Tiger Woods forged a lasting image of toughness with his victory at the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods won that week despite hobbling around Torrey Pines on a broken leg and against his doctor’s orders. But more than a decade earlier, Tiger turned in another performance with a totally different type of ailment that his college teammates are still talking about.
This Tiger tale came out of a conference call that included former Cardinal golfers Casey Martin, Notah Begay and Conrad Ray (now Stanford’s head coach) to preview the upcoming NCAA Men’s Golf Championship on Golf Channel. Martin began the story, which took place at the 1995 NCAA Regionals in New Mexico. Begay, who is from Albuquerque, took the team to his favorite BBQ restaurant, but Martin and Woods ordered the same thing and got food poisoning. Martin recalls he and his freshman roommate “throwing up all night.”
Begay confirmed the dire state of his two teammates. “I remember going into you guys’ room and looking at both of you just on death’s door practically, and I go, ‘One of you guys has got to go, so you decide who it’s going to be,’” said Begay, referring to the fact that the defending NCAA champion Cardinal needed four golfers to play or the team would suffer a devastating early end to the team’s season.
“I had the leg and the stomach, so I knew Tiger would help me,” Martin said.
And he did. Woods delivered an even-par 72, that included an extra, um, gutsy par on the long par-3 17th hole.
“I remember Tiger was setting up over his shot and then he backed off, walked to the side of the tee, threw up, walked over there, hit it on the green and two-putted,” Begay recalled.
“We were in the ER after the round with IVs, and then we survived and advanced,” Martin added. “But it was not without some serious stress.”
Stanford would lose the NCAA title a few weeks later in a playoff to Oklahoma State.
Eight years later, at the 2003 Bay Hill Invitational, Woods once again battled a bout of food poisoning, this time, from pasta prepared by then girlfriend Elin Nordegren. Woods managed to shoot a final-round 68 to win by 11 shots.
But back to 1995, Ray, who wasn’t there, also added his perspective to the story that lives in Stanford lore. The then freshman didn’t travel with the team that week, but he asked coach Wally Goodwin after the fact why he wasn’t flown in as a last-minute sub with the Cardinal in such a bind. According to Ray, Goodwin said “he’d rather have Tiger sick as a dog than tag me in.”