Like an ill-advised Benidorm tattoo, August 16, 1996, is forever inked on my consciousness.
That was the day my parents and I left Orkney – home for all 12 of my years up to then – and moved to Glasgow.
My folks had made the journey in the opposite direction 22 years earlier but, for me, this was a first upping of the sticks. I recall the ferry cruising away from Stromness harbour, leaving everything and everyone I had ever known beyond the churning water below. It was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.
That night, staying with relatives in the south side of the city whilst we waited to move into our new home, our car was broken into. That, so the police told my parents, is what happens when you leave valuables on display overnight. Hello, Glasgow.
Thirteen days later, memories of our old home in Palace Road already starting to fade and an alarm having been fitted somewhat after-the-fact to my mum’s Renault Clio, Tiger Woods stepped up to a podium in Los Angeles and announced that he was turning professional. Hello, world.
I didn’t know about that at the time, although I did know about Tiger. Just a few months earlier, my dad had asked me to join him in front of the telly. The Masters was on. He has always loved The Masters. Well, Augusta National really. I think it reminds him of the garden he never had. Anyway, he wanted to show me “this young guy everybody is talking about” and, by the way, “you’ll never believe his name”.
A quarter of a century later, I’ve spent the last 17-and-a-half writing years about Tiger and his contemporaries – but mostly Tiger – for this magazine. I vividly remember the first time I was entrusted with writing a feature on him. It was an essay recapping his win in the 2005 Masters. His fourth Green Jacket, ninth major and his first since the 2002 US Open. It was a big deal. I’d been at bunkered for almost a year, was only 21 and was being tasked with 1,200 words on a win that I’d watched on a tiny Sony TV in the kitchen of my mum and dad’s home. That, too, was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.
If I recall correctly, my first draft was a barely cogent stream of consciousness. I think I used the thesaurus – God bless Shift+F7 – on every other word. Complete and utter word salad. That version didn’t run. Version three (or perhaps four) got the nod. It was an impatient, reluctant nod but I pretended not to notice. My name was on the byline of a story about that guy dad had introduced me to and I felt like I’d made it.
The first time I spoke to Tiger was during his traditional Tuesday presser ahead of the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham. I had a good idea what to expect but I still prepared rigorously. I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote my question, rehearsing it with tedious persistence until I had committed it completely to memory.
The announcement over the media centre tannoy came at just after 11am. “We now have Tiger Woods in the interview room.” I was already in my seat. I’d picked one in the front row (so as not to see anybody’s head turn) and about six chairs left of centre (so as not to appear too keen).
I let a couple of other reporters go first and then raised a quivering hand. A few minutes passed whilst he answered another question. When he was finished, the moderator found me and with a quick point, it was my turn.
“Tiger, could you talk a little about the par‑3 opening hole?” I ventured. “There can’t be many majors you’ve started on a par‑3. Even psychologically is that something you’ve got to get in a particular mindset for?” A bollocks question but one that received a generous 107 words of a reply. I can be sure of that. I kept a clipping of the transcript.
An interesting thing happens when you ask a question of Tiger in a press conference. Whilst you’re trying to summon enough saliva to get the words out, he scans the room to find you. For the duration of the exchange, he talks only to you, zoning out the rest of the room. It’s a weird, intimate experience.
By my rough estimation, I think I’ve written close to two-hundred thousand words about him. Thirty-one per day, give or take.
I’ve praised him and criticised him. I’ve marvelled at him and worried for him. I’ve participated in both the slack-jawed wonder and the indignant tut-tutting. I’ve witnessed the inexorable ascent to outrageous heights, as well as the subsequent crashes, both figurative and literal. There are better seats in the house but I wouldn’t have swapped the one I’ve had. You don’t have to like him but you can’t deny his talent, his influence and his importance.
You see, depending on what you believe, the Earth is either two thousand or four billion years old. Yet, by cosmic fluke, our time on it has coincided with that of arguably the greatest golfer ever. With any luck, there’s more to come but, if not? Man. What a ride.
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This interview first appeared in issue 187 of bunkered (July 2021). To subscribe, click here
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