Woods sat down with USA TODAY Sports to discuss his new book which details his amazing run in the 1997 Masters.
USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK — During the first week of April in 1997, Tiger Woods beat Arnold Palmer in a tense 18-hole match, shot 59 the next day playing with Mark O’Meara, made a hole-in-one and watched the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
“I thought my prep was perfect,” Woods said Monday in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY Sports during a book tour to promote the release of The 1997 Masters: My Story (Grand Central Publishing, available at tigerwoodsmasters.com). “I had won a few tournaments leading into the event. Now all of a sudden here I am prepping for the Masters and I’m already hot.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better start. It was a dream scenario.”
The following week wasn’t too shabby, either — Woods won the Masters by 12 shots in his first major as a professional, shooting 70-66-65-69 and setting 20 tournament records in the first of his four triumphs at Augusta National.
“There are a few tournaments throughout my career where I felt, ‘Just don’t screw it up,’” Woods said. “That was one of them.”
On the 20th anniversary of that watershed moment in golf, Woods pulls the head cover off his otherwise sheltered life and captures his historic march to the green jacket in a fast-paced 244 pages. With Canadian Golf Hall of Fame writer Lorne Rubenstein, Woods, 41, reflects on his journey inside and outside the ropes that culminated with a hug from his dad behind the 18th green and receiving the green jacket from Nick Faldo in Butler Cabin.
Woods, who hopes to play in next month’s Masters, explains how he used a persimmon driver to hone his swing the week before the 1997 Masters and made use of Golf Channel’s video library to study Augusta National’s treacherous greens. He tees up his thoughts about the changes made to the course to combat technological advances in the game.
He also explains why he wears red on Sundays, what the Par 3 Contest meant to him, and why after he won the Masters and then the GTE Byron Nelson a month later in his next start he decided to change his swing. And how during that epic week he needed to have his meats and went to Arby’s every night.
“I wanted to take the readers back into what I saw and what I felt from shot to shot. The experiences I felt that were important, that helped me to that victory, not just throughout the week but also throughout my entire life,” Woods said. “I was only 21 at the time, but I had been through a lot, but I also didn’t know a lot. In hindsight, writing it 20 years later, it was quite interesting to remember a lot for the stuff that went on that particular week, and the buildup to it. I still get giddy talking about it because it was so important to my life.”
My strategy in 1997 was based on three factors: my length, that the course had no rough, and that it had virtually no trees that would come into play even if I missed fairways. Augusta National was effectively wide open for me.
He quickly shut the door on everyone in the field with eye-opening firepower. In the first round, Woods was paired with defending champion Faldo. After opening with a 40 on the front, Woods shot 30 on the back nine, including an eagle. He finished three shots off the lead with a 70; Faldo shot 75.
Woods carded the lowest scores the next two days. Paired with Constantino Rocca on Sunday and holding a nine-shot lead, Woods sailed through Amen Corner and birdied 11, 13 and 14 to finish with a 69 and a stunning 18 under par.
At 21, Woods became the youngest to win the Masters and broke several tournament records along the way.
While the book offers remarkable insight into each of his rounds, equally fascinating are numerous accounts of important moments in his life that shaped him as a youngster and then a man, most coming from the influential guidance of his mother, Kultida, and father, Earl, and now fueled by his two children, Sam and Charlie.
Mom was, and still is, strong and feisty. As we said in our family, my mom was the hand, and my dad was the voice. I could negotiate with him, but not with my mom. There was no middle ground with Mom.
“My dad was always the person who would plant seeds and give me encouragement but also would say things that would fester inside me that wouldn’t come to fruition for a while,” Woods said. “He was very worldly and deep in his thinking. My mom was the enforcer. My dad may have been in the Special Forces, but I was never afraid of him. My mom’s still here and I’m still deathly afraid of her. She’s a very tough, tough old lady, very demanding. She was the hand, she was the one, I love her so much, but she was tough.
“There was zero negotiation.”
There was zero joy on Woods’ first nine holes in the first round. While he would go on to devour the course, it bit him at the start. The book opens with Woods starting the Masters “with a 40 on the front nine, a two-hour clunker that tempered the massive hype leading to the first tee.”
“I was pretty ticked that I shot 40, but I was trying to get (angrier) as I was walking to 10,” Woods said. “ … What happened to my swing? I putted well to shoot 40. Then I hit the tee shot off of 10 and I said, ‘That’s it. That’s my swing from last week.’”
I knew one thing above all as I walked to the tenth tee: My start wasn’t going to finish me. Most people would say that nobody recovers from a first-nine 40 at the Masters. I’d learn later that the media were already writing me off, even as I was making my way to the back nine.
… I was surrounded by a half-dozen or so Pinkerton security guards as I walked off the ninth green and over to the tenth tee. I could now feel everybody’s eyes on me. I was dimly aware that some were saying the tournament was already over for me. My dad’s military experience helped me here.
His dad also came to the rescue on the eve of the Masters. While Woods tapped into the notebook in his head that he filled during practice rounds at Augusta with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo and others, his best teachers were his parents. Woods got a putting tip from his dad that turned his week around. His father, who waged psychological wars with his son to toughen him up, was ill that week and offered his take on Woods’ woes from a bed in the rental house.
I needed help. I grabbed three balls and got into my putting posture as he lay there in bed, and asked if he saw anything. He did, and told me, “Your hands are too low. Lift them up. Get that little arch in your hands line you always do.
Woods didn’t have a three-putt all week.
Throughout the book Woods touches on race and how the color of his skin and the prejudice he experienced shaped him.
At the 1995 U.S. Open, I referred to myself as a Cablinasian, a made-up word that includes my Caucasian, black, and Asian heritage. I never thought it was right or fair to think of me only as an African-American, and I never will. But I learned that to have one drop of black blood in you in America meant that you were considered an African-American.
“I didn’t have it anywhere near as difficult as my father had it; this was before the Civil Rights movement … all the things he had to endure,” Woods said. “I never had to endure them at that level. Was is it tough at times? Yeah. There were some tough moments I had to endure, when I was in a sport where I was a minority, and often times the only one.
“My dad had to endure a lot of that stuff, and my mother, all the things she had to endure being an immigrant from Thailand. We always felt it was a team, a family, we had to endure some tough moments together. That is part of my life. It’s part of being a minority in golf.”
The last of Woods’ 270 strokes that week came from four feet with the scoring record jointly held by Nicklaus and Floyd on the line. Nine years prior Woods was inspired as he watched Nicklaus win the 1986 Masters at 46. Now he had a chance to break the Golden Bear’s record.
“I had this double-breaking putt, left to right, hit it too hard through my line,” Woods said. “On that next putt I was thinking ‘I haven’t had a three-putt all week, now I have the record in hand and I’m about to lose it on a three-putt. Here we go. Come on. Focus on what you need to do.’
“So I focused and I hit the putt, center cut.”
Just like his entire week, a perfect putt. It was a fitting ending. More than 43 million watched his victory on TV, including President Clinton, who called to congratulate Woods.
I lived in ’97 for that moment when I had to perform. Maybe I don’t live as much for that now, but I still crave competing. But I also realize that, physically, I can’t necessarily do what I want to do. And I know I’ll miss it when I’m done playing tournament golf. Still, I love being on my own on the range and going out in the evening to play a few holes – just me, the golf ball, and the course. Compete, though, remains my favorite word, and probably always will. My parents told me it was okay for me to fail, as long as I gave it everything I had. I have given everything I have.