By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
NORTON – The line of questioning was as wide-ranging as a Department of State media briefing. PGA Tour pro extraordinaire Tiger Woods was taking a few questions an hour or two before his 12:10pm tee-off in the Pro-Am of the Dell Technologies Championship. He has mastered the job requirement of meeting with the media and he does it with patience and grace and style much better than most.
Tiger Woods at the Pro-Am day at Dell Technologies Championship
It happens, somewhat matter-of-fact, as the PGA Tour weaves its way across America, promoting its brand of golf along the way, selling some tickets, creating some content for PGATour (dot) com or the Golf Channel or NBC Sports or CBS Sports or Sky Sports or ESPN or the local television stations or the Boston Globe or even for Digital Sports Desk.
In a span of only 10-15 minutes, Tiger Woods was asked about “being back in Boston.” He was asked “about the TPC Boston golf course” and the fact it suits him well. He was asked “about Ryder Cup projections.” With each question, Woods looked the reporter dead in the eye, paused for thought, then crafted an answer as if the question was the most important thing he had ever pondered, and as if the reporter was the only person standing in front of him.
In reality, Woods is positioned behind a slew of microphones, standing in a make-shift tent, set-up to shield a golfer from blazing sunshine and 90-degree temperature readings. A half-circle of 25-30 reporters, most pointing smart phones in his direction and either recording sound or video, all standing in front of a dozen television cameras mounted atop tripods mounted atop a riser/platform.
It’s all in a day’s work for the well-oiled media machine that is the PGA Tour and, if you play on tour, it’s part of the job.
Tiger is among a small handful of PGA Tour players who travels with a “PR guy” attached to his golf team which consists of caddy Joe LaCava, agent Mark Steinberg, amongst very few insiders. Tiger’s highly competitive play and its resulting 2018 player ranking as Top 25 on the FedEx Cup Points board (down from Top 20 a week ago because of his T-40th finish at the Northern Trust Open), has him contemplating things he didn’t anticipate when he returned to regular tour play this season after years of battling chronic back injuries and multiple surgeries.
This season, Woods ranks No. 19th on the tour’s money list at a measly $3,439,862. But, do not forget he ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour Career Money earning list at a whopping $113,500,874 some $25,652,605 ahead of longtime rival Phil Mickelson who pulled-in $87,848,269 hard-earned dollars before they tee-it-up for this weekend’s festivities, here, halfway between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.
Not to be lost in the shuffle, that top career money earner to second place gap (Mickelson’s bucks) of $25.6M is more than championship-level, tour-tested veterans like Paul Casey, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, Nick Price or David Duval have earned in their entire careers.
Woods has been THAT good.
Tiger Woods in a practice round at TPC Boston
Because it’s part of the gig, Tiger Woods is subjected to the “pack it up and move it to another town” media scrutiny that comes with his place as one of the two best golfers to ever play the game.
The line of questioning can be ridiculous.
Question: “I spoke to a man whose house you stayed at about 25 years ago, and he said you were playing in a junior tournament, you got sick with mono and got stuck in his guest room for about a week. Do you remember anything about that,” asked an inquisitive member of the Fourth Estate.
Tiger stopped, and everyone gathered had to wonder what was going through his mind with such a question, looking back 25 years ago, coming out of left field before a playoff tournament in 2018.
Yet, Woods thought for a second or two, and answered politely with the same honest demeanor utilized when he was talking about his future 2018 golf schedule or his limited practice this week (Woods was with his children for their first school days and “doing all their after-school curriculum and activities,” he said).
Answer: “I remember I had mono at the Northeast Amateur,” he began recalling a 1993 tournament at the Wannamoisett Country Club in nearby Rumford, Rhode Island. “I remember going, getting back to California and I really had a hard time at the U.S. Junior, even though I got to the finals and ended-up winning the finals.
“I slept in between each match in the clubhouse,” he continued, the memories becoming clearer. “I didn’t have any energy, didn’t warm-up and went out and played the afternoon match. Went home, crashed, and woke-up and hardly warmed-up for the morning match. Anyone that’s ever had mono, not a lot of fun…”
Next? A little more down to earth…
Question: “What do you remember about your first FedEx Cup battle with Phil, here in 2007? Are you sad for next year when this isn’t a stop (on the PGA Tour)?”
Answer: “Yeah, this has been a regular staple for us,” said Woods, as everyone was still scratching their heads on the prior topic. “Our foundation (Tiger Woods Foundation) was a part of this event. (PGA Tour Commissioner) Jay (Monahan) was our tournament director and (newly appointed PGA of America CEO) Seth Waugh ran (former tournament title sponsor) Deutsch Bank at the time.
“It has a lot of fond memories for us,” he continued. “That battle with Phil was a lot of fun, even though I didn’t;’t come out on the good side. we had some battles throughout the front nine, the back nine, but I think we both made birdie at No. 16 and that was the turning point, because I was still trailing at the time. I needed a make-miss there to get momentum for the last two (holes).
“Well, at least we have a future, at least we’re coming back,” said Woods on the PGA Tour schedule change that will next see the TPC Boston in 2020 and end the tradition of having Labor Day weekend golf in Boston. “The people here always supported this event. They come out in droves and they’re loud.
“And, it’s been fun. I’ve had some nice runs here where I’ve played well and they’ve gotten into it. You can hear the roars go up on this golf course. I know it’s spread out, but you can hear the echoes so it’s really neat. It’s a shame we aren’t coming here annually, but I get bi-annually isn’t bad. It’s better than nothing.”
He answered them all. He did not shill for his Thanksgiving Weekend pay-per-view event, nor anything else he endorses for a living.
Question: “What was it like playing a practice round with Matt Parziale, the firefighter, at the Masters? (from nearby Brockton, Massachusetts).
Question: “You talked about the unknown. Your body is new. Everything is new. Are you still using the feels from the past or are you stepping into the unknown?”
“No,” said Woods calmly and definitively, knowing the question was to be his last of the media avail. “I trust my hands and I always have. My hands have always been the thing that I’ve always trusted the most and that stems from baseball. Playing so much baseball, your hands are everything. Obviously, your body follows, but you do everything with your hands.
“So, I’ve been one – you had to work on different body parts and different things in your golf swing, yes, absolutely. But at the end of the day, it’s what my hands are doing,” he said, totally compartmentalizing issues and years of surgeries past.
That’s all, said the PR team and the small media throng broke away, many still amazed at Woods’ media-friendly approach and time spent as he was sweating in the hot, August sun.
As they broke off and a small security team began to usher Woods to a previously agreed-upon TV interview, I caught his eye as he came around the make-shift stage, and asked a question on a topic far more interesting to him in 2018 than amateur tourneys and his bout with mono in ’93.
“Any predictions for the Boston Celtics?”
Just as he did with every question in front of the TV cameras, he took a second and thought. Then he smiled that famous Tiger Woods smile, looking a bit like that rookie professional in 1996 we all remember so well.
“The Lakers will be better than the Celtics,” predicted Woods, playful, not serious, just starting something up with the LA vs Boston rivalry, again, simply joking with a guy.
“Man, I shouldn’t even print that!”
All in a days work for Tiger Woods.