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The 1997 Masters
By Tiger Woods
With Lorne Rubenstein
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In 1997, Tiger Woods was already among the most-watched and closely examined athletes in history. But it wasn’t until the Masters Tournament that his career would definitively change forever. Woods, then only 21, won the Masters by a historic 12 shots, which remains the widest margin of victory in the tournament’s history, making it an iconic moment for him and sports.
Now, Woods is ready to explore his history with the game, how it has changed over the years, and what it was like winning such an important event. With never-before-heard stories, this book will provide keen insight from one of the game’s all-time greats.
Turning It Around
It takes a minute or two to walk from the ninth green to the tenth tee at the Augusta National Golf Club, and I needed that time to think. I'd just shot 40 on the front nine of the 1997 Masters, my first as a professional after playing as an amateur the two previous years. Jack Nicklaus said after a practice round with me in 1996 that the course was so suited to my game that I could win more green jackets than he and Arnold Palmer combined. Nicklaus won six Masters, and Palmer four. I felt when I first played the course that it was perfect for me. When I heard from the media that Jack predicted I could win the Masters so many times, I wondered whether he knew what an astronomical number it was. Did he realize what it would take to get to that number? It was an awfully nice compliment, but also such a big number that it was pretty well impossible for me to contemplate.
I figured Jack said that because he had seen that I drove the ball long enough that I could overpower the course. If I birdied each of the four par-5s, then the course was effectively a par-68 rather than 72 for me. I could reach every par-5 in two, and I'd be hitting wedges into most of the par-4s. Yet I'd just made four bogeys and no birdies on the front nine. I hit my opening tee shot high and left into the trees and bogeyed the hole, not exactly the start I wanted. I hit three more drives high and left into the trees. What was going on? I had to make a nice putt for bogey on the ninth hole just to finish the front side 4 over par. But I knew one thing above all as I walked to the tenth tee: My start wasn't going to finish me.
Most people would say that nobody recovers from a first-nine 40 at the Masters. I'd learn later that the media were already writing me off, even as I was making my way to the back nine. I'd played only nine holes and had bad starts in final matches while winning three straight U.S. Juniors and then three straight U.S. Amateurs. Then I announced in August 1996 that I was turning pro and leaving Stanford after my sophomore year. Now I was a professional golfer, and I had quite a challenge ahead of me.
"Hello, world," I'd said at a press conference the day after I announced that I was turning pro. I had just won my third straight U.S. Amateur, where I was five down after the morning round of the thirty-six-hole final match against Steve Scott, a University of Florida golfer. I was two down with three to play in the match, but tied it up and won on the second extra hole. I was a confident golfer, and I'd proven to myself that I could find my game even when things weren't going well. Still, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, who was working for ABC, had asked what I expected when I teed it up as a professional. I said I entered every tournament to win. Strange told me, "You'll learn." I suppose the skepticism was understandable, but I knew what I was capable of.
I then won two of my first eight PGA Tour events as a professional, and therefore qualified to play the 1997 PGA Tour full-time, exempt from qualifying for tournaments. The hype surrounding me by the end of 1996, and going into the Masters, was intense. I was having trouble handling all the attention. Writers followed me when I walked to my car. Television cameras were in my face. I was being asked personal questions that had nothing to do with golf. That was the deal, and I realized I'd better adjust quickly.
This was my new life as a professional, and there were plenty of perks—such as the Nike deal that I'd signed, flying on private airplanes, and, ten years later, flying in my own airplane. But more than anything, I loved golf and competing. I needed to cope with the magnifying glass trained on me all the time. I found it stifling at times, but as Arnold Palmer told me, the attention was going to be there, and it would be unrelenting. If the glare was magnified that much more at the Masters, how would I perform?
I didn't play well at all, not at the start anyway. I shot that 40, and I was bewildered and furious as I walked to the tenth tee. I was trying to think about what had just happened. I needed to figure out what went so wrong on the front nine. Security guards and, beyond them, "patrons," as Augusta National prefers to refer to spectators at the Masters, flanked me as I walked. I decided that my backswing got too long on the front nine, and I didn't like that feeling. I didn't like it when my backswing even got to parallel. I got out of sync then, and I had to get back on the right path to the ball by using my arms alone, rather than allowing my lower body to carry them through. Swinging that way meant I had to depend on my timing, which wasn't reliable.
