It was his first time being at Augusta National for the Masters and it’s an experience he’ll never forget.
Michael Phelps spoke with NBC Sports and “Today” on Wednesday about his visit to Augusta National, focusing mainly on what it was like to stand behind Tiger Woods on the 16th hole as Woods was on his way to winning his first major in 11 years.
“Being able to watch him and how in control he is of every single thing on the golf course. I feel like every step is so calculated and every little small detail he pays so much attention to. It’s something I can relate to,” Phelps told NBC Sports as he recounted the Masters final round on Sunday.
Phelps said he has a friend who is a member of Augusta National and he was invited to attend the final round earlier in the week.
When asked how he achieved getting such good seats on the 16th hole as Woods putted his way to winning a fifth green jacket, Phelps told “Today” he just got lucky.
“We met some nice people that offered us a chair to sit next to them at some pretty cool spots and that was one of probably the coolest shots and coolest things I’ve ever seen live in sports and definitely in golf,” Phelps said of Woods’ tee shot on the 16th hole. “Just watching Tiger come back. Watching him be able to do that, get back on top of the mountain, it’s just so cool.”
The 23-time Olympic gold medalist didn’t go unnoticed on the 16th hole Sunday. He ended up on CBS’s broadcast and a screenshot of him appearing just as intense as Woods quickly went viral.
Because no cell phones are allowed on the course at Augusta National, Phelps didn’t know he was featured on the broadcast until later.
“I think that was probably the most exciting part about not having your phone. You know what I mean? You really get to truly enjoy where you are and seeing what you’re seeing so I had a couple texts when I got back to the house,” Phelps said on “Today.”
Even though Woods’ focus was solely on his game Sunday, Phelps is pretty sure the 15-time major winner knew he was at the event.
“I think he knew I was there because I was standing when he walked out of the clubhouse (before his round), and it looked like somebody said something to him about it, like one of the guys walking out with him,” Phelps told NBC Sports.
Phelps told NBC Sports the two accomplished athletes met in 2004 in New York City for a video game launch.
“Through a mutual friend, just reached out, tried to do whatever I could if he needed help, wanted to ask questions, bounce ideas,” Phelps told NBC Sports. “I’ve gone through a lot that other people haven’t gone through in the sports world. I just wanted to support. Tiger is one of my favorite athletes to watch, being a huge golf nut.”
While the two are both champions in their respective fields, the tie that connects Woods and Phelps is much more profound because it’s rooted in perseverance.
In 2004, a 19-year-old Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence in Maryland. In February 2009, he was suspended for three months by USA Swimming and lost his Kellogg’s sponsorship after a photo of the swimmer using a bong went viral. In 2014, Phelps was suspended once again by USA Swimming, this time for six months after another arrest involving speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol in Baltimore.
Phelps survived the criticism and embarrassment of his 2014 arrest to rise from the ashes two years later. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he won one silver and five gold medals to retire as the most decorated Olympian of all time.
In May 2017, Woods was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol near his home in Jupiter Island, Fla. In October 2017, he pled guilty to reckless driving and was given one-year probation.
Despite the hardship, Woods was able to redeem himself on Sunday. And Phelps loved every moment.
“I’m getting chills right now,” Phelps said to NBC Sports as he recounted Sunday’s final round. “The chance to see (Tiger Woods) at that place be able to come back when everybody counted him out. It’s cool because I kind of have an idea of what that feels like, climbing back to the top of the mountain. Having a chance to see him do it on his terms with his kids there, I was speechless for two days.”