My year in golf: Lasting moments inside the ropes with Tiger Woods

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My year in golf: Lasting moments inside the ropes with Tiger Woods

PGA Tour

My year in golf: Lasting moments inside the ropes with Tiger Woods

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There are always a few other people inside the ropes with Tiger Woods during pro-ams. Playing partners, team members, important sponsors, etc. Woods usually puts them at ease with his jocular demeanor.

It’s the calm before the storm, the last chance for a few laughs and a light atmosphere before the tournament starts.

On one sweltering morning in Boston there was a 13-year-old kid named Brady who got a chance to hang with Woods throughout the round ahead of the Dell Technologies Championship.

Brady was born with a congenital heart defect and had endured multiple open-heart surgeries. He also had a sweet golf swing and Woods let him borrow his driver more than once to hit tee shots with the group.

But when Brady had some one-on-one time with Woods, just the two of them walking in stride at TPC Boston, Woods didn’t ask him about golf.

“How are your grades?” Woods asked.

Brady told him he was getting mostly Bs.

“Bs?” Woods said in a friendly tone with just the slightest hint of disappointment. “Why aren’t they As?”

A little while later, Brady asked him how he could make more putts.

Woods’ brief answer was so simple and made so much sense I still think of it every time I’m lining up to putt.

In that regard, there’s very little to report from my year in golf. I’ve developed a nasty case of the chipping yips now two years removed from familiar Northern Michigan courses and believe Bermuda grass should be banned nationwide.

The majority of my golf was played at good-old MetroWest Golf Club in Orlando and after hours at Tomkos Tavern, where the golf simulators are always on and a good time is had by all as wedge after wedge glides seamlessly through the artificial turf mats.

Much of my time was spent on the road walking round after round with Woods and others on Tour, and those little moments like Woods asking Brady about his grades are the ones I’ll remember the most.

I had a front row seat to Woods’ comeback, beginning with his solo 12th at the Honda Classic and concluding with that dud of an ending at the Ryder Cup in Paris. I always walked full rounds. Even when temperatures hit triple digits, because I wanted the entire picture and figured it’d be hypocritical to criticize players for shooting 76 on a hot day if I couldn’t even walk the course, much less play it.

Since Woods was the most compelling story every time he teed it up, that was the story I followed most aggressively. It was my first time covering Woods so I felt like I was playing catch-up and didn’t want to miss a single shot.

Early on it was clear that all those years watching Woods from the couch didn’t do any of it justice. The shape of the iron shots, the concentration on the tee box, all of it is 100 times more impressive in person.

We all know there are days we go to work and prefer to do our own thing. Trade a few one-liners with the cubicle-mate about that game last night or that new movie they saw, answer emails and then get in a personal zone.

Now imagine you go into the office and co-workers are screaming your name from the second you walk in until the second you clock out.

“DAN! DAN! DAN! DAN! DAN, OVER HERE! DAN! DAN, SIGN THIS MEMO! DAN, COME MEET EVERYONE IN THIS SALES MEETING! DAN! DAN!”

That’s what Woods deals with every second he’s at work in the public eye, and it seems enough to drive a man insane.

It was like that all week during his run at the Valspar Championship, where at one point Woods jogged off a tee box into a Porta-Potty. At least a dozen fans surrounded the area and pointed their phones at the bathroom, waiting for a picture when he emerged.

Even I was mentally exhausted from dealing with all the noise and the constant clamoring for Woods’ attention, the pushing and shoving to get as close as possible. It leaves you with a headache and I can’t imagine dealing with it for more than 20 years.

Dealing with all that and still performing under pressure is one of the reasons Woods can afford his own yacht, but now I understand why he named it “Privacy.”

Woods seems most at ease in more private moments, early in the week during practice rounds when there aren’t a ton of fans watching and he can say things out of earshot. He’s funnier than I expected. Always prepared with a quick one-liner.

Sometimes he’ll let caddie Joe LaCava hit a shot in a practice round, predicting which hazard it’s going to end up in.

During a PGA Championship practice round with Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and J.B. Holmes, Woods had a big smile on his face when Holmes holed out from 85 yards for an eagle 2.

That week at Bellerive was probably my most memorable and definitely the loudest. I can still picture Woods drawing that beautiful iron shot from the left rough into the ninth green for an eventual birdie. I can still hear the crowd react. And I still laugh thinking about LaCava explaining to me on more than one occasion why it wasn’t that impressive a shot for Woods, relatively speaking.

Koepka won but Woods defined the week. Koepka often talks about how he’s not a golf nerd and doesn’t really watch it when he’s not playing. Seems proud of it. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the crowds are lukewarm on Koepka and live and die with Woods. He loves the game and might be the biggest golf nerd on Tour.

How much does he know about golf? During a practice round in the Bahamas earlier this month, a few guys were talking about a course they’d played recently. Woods casually tossed out the fact that “Caddyshack 2” was filmed there.

I’m guessing much of the cast and crew couldn’t tell you where “Caddyshack 2” was filmed, let alone any other player on Tour.

One other moment from this year I’ll never forget – It was Easter Sunday and a small number of players were completing practice rounds at Augusta National ahead of the Masters. Most had already left in the late afternoon.

I was standing with two co-workers just off the first tee, near the veranda back lawn behind the clubhouse. Fans wouldn’t be allowed on property until the next morning. Gary Woodland was getting ready for a quick nine and there couldn’t have been more than 10 people around.

The buzz from inside the ropes during the final round of a major is addicting, but we’re there to observe and retain everything. It’s not the time for grand reflection.

There was time for reflection while looking out over the mostly-empty grounds at Augusta National, talking with two friends and wondering when they would force me to leave.

Those are the real lasting moments in golf. The big tournaments are great, too, but they’re mostly entertainment. A big show.

For me and, I’d suspect, most others, the best memories are generally private and unplanned. Away from the cameras and social media crush.

Maybe they happen with family members on the final green at dusk after a quick nine holes. Maybe it’s the shot-of-a-lifetime on a buddies trip when the drinks are flowing.

Maybe it’s Tiger Woods telling you to step it up in the classroom and unveiling secret putting tips.

The beautiful thing about it is that no one can take those moments away from us. They last forever.

If only the same could be said for chipping ability and the potential to break 90.

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