
The most famous recruit ever
On the other side, though, Woods was the most famous recruit in the history of golf.
J.T. Higgins, then UNLV’s assistant coach, noted that had its benefits socially.
“You kind of got a taste of what football and basketball coaches go through all the time, where everybody knew who you were recruiting and everybody wanted to know how it was going,” said Higgins, now Texas A&M’s head coach. “It was a really cool time to be part of college golf.”
TMOF can’t disagree. To wit, there was Woods’ visit to UNLV.
Woods stayed at the ritzy Mirage for his visit, and Chris Riley, a childhood friend with Woods and at that time a UNLV player, hosted him for dinner at the hotel.
Robert Maxson, then the president of UNLV, had a reception at his house specifically for Woods. Among the attendees at the event were the dean of the business school, the chairman of the accounting department and seemingly every accounting professor at UNLV. (Woods had wanted to major in accounting.)
So yeah, getting Tiger was serious business.
Woods also got to see Shadow Creek, a sampling of the robust set of courses Las Vegas had to offer. It also inadvertently served as a showing of Vegas’ star power when during Woods’ tour of the 17th hole, a cart pulled up with actress Elizabeth Taylor as a passenger.
Knight pointed her out to Woods and asked if he knew who she was. Woods demurred and when Knight gave her name, the teenager didn’t show any hint of recognition.
“He had no clue who she was,” Knight said, smiling. “His mind was just focused on golf.”
Woods would go on to a fabulous two-year college career at Stanford. As for UNLV, Woods may’ve made the school his runner-up – a point Knight remembers well from the call where Woods informed the coach he was going to Stanford – but the young Rebels program had its profile raised with the Woods close call.
Knight would give part of the scholarship reserved for Woods to Chad Campbell, one of the program’s most important figures. In 1998, UNLV would win its first team national title.
Even decades later, Knight uses Woods in recruiting. A Woods-signed Sports Illustrated cover from Dec. 18, 2000 remains in Knight’s office.
As does an article where Earl Woods, Tiger’s late father, had glowing comments about how his son’s golf game would’ve improved if he’d gone to UNLV.
“I show parents that to this day,” Knight said.
A quarter-century later, Woods’ recruitment is still making an impact in college golf. To TMOF, that sounds about right.