I wanted my swing to feel tight. This provided me the control I craved. But by control I didn't mean that I wasn't swinging freely. I could make an uninhibited swing at my best, without mechanical thoughts. I wanted that feeling. Maybe, as a golfer, I lived for it, especially when it mattered the most, when I had to produce a swing that wins. I had learned as a young golfer that I wanted to be in a position where my winning depended on my making the shot when I needed to, rather than winning because another player made a mistake. The feeling of coming through was intoxicating.
Twenty years later, as I think about that walk and the issue with my backswing, I know that there was so much more than technique involved. I was looking for the feelings I had in my swing only the Friday of the week before the Masters, when, with my friend and fellow professional Mark O'Meara, I had shot 59 at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Orlando. I lived there, and so did Marko. I took a cart and listened to music while I went along. We started on the back nine. I played one nine-hole stretch in 10 under par and took a few bucks off him. My swing felt fluid from start to finish; the game felt easy.
Along the way, in midafternoon, we had quite a surprise. On the third hole, a par-5, we hit our drives around the corner. I teed off and was going to hit a three-iron in to the par-5. I looked out around the corner and saw a white plume. The space shuttle Columbia had just launched from the Kennedy Space Center. We saw the whole thing, and it was chilling. I'd just moved to Isleworth, and had never seen the shuttle. We sat in our carts and watched as the booster came off to where there wasn't any exhaust. I had been interested in the space program since I was a kid, and I often read about NASA's missions. Sitting there in the cart, I was in awe; just to think, scientists were making this happen. What an accomplishment. There I was, playing golf while seven astronauts had just taken off in a space shuttle that, I would learn later, weighed 259,000 pounds and would reach an apogee of 188 miles—the point in its orbit that the satellite would be the farthest from the center of the earth. I liked reading about science, and suddenly we had come across the shuttle. I felt both small by comparison to space travel, and in awe of what man could achieve. I felt exhilarated sitting there.
We played again the next day. I shot 32 on the front nine, birdied the tenth hole, and made a hole in one on the eleventh. Marko didn't say a word after the hole in one. Suddenly he drove off in his cart. "Huh?" I thought. I assumed he had had enough. It was his way of saying, "This is crazy. You shoot 59, and now you make a hole in one. I'm outta here." I followed in my cart.
Something else happened in the week before the Masters that helped my confidence. Arnold Palmer had invited me to play at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, which he owned. I'd admired Arnold for years, especially his attacking, go-for-broke attitude and the way he managed to not only cope with all the attention his game and friendly nature brought him, but to welcome it. I'd sought him out for advice on these matters, and he was always willing to sit down to talk with me. Before I turned pro, I picked his brain about the world of professional golf, what it takes to get there and succeed, and how to handle the attention that comes with the sport. He was a great mentor as I was entering the new world of professional golf.
At Bay Hill, in what was called the Shootout, Arnold, who was then sixty-seven, played with his buddies every day at noon. This time, I was there playing with him in a group, and it was exciting. We had a match for $100, and I closed him out on the seventeenth hole. But Arnold being Arnold, he wasn't about to say we shouldn't have another wager on the last hole. So, we played the eighteenth for double or nothing. I was miles by him off the tee after hitting three-wood. He hit driver, driver—even though the second shot is one of the most dangerous shots in golf because of the way the green wraps around the lake in front—and he finished in the back bunker. I then hit eight-iron to the green. Arnold got up and down for par, I missed my birdie putt, and so we halved the hole. That was pure Arnold. He had no give-up in him. He believed it was possible to turn things around, whatever the circumstances. Maybe one of the best examples of his attitude came in the 1960 Masters, when he birdied the last two holes to win by a shot over Ken Venturi. He knew he had to birdie the holes, because Venturi was already finished.
