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.
Coached Woods from 1993 to 2004
In May 1997, I was in Houston for the NBA playoff s, and Tiger was in Dallas playing the Byron Nelson. A month earlier he had won the Masters by 12 shots. At halftime, I went up to the bar and began watching live coverage of the day’s play. Tiger had shot 64-64 in the first two rounds, but his driving was off on Saturday. He was backing up on his tee shots and flipping his hands through. He missed a few drives left, which Tiger hated to do. I called him from the game and said, “I see something in your driver swing. Get me a room in Dallas, and I’ll drive there tonight. I’ll show you in the morning what I see.”
Tiger said, “Just tell me. I want to know now.” I insisted on showing him in person, and he finally agreed. We met after breakfast the next morning and started working on the range. After a while, he said, “Thanks, Butchie. I got it. I appreciate you coming.”
That was it. I wished him luck, and he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll win today.” And he did. But what amazed me was, from the first tee that day, he never made the mistake he was making the day before. He committed 100 percent to what we worked on that morning, and he drove the ball beautifully.
It proved again what I had seen before: When Tiger trusts something, he plays with it right away, no matter the situation. He knows the only real test of something is whether it works under pressure. He always wanted to keep getting better, and as a result, he has made changes—changes that nobody ever knew—while he was winning golf tournaments. That, to me, is one thing that has made Tiger great.
After Tiger had won the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002, he kind of laid low for a week before gearing up for the Open Championship at Muirfield, where he was going to be trying for the third leg of the Grand Slam. Mark O’Meara and I didn’t see him much. One day Mark and I were on the back of the range at Isleworth trying to hit 3-irons down to this one green about 220 yards out. We had played Bethpage, and unlike Tiger, every hole for us was like a driver and 3-iron or 4-iron or even a wood. So we’re trying to get the ball up higher with our 3-irons, just seeing if we can launch them.
All of a sudden here comes Tiger getting back from a six-mile run. He’s got no shirt on, he’s wearing sunglasses, his hat is turned backward and he’s sweating like crazy. He sees us, and he stops to watch, but he doesn’t say anything. Finally, he asks, “Hey, what are you guys working on?” We tell him we’re trying to hit these longer clubs higher in the air. So he says to me, “Let me see your 3-iron.” Now he just got back from a run, he hasn’t hit a ball, he’s got running shoes on. But without a practice swing he hits this 3-iron not at the green Mark and I were aiming at but at the next green, about 245 yards out. He flew it right into the middle of that green, handed the club back to me and said, “Just do that.” Mark and I looked at each other like, We’re trying to beat that? I put the club back in my bag and said, “I’m going to go over here and putt more; maybe that will help.”