Curt Sampson Chasing Tiger

ISBN 13: 9781437951288

Chasing Tiger

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9781437951288: Chasing Tiger
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A groundbreaking account of the state of golf and the man who changed the game forever -- Tiger Woods. Sampson digs deep to tell stories about Tiger Woods that wouldn t otherwise be told. From the Austin golf course worker whose admiration for Woods leads him to spend every waking minute mimicking him, to the unemployed talk show host whose web site stretches the bounds of hero worship, to the other end of the scale, where up-and-coming pro Charles Howell III -- tapped by Jack Nicklaus to be the next great challenge to Woods -- attempts to close the gap. By turns moving, hilarious, and eye-opening, this is an affectionate yet wary account of one extraordinary man s impact on the world of sports, and the game of golf as it moves into a new era.

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About the Author:

Curt Sampson is a former touring professional and a regular contributor to Golf magazine and Golf.com. He is the author of seven books, six of them on golf, including the bestsellers The Masters and Hogan. He lives in Ennis, Texas.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One:Total Commitment!

In my department, there are six people who are afraid of me, and one small secretary who is afraid of all of us. I have one other person working for me who is not afraid of anyone, not even me, and I would fire him quickly, but I'm afraid of him.
-- Joseph Heller, Something Happened

The chase begins on the practice tee.

It's an agonizing pursuit, because progress is slow, hard to measure, and harder to hold. You might towel off after hitting five hundred balls with the uneasy feeling that you're just another stupid, spinning dog who thinks he's finally gaining on his tail. When you're chasing Tiger, and not just improvement, the goal seems to keep receding into the distance. Because Tiger's practicing too, probably harder and smarter than you are.

So tread softly on the practice tee, and keep your voice down. For the mind of the man at work is like a napping baby in a stuffy room, perched on the thin edge between sweet dreams and cranky wakefulness. Just one mis-hit golf ball and the fretting starts. This could be a trend, baby, his inner voice whispers. You need a lesson, you need a rest, your clubs aren't right. You should have stretched before you came out here. Or did you stretch too much? Maybe your wife should be here. Maybe she should go away. You could be losing it.

He could be losing it, thinks the caddie, calculating 5 percent of the money a man who hits shots like that might win this week. The batmen stand behind their employers with nothing much to do, insecurity and caffeine keeping them upright. Every caddie knows the gentle modern phrase for "you're fired." They've all heard it before: "Joe, you've done a great job. But I think I need a change." Yeah, like a baby needs a new diaper, the dismissed looper thinks but doesn't say. He's afraid to. If he lets it get ugly he'll have a harder time getting another bag to carry.

Perhaps our pro strikes a second bad shot, and a third. Then a calm voice may intrude into his consciousness. "You're sliding under it a bit. Let's just slow it down and get back to thinking about stability, here" -- the man with the soothing voice is touching the golfer now, with an intimate hand on a knee or a shoulder or the small of the back -- "and here." The instructor speaks softly, for these words are meant for no one else. Another shot goes off line, or flies too low, or too high, or with too little force. The golfer's jaw muscles ripple as he rakes out another golf ball from the pile. And the teacher wonders, did I say the wrong words, or were they the right words poorly expressed? While he'll have a hundred students besides this one, instructors are more sensitive and image conscious than caddies, so for them dismissal by a student is castration. Besides, losing a high-profile client is not good for trade. A really solid shot: "That's it! That's pure. That's Hogan."

Hogan is right. An obsessive man named William Ben Hogan discovered the joy of incessant practice seventy years ago, and as he won U.S. Opens and his influence spread, the headquarters of professional golf gradually moved from the bar to the rehearsal hall. As 1956 Masters and PGA champion Jack Burke likes to say, every golf course had its own sports psychologist back then, and his name was Jack Daniels. Why we followed Hogan instead of his contemporary and equal Byron Nelson, who didn't like to practice much (but didn't drink, either), is a damn good question, one we can talk about over a beer.

For half a century now, and increasingly each year, the heart of golf thumps on the broad, flat stage of the practice tee, where nothing counts but everything is crucial. Fear sucks the oxygen from the air, and the ticks and twitches of ritual fight off the butterflies. Professional golf had once been social, now it is withdrawn. Most people think it's the money, but it's not that simple.

Like an eighteenth-century battlefield, the range composes itself into skirmish lines. At the front, golfer/soldiers aim relentless fire at distant targets. They joke and banter with caddies and instructors about wine and women, and ask fellow competitors if they're playing at Milwaukee. But for some guys, on some days, the pressure wraps so tightly you could measure it in psi. Behind the warriors, support troops mingle uneasily, competing for a deal or a job or an interview while still watching the golfers with the preoccupied vigilance of mothers on the beach. The tension at the front rolls to the rear.