I was fortunate to get to know Arnold before I turned professional. Eventually, I won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill eight times, and it was a thrill to see him standing behind the eighteenth green where he waited to congratulate the winner. I was sad when he died on September 25, 2016, and I thought of all those times behind the eighteenth green. Arnold meant so much to the game, and I'll never forget our friendship and his counsel to me over the years. Looking back, I know that he fired me up the week before the Masters.
Then, at Augusta, after the match with Arnold and shooting 59 at Isleworth the next day, I played practice rounds with Mo—I called Mark O'Meara Marko, Mo, Mark. I also played nine holes with Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal on the Monday of Masters week. Seve, a two-time Masters champion, had the best hands in the game, and Ollie—as everybody called him—was also a short-game master. Seve showed me a variety of shots around Augusta's complicated greens. I wanted to learn from the best, from former Masters winners. That was why I made sure to play practice rounds at Augusta with Seve and Ollie, and with other winners such as Nicklaus, Palmer, Raymond Floyd, and Fred Couples.
The first round was approaching, and while I was confident in my swing, my putting was off. Still, I'd never have believed I would shoot 40 on the front side. I was having a problem with my speed, and speed determines line. I couldn't feel comfortable on the greens during practice, and I couldn't make any headway. The night before the opening round, I decided to ask my father, Earl, for his advice. Nobody knew me better than Pop. But he wasn't well. He had had a quadruple bypass in the 1980s, and then had to go back into the hospital while I was playing the Tour Championship in Atlanta at the end of the 1996 season. I couldn't concentrate after spending the night in the hospital with my father, worrying about him, and I shot 78 in the second round. He then had a triple bypass only a month and a half before the Masters. I flew out from Orlando to see him at the UCLA hospital, and, watching the monitor beside his bed, I saw that Pop had flatlined. He told me later that, in that moment, he felt a surge of warmth, and felt he was walking into the light. But he decided he didn't want to go to the light. "All I felt was warmth," he told me. "Do I go to the warmth or not? I made a conscious decision not to go to the warmth." He survived, but his doctor didn't want him traveling to the Masters. He didn't want him to fly.
Pop said, "Screw that. I'm going to watch my son." He flew to Augusta on Tuesday of Masters week. He was staying in the same house with me, as was our custom. He had no energy. He was with it half the time, and half the time he seemed dazed, and fell asleep frequently. Now, the evening before the first round, he was in bed. I needed help. I grabbed three balls and got into my putting posture as he lay there in bed, and asked him if he saw anything.
He did, and told me, "Your hands are too low. Lift them up. Get that little arch in your hands like you always do." I had to adjust my left-hand position and my posture to accommodate the change. This meant that my forward press on the putter was different, but I knew Pop was right. I made the modifications he suggested, and tightened my left-hand grip. Now I felt ready for the opening round. But I still shot 40, and I'd putted well to do that. My putting wasn't the problem. Pop had solved that.
But my feel wasn't there. I was upset that I'd made so many bad swings, and, worse, that the feel of a good swing had deserted me. I was hot inside. Then, just before I stepped on the tenth tee, I let go of that anger, and calmed myself. I was thinking of the feeling I had the week before at Isleworth, when I hit one perfect shot after another. The feeling washed over me. My heart rate slowed. I felt the motion of my swing, and the tightness I wanted, the sense of controlled power through the ball. I felt free. There were sixty-three holes left in the Masters, as my caddie, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, reminded me while we walked to the tenth tee. I relinquished the forced, conscious control I had inadvertently exerted over my swing and game on the front nine. That was no way to play—to really play golf. I needed the freedom that comes with playing. By playing I mean I didn't need to force things, or to overthink the swing. I was executing the old idea that you can't think and swing at the same time.
It was calming to have Fluff at my side. He had caddied for Peter Jacobsen for eighteen years, and was with him for six wins. But Peter had been playing hurt, and had to withdraw from the PGA Championship the previous August. He was going to take time off. I got wind of that, and I called Peter for permission to ask Fluff to caddie for me. He said that was fine, and so I called Fluff on my way back from winning the U.S. Amateur to ask if he would caddie for me. Fluff being Fluff, he made sure I knew that his work with me might last only until Peter was healthy enough to tee it up again. I admired his sense of loyalty.
