The Time I Saw Tiger Woods Win His Last Major Championship
The first time I saw Tiger Woods in person I stopped and stared at him. And I didn't even feel awkward about it.
They say the same thing happens when a person sees Michael Jordan for the first time. I've never seen His Airness up close but I did stop and stare when I saw The Great One for the first time when I was 10 years old...Wayne Gretzky made a lot of us stop and stare when we were growing up.
Some athletes just have that way about them. We idolized them so much and we pretended to be them, or at least emulate some of their awe-inspiring sporting characteristics when we were kids, that seeing them for the first time puts us almost in a state of shock.
The first time I saw Tiger Woods I wasn't a wide-eyed kid, I was a full grown man. But I stopped and stared anyways.
Time For A Road Trip To See Tiger Woods
About six months earlier my Dad and I decided it would be well worth it to drive over 1400 miles from Vancouver to San Diego to see Tiger Woods play - and hopefully win- the U.S. Open.
It was to be the ultimate father and son road trip to see in person the golfing greatness that kept our eyes glued to the TV's back in Vancouver whenever Tiger was playing in a tournament. It would be a 24-hr drive from start to finish, with an overnight stop in Oregon along the way, but it was a trip we were both excited to take.
What other golfer would inspire a father and son to purchase two sets of week long golf passes, rent a Dodge Charger, book a sea-side hotel for 10 nights, pay for expensive summer gas, fast-food along the way and drive over 2000 Canadian kilometers?
Only Tiger Woods.
Back in 2008, Tiger was near the top of his game. He had already won three times that year and finished second at the Masters so we had high hopes we would get to see Woods win another Major at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Part of me obviously wanted to see Woods win but the thing I couldn't wait to do was stand behind Tiger on the tee and watch him drive the golf ball, to see his ball in flight off the club face. I imagined how majestic that would be.
During a Monday practice round I would get that chance.
Chasing Tiger Woods
Practice rounds are different than regular tournament days because fans are allowed to bring their cameras on the course and snap as many pictures as they want. And there were lots of them at Torrey Pines - fans and cameras, especially later in the week.
I can still remember Tiger Woods joking to his caddy at the time, Stevie Williams, that all the cameras flashes were like a nightclub out here.
The first time I saw Tiger Woods he was off in the distance walking down the fairway towards his ball during the Monday morning practice round. I had successfully tracked him down and was waiting at the green to watch his approach and then I planned on following him to the next tee and beyond.
He hit a low, punch shot that hit and checked a few feet from the pin and then he made his way towards the green where I was standing. The 1400 mile journey instantly became worth it.
As he strolled down the fairway and got closer and closer to me he looked shorter than I imagined he would. But he was in great shape, I remember thinking to myself that Tiger looks like he could excel in any sport. He was just so athletic and strong.
Instead of watching Tiger putt out on the green I walked a short distance to the next tee and positioned myself so he would be right in front of me on the next hole. At that time early on Monday morning, there were only a handful of us watching Tiger practice, so I stood beside the next tee with a mother and son waiting for Tiger to make his way towards us.
And this is the part where I stopped and stared.
Tiger Woods was now standing less than 10 feet away from me on the tee box and I just stood there watching him, every movement, every turn of his head, every smile, every stretch of his muscles, every word spoken. This was amazing!
And then I remembered I had a digital camera around my neck so I fumbled around awkwardly and took my first picture of Tiger Woods.
And then something really cool happened.
Stevie Williams walked over to the mother and son beside me and asked if they wanted to meet Tiger? I hadn't noticed it but the little boy had a stuffed animal in his hands that he wanted to give to his golf hero.
Stevie led the shy boy under the ropes over to Tiger and said here's a little guy who wants to give you something. Tiger smiled, walked right up to him and happily accepted his gift.