The fourth regiment in the range war gets its stress from the data streaming into its ears via cell phone. "We're down 6 percent versus the second quarter last year," the boss says. "Those bastards from Callaway and Titleist are up 5 percent. So we have a problem. You have a problem." Sincere men with insincere laughs, the equipment reps look over your shoulder when you talk with them, alert as bird dogs for a signal from a player to fetch him a club or to approach for a conference. Those come-hither gestures are pregnant with money, because amateurs play what the pros play. The golf equipment and apparel market is very volatile, and consumer loyalty has been crumbling for years.

The reps' weapons are vigilance, sunscreen, and golf bags crammed with drivers, woods, wedges, putters, and naked shafts. Often their collective wares sit like yard sale merchandise in a little roped-in paddock about twenty-five paces from the front. There, the navy and gray satchel of Fujikura Performance Shafts does silent battle with UST Proforce Gold Like No Other Shafts, and with Penley, and Aldila, and Rifle High Performance, and True-Temper WITH BI-MATRIX TECHNOLOGY. In clubs it's TaylorMade, Callaway, PING, Cleveland, Titleist, Hogan, Sonartec, Porsche Design, and the rest. If a player who usually plays a Porsche with a Penley decides to test-drive a Ping with a Proforce, four reps eye each other, and the player, and the flight of his golf balls against the sky. And calculate what will happen to their careers if this particular PGA Tour star joins or leaves the stable.

The media, the ants at this picnic, are of two distinct types, one frantic, the other watchful. Two- or three-person local TV crews rush and push and never seem to catch up. "Producer says we've got to get twenty-five seconds of the defending champ!" says the on-camera man or woman. "He was supposed to be here. Parnevik, you know, the guy with the funny hat? Brad, you know which one he is?" Brad the cameraman doesn't have a clue. He'll be shooting a traffic accident tomorrow, then a city council meeting. He's dressed for a hike, or to wash his Isuzu, or for beers at a place with sweaty floors. An hour ago, the on-camera man looked ready for his table at the Four Seasons, but now his makeup is melting from the pressure and the May Texas swelter.

Writers adopt a lower-key posture, similar to that of birdwatchers. They blend, they move slowly and quietly, and they ask if they may ask a few questions. Only camera- and soundmen rank lower sartorially. Equipment reps, instructors, and players dress for golf, with more blacks and navies this year than last, and more texture interest. Caddies wear baggy beige Bermuda shorts and running shoes. Wraparound sunglasses rest the eyes and hide anxiety for the first four groups. But the English majors who consider themselves the intellectuals of the practice tee have no time for the latest look, or not enough money. The hallmark of the writers' ensemble is the free golf shirt. An actual logo on one such garment, painted on, not stitched in: "Art Sellinger Doritos Light Tortilla Chips Long Drive Pro-Am."

Unless it's the last few minutes before the final round of the U.S. Open or the PGA, the men and women from the national TV networks do not bother with the practice tee hubbub.

Who fears the media? Almost everyone on the tee -- as much for the interruptions they represent as for what they might broadcast or write. But reporters are easy to block in most cases, either by being unavailable or by responding with no elaboration or with the worst clichés. Cold shoulders give writers the willies and reinforce their worst traits: insecurity, superiority, and a tendency to be judgmental, even vindictive.

Only one group moves with complete ease from the front of the range to the back fence. Agents -- the generals in the range war -- nod, wave, or speak to almost everyone. Smart guys, many of them lawyers or business school grads, their fashion sense and interpersonal skills are the best on the tee. For example, here's David Yates of Gaylord Sports Management, Scottsdale, Arizona, in a sky-blue pinpoint cotton long-sleeved dress shirt, charcoal-gray double-pleated slacks, hand-tooled leather belt with a metal tip, and handmade Italian loafers. He worked for fifteen years at International Management Group, the inventor of the sports agency and still by far the biggest player. He rose to VP and represented such as Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, and Mark Calcavecchia, so he's got the business part down. Once a prominent amateur golfer, he coached the sport at the United States Military Academy, Stanford, and the University of Oklahoma. Tour player Andrew Magee graced his squad at OU. So Yates knows the golf part, too.

He shakes the hand of a player his old agency represents, and they chat for a moment. Then his eyes scan upward, to the top of a steep embankment twenty feet above the practice putting green, and he recognizes the head and shoulders of a former IMG colleague, Clarke Jones. Their eyes meet, or seem to. From Yates's point of view, Jones looks like a sniper in a coat and tie. But Jones pulls out a cell phone, not a rifle. And Yates is sure that Jones is calling back to IMG headquarters in Cleveland, to Alastair Johnston or to the founder, Mark McCormack, to report a seeming violation of the noncompete clause in Yates's exit agreement. "I'll talk to whoever I want to," Yates mutters at Jones, who is too far away to hear. Their eyes might have locked at this point, like those of duelists at high noon, had not each been wearing the inevitable, impenetrable sunglasses.