Fluff was nearing fifty, and he was the original free spirit. I had never met somebody so into the Grateful Dead; he was a Deadhead and had been to many of the band's concerts. We hadn't talked much about the Dead since he started caddying for me when I turned pro; what did I know about the band, and anyway, I wasn't interested. Their music wasn't my music. I was into hip-hop. But I did appreciate Fluff's laid-back demeanor and that very little on the course got to him. He'd caddied for me in all three tournaments I had won on tour. In addition to the two I had won in 1996, I won the Mercedes Championships to start 1997—and he always seemed to know what to say. He was a psychologist as much as a caddie, simply by being himself. He helped settle me down with his "go with the flow" approach. The last thing I needed as I went from nine to ten was tension in the air because of my lousy play on the front nine. Tension and Fluff didn't go together.
Now I was on the tenth tee. I pulled the two-iron out of my bag. Fluff liked the choice of club. I blistered the two-iron down the fairway. There, right there, that was it. That was the feeling I had at Isleworth. My pace picked up as I walked to my ball, and from a perfect position in the fairway, I hit an eight-iron within fifteen feet of the hole, and made the birdie putt. "Okay, this is it," I told myself. "I'll be fine." I knew it, from that one swing on the tenth tee. Sometimes in golf everything can turn around, for better or worse, with one swing. This was the swing that was going to turn it around for me. I was playing a very short course for me, and I'd made my Isleworth 59 swing. Here we go.
I didn't miss a shot the rest of the way. After making birdie on ten I pitched in from just over the green on the par-3 twelfth for birdie. I birdied the par-5 thirteenth, eagled the par-5 fifteenth, then birdied the seventeenth hole. I was into it, and was hitting the ball long and where I wanted to hit it. I hit pitching wedge into the fifteenth to set up the eagle. I was dialed in. My birdie on seventeen came after I hit a lob wedge from eighty-seven yards right over the top of the flag, to twelve feet from the hole. My birdie putt on eighteen to shoot 29 on the back nine slid just past the right edge, and so I shot a 6-under-par 30 on the back side. Forty. Thirty. Seventy. Three shots out of the lead.
There was still plenty of light. I went to the practice range to ingrain the feel of the swing I made on the back nine for the second round. My swing coach, Butch Harmon, accompanied me as I followed one sweet shot with another. Neither Fluff nor Butchie—which was how I usually referred to him—needed to say much. I was okay.
Amateur Days at the Masters
My first significant Masters memory was from 1986, when I was ten years old and Jack Nicklaus was making a run toward his sixth green jacket. My dad and I had played nine holes on the morning of the last round, which had become our annual routine. We came home, and I was watching the last round on television with my parents soon after Jack started the back nine.
He began the final round tied for ninth, four shots behind Greg Norman, and was even for the day until he birdied the ninth. No big deal. He wasn't really in contention. But then he birdied the tenth and eleventh holes before making bogey on the twelfth. His move appeared stalled, except that this was Jack Nicklaus. He birdied the thirteenth, parred fourteen, and hit his drive to the top of the hill on fifteen. That was where his presence registered with me.
Jack was at the top of the hill looking down at the green over the pond in front, and his son, Jackie Jr., was caddying for him. Jack asked his son, "How far do you think a three would go here?" Jackie thought he was asking how far he would hit a three-iron. But Jack was asking his son what he thought an eagle three would do for him in terms of where he stood in the tournament. Jack was four shots behind Seve Ballesteros at the time. Jackie handed his dad a four-iron on fifteen, and Jack hit a perfect shot over the water in front of the green that finished twelve feet from the hole.
What I remember about this is the way Jack reacted to the shot. He raised his arms after the ball stopped on the green, with his fists in the air: kind of little fist pumps, nothing over the top. Still, I wondered why he was reacting that way. He'd hit the shot he wanted, but the hole wasn't over. His reaction made no sense to me, as a ten-year-old. I was baffled that you would react that way when the hole wasn't done. I could compare it to a pitcher who has just thrown his two best fastballs, it's an 0-2 count, and he's showing how pleased he is. But the at bat wasn't over. The pitcher hasn't struck out the batter. Jack hadn't finished the hole. But of course Jack made his eagle putt on the fifteenth, walking it in as the ball neared the hole.
