A warm reminder of Tiger Woods from 20 years ago

July 11, 2019

To explain why Tiger Woods' fifth Masters victory struck a chord with millions of people, I think back to an episode that occurred late on Friday afternoon at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah. Tiger had just shot 67 to move into third place and was in the scorer's tent when I approached him to ask if he'd mind coming to our CBS studio for an interview to air during our late-night highlight show. He graciously consented, and as we walked over to the set behind the 18th green I said, “Oh, by the way, my little girl, Caroline, is in there. She's 5 years old and is really excited to meet you.” Tiger nodded, but he was fresh off a great round and seemed immersed in that unique competitive mind-set he's always had. I wasn't sure what to expect. When I opened the door to the studio I scanned the room but couldn't find my daughter, so I motioned Tiger to sit down. He said, “Just give me one second here. I need to say hello to someone first.” At that moment, I saw Caroline curled up beneath a chair, hiding. She was timid, as all children are at that age when meeting someone for the first time.

“Oh, Caroline, where are you?” Tiger called out, adopting the sing-song pitch and cadence kids use when they play hide-and-seek. “Caroline, come on out so we can play.” Tiger walked around the set theatrically. “My goodness, is she . . . over here?” No! . . . Let me check over here.” Tiger then got down on all fours and crawled over to look under the chair where he knew she was hiding. “There you are! Peekaboo, I see you! My name is Tiger. Why don't you come out and play?”

At the time, Tiger was nearing the peak of his powers, and his persona was quite different from that of the 16-year-old amateur I first met in 1992 during his tour debut at the Los Angeles Open at Riviera. As a teenager, Tiger was self-assured and mature, yet also warm and charming. But the warm outward veneer gradually changed. When he pulled off his “win for the ages” at the 1997 Masters, he already was sharing less of his softer, emotional side. This only increased as time went on. But that gentle moment at Medinah reinforced to me that the wonderfully human side of Tiger was an authentic and permanent part of who he was. The question was, would we ever see it again?

Twenty years later, we've received our answer. On Sunday, April 14, in the moments after that fifth Masters victory, we witnessed something in Tiger that, frankly, needed to be seen. The depth of his feelings, shielded for so long, was what made his “return to glory”—the phrase I used when his short putt for victory fell—so complete. We saw a loving father with two beautiful kids who love him just as much as he loves them. The intensity of the hugs for both his son, Charlie, and daughter, Sam, was evidence that Tiger's life is in a wonderful place.

As host of CBS' Masters broadcast, the emotion of the moment summoned an unusual treatment from our entire broadcast team. Many years before, I had been taught by CBS' legendary producer, Frank Chirkinian, to use silence as a weapon. After Tiger's final putt dropped, I alerted Lance Barrow, our esteemed producer today and miracle worker in his own right, “I'm not going to talk for a long time.” After more than 2 1/2 minutes of silence through all that emotion and commotion, Nick Faldo and I finally offered our takes. From my position in Butler Cabin, I said, “I never thought we'd see anything that could rival the hug with his father in 1997, but we just did.” Nick, who was 300 yards away from me in the tower overlooking the 18th green, added, “That will be the greatest scene in golf forever, Jim Nantz.” Still struck by the historic significance of the victory, the “Tiger” chant that followed from the patrons and Tiger's unharnessed joy with his family, I said, “That hug with his children, if that doesn't bring a tear to your eye if you're a parent, you're not human.”

Sunday was exhilarating for all of us at CBS. Threatening weather had caused the starting times to be moved up, and the live broadcast combined with the encore presentation that followed resulted in a 10-hour day. Though we were live on the re-air for only about 30 minutes, the encore showing presented some unique challenges we were able to meet. It was a very satisfying day for our team.

The choreography was something. When the re-air reached its final segment, we were left with a four-minute, 10-second slot to fill. It needed to be timed to the second to precisely hit our 6:57:21 p.m. EDT off-air time. I filled some of that time by reciting headlines from leading news outlets around the world. Our chief editorial consultant, Tommy Spencer, was vital there. He found headlines from the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, The Guardian (United Kingdom), The New York Times and the Japan Times. With the clock inside my head ticking, I mentioned only headlines from the first three. The back part of The New York Times headline read, “Tiger Woods Wins the Masters in a Triumph for the Ages,” the last part of that nearly identical to my narrative over Tiger's win in 1997. When I recited that headline, I couldn't resist adding, “That sounds familiar.”

We wanted the last 40 seconds of our marathon Sunday to be a collection of Tiger replays with some fitting final words. All I asked for was the last three shots be Tiger's hug with his father, Earl, from 1997, followed by the hug with Charlie, followed by one last shot of Tiger celebrating on the green. Those indelible images required commentary, of course, and as the time frame came into focus I found a few minutes to scribble down some thoughts on paper. This was a luxury seldom afforded to those calling live-event coverage. The vast majority of our comments are extemporaneous and unscripted. But during the encore presentation, we had a few minutes to put some thoughts together. That's an eternity in live television.

Finding the right words was the easy part, and we were fortunate that the essay fit in perfect harmony with the visuals. It was one of those days where the mind was working quickly with the words flowing freely. Not every day is like that. But the bigness of the show must have brought out deeper powers of concentration for everyone involved. My closing went like this:

“It's rare, but every once in a while an event transcends the world of sports. It becomes an international news story, if not a fairy tale. Today was such an occasion at Augusta National Golf Club. It was a glorious message, wasn't it? Of overcoming odds. A testament to the power of the human spirit. Once upon a time, there was a father who hugged a son. Who 22 years later embraced his son. It's storybook, and it's true. Tiger Woods has won the Masters.”

Many elements of the closing commentary were rooted in my nostalgia and emotion. “Once upon a time” was important. As a father with the blessing of two little ones in addition to Caroline, there is nothing I cherish more than making up a story to tell my children at bedtime every night. The tales are make-believe, about imagination. And of course there was the father-son symmetry. Near the end, I alluded to it being a fairy tale, one that came true. The whole thing felt like the right way to frame the amazing day we had just witnessed.

The thrill of this Masters still lingers. “Once upon a time” remains a ritual for my youngest, Finley and Jameson. Soon I will tell them the circle-of-life story of a man named Tiger.