Friendships on the tee are really more like truces. Everyone affects a poker-faced coolness. Meanwhile, agents dread poaching from other agents, and indecision and lowball pricing from the club, shirt, shaft, and ball manufac-turers with whom they are supposed to make endorsement deals, and the moods and whims of their clients. Equipment and apparel reps fear and mistrust each other, as do instructors, caddies, and writers. The players fear a thousand things, including fear itself, but mostly they're frightened of the future. And everyone's a little nervous about them, the sweating, incessantly practicing golfers at the front.

No one fears nothing. Except one man. Tiger.

Here he comes.

A few children skip before him in the late afternoon sun, as if to strew rose petals in the path of a new bride and groom. Like fighter jets escorting a bomber, four stern, uniformed men surround him. Caddie Steve Williams flies the point, walking fast, carrying a big black and white golf bag emblazoned BUICK. From nowhere -- for it's 6:30 P.M. on a muggy Tuesday and the tournament doesn't begin until Thursday -- a crowd appears. Down the hill Tiger strides, a lithe, slender athlete in baggy pants. Just got here from his home in Florida, in-the-know fans tell each other. Won the last time he played, of course, the Masters, and now he owns all four of the major trophies. No one's ever done that, except, I guess, Bobby Jones. How old is he now? Twenty-five? My God, a woman says, seeing him for the first time, he's magnificent. Is he, like...? No, I think he dropped his girlfriend. Why, do you want to ask him out?

Past the practice putting green, through the ropes and onto the tee strides Eldrick T. Woods. With its proximity to bathrooms, the equipment reps, a chipping area, and the building housing the Byron Nelson Golf School, the right side of this tee is the social side. Tiger and Steve go left.

"No, no, no, goddammit. Speed it up," he says. Tiger is a mutterer. Another swing. "Faster!" Another. "Too fast. See, now it spins out. Match the swing and the hip." He's as profane as a Marine Corps DI, which may have something to do with two men: Earl, his father, and Butch Harmon, his teacher, both of whom are Vietnam combat vets. Tiger cusses casually, making an unnatural suggestion to caddie Williams, or caustically tearing into himself on the practice tee with almost the same sincerity he showed in the heat of his most recent tournament. For example: "A flier," he'd snarled on the ninth fairway in the last round at the Masters. "Goddammit." A flier is an iron shot that goes too far because grass intervenes between club head and ball, reducing its spin. CBS's sophisticated audio equipment broadcast the monologue.

"Did he say what I think he said?" a ten-year-old student at a Catholic elementary school asked his father. "Yeah," the father replied, continuing to stare at the television. "And you can say that, too. The next time you're leading the Masters with nine to play."

For as Earl Woods told Golf Digest, "You can't have it both ways with Tiger. You can't have charismatic abilities to execute the marvelous shots and then chastise him when that same passion causes him to overload when he hits a bad shot." Besides, Earl said, swearing runs in the family. "My father could swear for thirty minutes and never repeat himself. He was that good."

No parent need fear that Tiger will corrupt America's youth. His intent and his effect is quite the opposite, and his overall presentation of success and wholesomeness is strong. As for the audible cussing, we tend to blame the boom mikes -- for competitors this intense, and this successful, we'll cut some slack. After all, would Wheaties put a pretender on its box? Does Disney hire reprobates to endorse its TV networks? Unless he's caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, Woods has nothing to worry about in terms of image.

We love him. Corporate America pursues him with embarrassing ardor, so his endorsement income of $54 million in 2000 will probably increase as the old deals expire and new ones take their place. "I see him in two or three years going over $100 million annually in endorsements," says Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports and Celebrities. "There are some major categories he's not in: soft drinks, telecommunications, fast food. He's made no secret he loves the Golden Arches." And Taco Bell.

If Tiger follows in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and urges the world to eat more Big Macs, the deal will probably be brokered by his agent, International Management Group, of Cleveland, Ohio. The 1995 PGA champion, Steve Elkington, exaggerating a bit for effect, says that some day Tiger will be a kind of loss leader for his agency, "that IMG is going to be paying him." Perhaps the analogy is to the huge Mercedes Benz logo in front of its factory by I-95 in northern New Jersey, the most heavily traveled piece of road in the world. For being its glowing blue, forty-foot-high trademark, Tiger gets a special deal from IMG -- a lower commission rate, a bit of stock --...

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