By JESSICA CORNELIUS
CHASKA, Minn. — This picture spoke a thousand words to me yesterday. Tiger Woods, one of the 2016 Vice-Captains for the USA Ryder Cup team, walking ahead of his designated foursome of U.S. players during their practice round.
Each Vice Captain was assigned to a group to observe, advise and guide the group through the masses of fans and gentle rolling mounds on the greens. This Tiger was saucy, confident, and even daring you to confront his “guys.” He was protective yet announcing their arrival at each tee.
With his new facial hair and shades, he looked fit, ready and imposing, unlike the Tiger I saw two years ago. I was fortunate to be his walking scorer at “The Players” championship on a Sunday when he was paired with Dustin Johnson. Neither had played well and we teed off hours before the leaders. Tiger had been struggling to find his game and many said he was done and I even thought he had lost his drive, but I was still excited to be inside the ropes with one of the greatest.
It was obvious that day that Dustin just wanted to get the round done, but Tiger was fighting desperately to find “something.” If you are a Tiger fan, you will appreciate my next few statements. If you are not a fan, give me a minute.
At the first tee that day, his bodyguard introduced himself and told me if the TV cameramen or anyone got in my way he would handle it. Tiger was gracious on the first tee introducing himself to me which wasn’t unusual for most players. Then on the first green I noticed the bodyguard ushering a young boy inside the ropes and as Tiger came off the green he gave the kid a ball. I thought that was nice but didn’t think too much more about it.
Then it happened at the next green and the next green and the next green. I went up to the bodyguard and told him how nice that was of him to do that, he said, “Oh that’s not me, that’s Tiger.”
I watched Tiger engage with the crowd on every hole. I’ve been a walking scorer at The Players for 10-11 years and have never seen a player more appreciative or engaging with the crowd. The media, cameras, guards are everywhere no matter where Tiger is or what he shoots. He can’t hide. After the round, I went into the scoring building with Tiger and Dustin as their scorer.
While they were signing their cards I sheepishly asked Joey, Tiger’s caddy, if he would sign my hat. He said, “Oh sure,” and he left the room. It was just me, the PGA official and Tiger left in this 8×8 room. I asked Tiger to sign my hat and with a big smile he sat down on the desk and grabbed a pen. He could not have been more “normal” or more “superhuman.”
The man was genuine, appreciative, but broken by his inability to regain his swing, his edge, his confidence. We talked for awhile in this cool, quiet room after a long day and for a moment he was just Tiger, without cameras or agenda. As we exited the building I walked out first with Tiger behind me and as I looked up there were cameras, microphones, people everywhere trying to get a piece of him.
It startled me and even took my breathe. I escaped quickly but this was his job and he disappeared into that haze. These guys do this week after week after week and if you are a Tiger, Rory, Jordan, Dustin , Jason there is no escape.
The Tiger I saw yesterday at the Ryder Cup was the confident Tiger seemingly re-energized and ready to once again control the sport, his sport, our sport.
This is a big Ryder Cup for Team USA and for Tiger as well.