Twenty years after I covered the 1997 Masters for this paper – the tournament that Tiger Woods won by a still-record 12 strokes – I collaborated with him on his book, The 1997 Masters: My Story.
Since the book was published, I’ve been asked two questions above all others: How did the book come about, and what was it like to work with Tiger Woods?
A transcendent golfer who won 14 major championships by the time he was 32, Woods has also suffered multiple injuries and a very-public divorce. Yet along with his accomplishments, and his place as a black golfer in a predominantly white sport, what I saw during my years covering Woods is that he is a golf geek. He enjoyed going deep into the game.
I had on a few occasions asked him about his approach to playing, and noticed that such inquiries engaged him. For example, during a media conference after the last round of the 2005 British Open at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland, I asked him about a shot he had hit when the ground was as firm as a tabletop. I had been following Woods that Sunday, and observed that he elected to play an unusual approach shot to the seventh green. The ball was sitting on dry, dusty ground. Woods played less than a full shot, choosing to pick the ball cleanly off the turf and let it scoot along the ground rather than flying it to the hole. The shot came off perfectly.
Woods said he didn’t have a very good lie, “but I hit it that cleanly and solidly and put it up there, and [had] that feeling, that satisfaction of hitting that quality of a golf shot when I really needed it.” He revelled in the opportunity to use his imagination at a critical moment. Woods won that British Open by five shots.
Fascinated by Woods’s golf wizardry – and wonkery – I always hoped that I would work with him at some point. I’d been writing about golf for 40 years, and had done 13 books, including with the late and great Canadian golfer George Knudson and, in the mid-nineties, with Nick Price when he was the No. 1 player in the world.
In 2015, I approached Woods and his team to suggest I do an article about him as he approached his 40th birthday on Dec. 30. This resulted in a comprehensive Q&A published earlier that month on TIME.com in which Woods addressed both his personal and professional life. The enthusiastic reception to the interview confirmed to me that readers wanted to hear from Woods directly. He was starting to open up.
In the winter of 2016, I suggested we collaborate on a 20th anniversary book about the 1997 Masters that he so utterly dominated. He agreed, and we began later that winter. We met for hours at a time in a conference room at his office in Jupiter, Fla. We watched video of the 1997 Masters. I returned to Jupiter, my home in the winter, last summer to spend more time with him, and sent chapters as the book took shape.
We had lengthy phone conversations to revise and hone what he wanted to say. Woods called me one day to suggest a change in the order of chapters near the end of the book. Great idea. We made the change. We also included a chapter on his views of how the Augusta National course has changed since 1997, and a postscript in which he examined his life on and off the course these past 20 years.
I enjoyed digging deeper and deeper into Woods’s reflections, and frequently pushed him to elaborate on a memory. He retained a clear awareness of the week’s details, and the more I encouraged him to express his views, the more he did. He spoke of his experiences with racism both growing up and in the game. I asked him to go further when I deemed it necessary. Would he want to go there? He went there.
His experiences allowed him not to be overwhelmed by expectations as he came to the Augusta National Golf Club for the 1997 Masters. He knew there would be plenty of talk and questions about his coming to a tournament that had not invited a black golfer until 1975, 41 years after the first Masters. Woods had been steeled to know what was coming when he played the Masters in 1995 and 1996 as an amateur and then in 1997 as a professional.
He spoke about his relationship with his parents, and, especially, with his father, who had trained him rigorously to help him cope with the taunts and the prejudice he would surely face as he made his way in the game.
Working with Woods on this memoir has been a highlight of my professional life. The process was not unlike that of working with Knudson and Price, in one important way. Our sessions were conversations more than interviews. We went where the conversation led. We drifted. Throughout, I found Woods calm, thoughtful, reflective and warmly emotional when speaking of his parents, his two children, and what winning that 1997 Masters meant to him.
Woods started playing golf when he was a child. He writes: “I’ve spent thirty-five years on the course and have worked as hard as I could because I thrived on the battle inside myself and against others. Somebody once said that for a pro golfer, nothing replaces the feeling of coming down the last hole with a chance to win. That’s what I enjoy.”
But Woods, derailed by injuries – he’s had three back surgeries in the past three years, and has played hardly at all – isn’t playing this week’s Masters because he’s not ready to compete. He writes that he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll play, but I know he wants to return to the arena, and to need to hit the right shot when he needs it.
I had the opportunity to learn how much that meant to him 20 years ago at the Masters, and to appreciate what it took for the then young man to perform so majestically on golf’s greatest stage.
Lorne Rubenstein is a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and the author of more than a dozen books about the sport.Report Typo/Error
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