Twenty years ago this week, we saw something that no one in the history of golf had ever witnessed: a 21-year-old kid obliterating records that had stood for decades.
Tiger Woods changed golf forever at the 1997 Masters.
This was 13 years before I started coaching him. At the time, I was just another awestruck fan. I was working in the pro shop at Gaylord Springs Golf Links in Nashville, where I was also going to college. Every time CBS cut to one of Tiger’s shots, I was absolutely glued to the little TV on the wall.
To a certain extent, I had seen this coming. Three years before the ’97 Masters, I had gotten to see Tiger up close. He was just a senior in high school, but he was running this clinic for college players that I attended.
The kid’s swing was like nothing I had ever seen. I remember how elegant and long his backswing was, and then the absolute vortex of rotation as he attacked the golf ball. I had never heard a ball come off a clubface like it did off of Tiger’s. And I haven’t since. It was like a train coming out of a tunnel. Every single shot. He hit these beautiful high draws, then some low ones that would rise up like a jet. He hit low and high cuts. Three-hundred-yard drives. This 18-year-old had total molecular control over the golf ball.
I knew all this, but still … watching him do it at the Masters? With all that pressure? At 21? It was incredible. I was utterly amazed when I saw Tiger hit a wedge into 11, a long par-4, and an 8-iron into 8, a par-5. Somehow, he made everything look almost effortless.
But what really impressed me was something much more striking. It didn’t have to do with his swing or putting. It had to do with him, the human. I was more interested in watching Tiger between shots than when he was over the ball. I would study how he walked down the fairway. He looked like an emperor. And when the camera captured his face, it seemed like he would never blink.
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