From The Magazine
October 13, 2020

The untold stories of Tiger Woods

We spoke with those who’ve spent time with the 15-time major champion to share their favorite memory. The best exemplify what makes Tiger so great and fascinatingly complex.

No other golfer elicits myth, legend and anecdotal storytelling like Tiger Woods. Usually the stories entail some lesser-known evidence of his golf genius—an unreal display of power here, a touch of imagination there and competitive fire everywhere. If the punch lines share a common theme, it’s that Tiger does things with a golf club that ordinary humans can’t do.

But it’s not just his golf. Many stories provide a peek behind the curtain and reveal Tiger the person—his values, attitudes, lifestyle, simple likes and dislikes, and his relationships with family and friends. A lot of stories don’t reveal everything, and instead are cryptic parables left to our interpretation. They only deepen the mystery of what Tiger thinks and how he sees the world.

The stories are numerous already and are so ubiquitous and oft-told, they’ve formed their own lexicon. But new ones are always surfacing, and we can count on more for as long as he’s in view. With Tiger, golfers can’t get enough.

• • •

Rick Roberts

Bay Hill locker-room attendant

I’ve been at Bay Hill for 19 years, but my first year in the locker room was 2003, when Tiger won his fourth [PGA Tour event] in a row here. The weather was awful and rainy, and he was very sick from food poisoning, and every few holes he was throwing up. At the turn he came into the locker room and splashed water on his face. Then he put his head down on his arm, and his legs kind of buckled, and I thought there was no way he was going to finish. I asked if he needed anything, and he asked for a Gatorade. His voice was kind of weak, but he thanked me, headed out and shot 68 and won by 11. When it was over, a veteran player came in and said that there was no way anyone could shoot 68 that day, let alone Tiger as sick as he was. That’s when I saw first-hand what Tiger Woods was all about. Sheer will.

• • •

Brandel Chamblee

Golf Channel commentator, former PGA Tour pro

At the 1998 Sprint International, I got paired with Tiger in the third round. We’ve got 10,000 people at least lining the first fairway. There is no escaping the anxiety. On the first hole he hit a 4-iron that punched a hole in the clouds and stopped dead to the hole from about 250 yards. He made eagle. At the sixth, I hit it to 10 feet. He was just outside me, and he circles his putt, working his quiet into the crowd. He pures it, and the crowd goes nuts. He punches the air, does the whole big-putt celebration. I remember thinking that I’ve never been that excited on a golf course in my life. Next hole is a par 3, and he has the honor. Pin is tucked back right. Tough to get to. He makes it. Hole-in-one. Crowd erupts. He does his thing.

Finally, it’s my turn to hit, and as I’m settling in, I hear him whisper to Fluff, his caddie, “God, I love this game.” I stop, look up at him and said, “Well, of course you love it! You make $50 million a year and hole about every other shot you hit. You should try loving it from my perspective.” The crowd laughs. He smiled. That was a transition year for Tiger. He was changing his swing to the one that would win four straight majors, but he did things that day I’d never seen before and haven’t since. Except from him. I won my only tour event the next week, and I couldn’t help but think the experience of playing with Tiger contributed to the calm I had down the stretch.

• • •

Darren Clarke

2011 Open champion, 14-time European Tour winner

I have never seen anything more impressive than the time I spent hitting balls alongside Tiger at a tournament in Germany. It must have been in the early 2000s. We were on the range, and there was some banter between us, as usual. But it didn’t take long for me to notice what he was doing. I hadn’t seen anything like it, and I haven’t seen anything as good since. Every shot Tiger hit was perfect. He must have hit about 200—all pure.

When Tiger finished, I had a look at where he had been. What I would normally call his “divot pattern” was the size of a dinner plate, but there wasn’t a bit of brown earth to be seen. Every blade of grass had been lightly brushed in the same direction. There wasn’t even the hint of a divot. All of which is unbelievable, considering he had used about every club in his bag. It verged on impossible. And it remains the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen. Ridiculous.