Tiger Woods is now turning 40 and I am lucky enough to have experienced seven of his fourteen majors, half of them, I can say that I was fortunate enough to have experienced his major breakthrough in 1997, when he won his first green jacket in the Masters. However, what caught my attention even more so was what happened the following year, without a doubt, as the defending champion.
Butch Harmon, who coached him at the time and who was a big factor in his success, advised him to play nine practice holes at Augusta with Olazábal and Ballesteros so that he could observe the two master Spanish golfers’ game around the green. I insist: it wasn’t just any Tiger, nor a newcomer. He was still young, yes, but he had just come from winning the Masters the previous year. This story is just one demonstration of the great respect Tiger has always had for Seve and Olazábal. What’s more, recently, in an interview with Time, Woods himself reminisced about Seve’s magic with the short game and about what he was capable of doing with a wedge in his hands and a ball around the green.
I have two other vivid memories in my mind. First, the performance at the US Open in Pebble Beach in the year 2002. After which everyone fell at his feet. I still remember Ernie Els in the press room on the California course. They asked him his opinion on Woods’s Sunday and he bursted out: “give me a break, please”(Tiger’s dominance was just that spectacular). Another unforgettable memory was that same year at St Andrews, not even one month after. That was where he made history. He closed the circle of ‘majors’ taking home his first silver Claret Jug Trophy at the Cathedral.
I don’t know if I would consider him the best of all time, because Jack Nicklaus has 18 majors under his belt and a ton of second place trophies, as it happens seven in the British, but it’s true that Tiger’s breakthrough changed this sport, the physical preparation, mental, technical, even the industry around the grand champion. It’s not that it hurts or makes me sad to see him like that, because it’s been incredible to be able to enjoy it.
It was Nicklaus himself who said that if Tiger’s injuries subsided, he would break his records. He only judged him by his athletic side. His extramarital affairs could have had an influence on his career, I don’t know, but the reality is that he has been an exceptional Number One, as I truly believe there will be no other to do what he has done. It’s impossible to know what would have happened if Nicklaus and Tiger would have been from the same generation, who knows, but it can’t be denied that it makes your mouth water just thinking about it. The last images I have in my mind of Tiger live are at Augusta, at the end of the first decade of the year 2000, when he wanted to but couldn’t, and was no longer as infallible.
We were fortunate enough to have been able to enjoy it in Spain, during a practice round before the Ryder at Valderrama. We also saw him in the AMEX at Valderrama and that is incredibly lucky, the same as when Michael Jordan played in the Barcelona Olympic Games. I didn’t get the opportunity to talk to him one-on-one, but I treasured, for example, the four commemorative books of the Masters at Augusta that I won, signed by him personally. A luxury.
I have never been face to face with him, but when I would seeing coming up to the tee, there was a special aura about him that hadn’t been present since Seve’s time. Genius, myth, legend, artist and the list goes on. And the golfers now, McIlroy, Spieth and Day are another story altogether.