In 2016, at the Champions Dinner that takes place every Tuesday night of Masters week, I was sitting with Jack and Arnold. It was neat, fourteen green jackets next to each other. Jack had his six, Arnold had won four, and I'd won four. I was talking to Jack about the thirtieth anniversary of his win in 1986, and I asked him, "Jack, do you realize what my highlight of the week was?" He said, "I have no idea. What was that?"
I told him that I'd seen him do something I'd never seen anyone do in golf. He asked what I meant. "Well," I said, "you celebrated on fifteen after your second shot with both fists up in the air. I got that you hit exactly the shot you wanted, and gave yourself a chance to make eagle. But I'd never seen anyone celebrate before they finished the hole." The hole wasn't done. I asked Jack why he was celebrating.
Jack didn't really give me an answer. But he did tell me about the circumstances of the shot, and the question he had asked Jackie about how far a three would go there. I laughed and said, "Jack, I've heard that story a bunch of times." But celebrating before the hole was over? I'd never seen that, and didn't understand it while watching as a ten-year-old.
It was a few years after 1986 before I had more understanding of the game and could begin to see why Jack would react like he did. He felt the moment and the situation. He did what he needed to do to put himself in position to win the Masters. He wasn't thinking about winning. He was thinking only about the shot, and what he needed to do. He wasn't getting ahead of himself, which can easily happen.
Jack, after he made eagle on fifteen, then hit a five-iron within three feet of the hole on the sixteenth and made that putt to get to 8 under for the tournament. He left himself a birdie putt of ten feet on the seventeenth green, and he reacted as the ball approached the center of the hole. His left heel came up, and his right hand came off the grip. He was staring at the ball and stepped forward as it was about to fall. His left hand and arm came straight up while his right arm was at his side, straight down, as the ball fell. Jack's mouth was wide open, as CBS's Verne Lundquist, unknown to Jack at the time but legendary since, proclaimed: "Yessir." The hole was over. Jack had gotten to 9 under, which was where he finished after he tapped in for par on the last hole.
His reactions over those last holes of the 1986 Masters made an impression on me because they were spontaneous, and they showed me how much of yourself you have to put into a shot. Harvey Penick said you have to believe the shot you're about to play is the most important thing in the world, at that moment. It's just a golf shot, true, but at that moment, it's more important than breathing. You have to be so involved in it that nothing can penetrate your concentration. If the shot comes off, you might react in a way that you wouldn't have expected, or that will surprise you when you think about it.
Along these lines, I think of my reaction when I holed a twenty-five-foot birdie putt on the eighteenth green the last day to win the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill by a shot over Bart Bryant. When the ball fell, I whipped my cap off my head with my right hand and flung it on the ground—I mean, I flung it, hard. I had no recollection of doing that and didn't know where my cap was. You can't script such a reaction.
Jack's reaction there on fifteen at the '86 Masters has stayed with me, because I learned something watching him that Sunday afternoon. The game can bring intense satisfaction, and it's worth working as hard as you can to maybe put yourself into a situation where everything depends on you hitting the right shot. Jack was forty-six, and I was only ten, and I couldn't put it into words then. But I wanted to be where he was, and doing what he was doing.
By the time I watched the 1986 Masters, I had been playing real golf for six or seven years. By "real golf," I mean counting my score in a tournament. I finished second in a pitch, putt, and drive—an early version, I suppose, of Augusta National's Drive, Chip, & Putt Championship that started qualifying tournaments in 2013 for the 2014 Masters. It brings kids who qualify to the club for the finals on the Sunday before the Masters. At the tournament I played, I won a trophy that was almost as big as I was. I thought that was the neatest thing ever.
That was hardly my first exposure to golf, though. We were living in Cypress, a city of about forty thousand people in Southern California. It was a mostly white, middle-class neighborhood. Some of the residents weren't happy that a mixed-race family had moved in, and threw things at the house—lemons, limes, rocks. Dad had two sons and a daughter from a first marriage, and they told me about the incident. My half brothers, Kevin and Earl Jr., went over to the house where the people who took exception to our moving in lived, knocked on the door, and had a little discussion to clear up the situation. They didn't throw rocks at the house anymore.