At that moment, I wished everyone could see what I was seeing. Does Tiger do this all the time? Do kids regularly get under the ropes to meet Tiger Woods? Wow, I didn't know this even happened. I was really proud of Tiger, that made me like him even more.
During the next three days in San Diego I followed Tiger around with my camera on the course and even thanked him for the pictures I'd been taking but he didn't acknowledge my thank-you. I didn't expect him to respond but I thanked him anyways because we saw each other face to face and it was the only thing I could think of saying to him after he had taken a snack break and was catching up with the rest of his foursome during a foggy morning sea-side practice round.
'Thanks for the pictures, Tiger.'
Where were you for 'the putt'
Whenever I golf with new friends I meet on the first tee, the friendly conversation usually comes around to our favorite golfing moments. I've heard some great stories but not many are better than the time I saw Tiger Woods win his last major.
The question I inevitably get when I tell them I was at Torrey Pines in 2008 is where were you when Tiger made the putt on 18 to force the playoff?
The truth is I was walking the opposite direction back down the 18th fairway towards the parking lot because I wanted to beat the crowds. Tiger was one down to Rocco Mediate and needed a birdie on the final hole just to get into a playoff on Monday so I was heading home.
Earlier on the Sunday morning I separated from my Dad so I could bounce from hole to hole and get the best looks at Tiger Woods as he went for the U.S. Open Championship.
My Dad decided to park himself right beside the 18th green in the front row and told me he wasn't going to move all day.
'I'm not moving, this is the place to be. You'll know where to find me.'
The crowds were absolutely insane, easily 8-10 people deep in most spots so I went to the American Express hospitality tent, showed my credit card and got a hand-held monitor with lanyards on them so fans could wear them around their neck. The tiny monitors showed the TV telecast and were a total life saver.
Do you ever wonder how the mind knows when to capture an image in its memory so you can look back at it over your lifetime again and again?
After Tiger hit his tee shot in the rough on 18, the massive crowds were almost stampeding down the sides of the fairway towards the green and I was going the other way like a fish swimming up stream.
I stopped and watched Tiger hit his approach out of the rough from the other side of the fairway and as he drew the club back the sun reflected off his club shaft directly into my eyes. I remember thinking this is going to be a magical finish; I'll never forget that moment when I saw that silver glimmer of hope.
I looked down at the monitor around my neck and watched to see where his wedge shot ended up. Some other fans around me who noticed I had a monitor asked where it landed?
'It's about 10-15 feet away for birdie,' I said with new hope to a growing number of fans who were starting to crowd around me because I could see what was happening.
The excitement started to rise. Could Tiger do the nearly impossible and birdie the last hole out of the rough to force a playoff?
I watched Tiger stalk the putt on the monitor, reading it from all sides as the crowds went into silence and watched and hoped and prayed he would be able to make it. It's what most of us were there to see, to witness Tiger Woods win the U.S. Open!
An anxious fan asked me, 'what's happening, tell us?'
I started to give play by play...I told everyone he's lining it up, he's getting ready to hit it now, he needs this to force a playoff...
The fans around me were silent, trying to read my expression as I watched my monitor...
And then I yelled....'HE MADE IT!!! HE FREAKEN MADE IT!!!'
The fans around me and all around the course and probably those watching at home on TV erupted and started to hug and jump up and down...their hometown hero would live to fight another day!
And my Dad saw the whole thing from the side of the 18th green! He kept his word and didn't move all day, I'm not sure how he did it because I left him at around 9 AM and it was now late afternoon.
The playoff the next day when Tiger Woods eventually won the U.S. Open was almost anti-climactic compared to the intense drama on that Sunday afternoon in San Diego.
Later on we all found out Tiger won that U.S. Open Championship with a torn left ACL and stress fracture in his leg. His team had tried to persuade him to not play in that U.S. Open for fear of further damage but Tiger told them he's going to play and he's going to win!
None of knew, especially not my Dad and I, that we may have witnessed the last time Tiger Woods won a Major Championship.