Pop had served two tours of duty in the U.S. Army, in Vietnam. He was a Green Beret, and he was one tough man. Pop had met Mom when he was on an information assignment where she was working. They married and first lived in Brooklyn, where he was a lieutenant colonel stationed at Fort Hamilton. Pop was invited to play a game of golf, and he liked it immediately because it provided such a challenge. He was a skilled baseball player, and he loved that sport. But golf gave him another outlet. When he and Mom moved to Cypress, he was able to play at the Navy Golf Course.
My mother, Tida, hadn't been in the United States very long after moving here from Thailand. In Thailand, there's not much, if any, of a melting pot. And now that she was living in the U.S., she quickly saw a side of American culture that was hurtful, and she never forgot that such treatment was possible. She toughened up. Mom was, and still is, strong and feisty. As we said in our family, my mom was the hand, and my dad was the voice. I could negotiate with him, but not with my mom. There was no middle ground with Mom. You were right or you were wrong. She would tell me that I had to be home five minutes before the streetlights came on in front of our house. If I was one second late, that meant one day of restrictions—no going to the park for me. I didn't always get the message—or, I should say, I ignored it—and so the restrictions continued for me every time I messed up. It was my responsibility to get home in time. If not, I knew what was coming.
Earlier, at home, my dad set up a practice area in the garage, and he sat me down in a high chair to watch him hit balls into a net. I was only nine months old. Although I don't remember my dad hitting balls there, apparently I didn't take my eyes off him. Something about the contact between the clubface and the ball, or the thwack when the ball hit the net, must have appealed to me.
I do remember putting in the garage for hours as I got a bit older. Pop had put down the worst-looking, and worn, carpet on the floor, but it had what I would call lanes that were the same width as the head of a putter. I wanted to make sure that my putter moved away from the ball and inside the lane, then back to where I would hit the ball, and then moved inside and away from the lane again. That was the start of what I like to think of as a stroke that resembled Ben Crenshaw's—inside the line going back, through the line at impact, and then back inside the line. I've never wanted to take the putter straight back and straight through. That made no sense to me, because the shaft of a putter is on an angle. It's not straight up, ninety degrees from the ball. A pendulum stroke is fine if you're perfectly ninety degrees vertical, but what putter is like that? If the shaft is on an arc, then the stroke should also be on an arc. The putter swings. It's a stroke, but it's also a swing.
Subconsciously, I learned that in the garage on the ratty piece of carpet. The colors were almost blinding, yellow, green, and orange. It was putrid. My dad never used it, but I putted for hours on it. I putted to music by Run-DMC. Their sound and the beat fired me up, and I still listen to them to this day. My dad was a big fan of classical jazz, though. He wasn't too thrilled with hip-hop. His music was John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. When he followed me in tournaments, he would often take a break on his seat stick and listen to jazz tapes on his Walkman. Sometimes he fell asleep. If I passed his way again, or if he caught up to me, he knew right away how I had been doing by the way I was walking and the look on my face.
- "[Woods's] memories of what happened that now-long-ago April in Augusta... will resonate with anyone who follows golf and especially with everyone who was riveted to their televisions as this brash, incredibly talented young man dismantled the cathedral of golf."—Booklist (starred review)
- "Provides a rare perspective of golf played at the highest level."—Kirkus
- "Woods writes with absorbing focus and profound emotion."—Publisher's Weekly
- "THE 1997 MASTERS is a vivid and ultimately satisfying read about a singular event in American sports."—BookPage
- "For as methodical as Woods tells his story-his recall of every shot and situation is all as if it were 20 minutes ago, not 20 years-it is often as vivid on the printed page as it was in person."—GolfDigest
- "Readers get to go behind the scenes and on the golf course with compelling stories and anecdotes from that fateful April week at Augusta two decades ago. That's not all. Intertwined throughout are shared opinions from Woods on an array of topics and issues, most golf related, some personal and societal based, but all presented with candour and intrigue. Such is the riveting nature of arguably the world's most recognizable athlete."—ScoreGolf
- On Sale
- Mar 20, 2017
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Grand Central Publishing