“Let’s go Tiger!!!!”
Shouts echoing as far at the ear could hear were undeniable, and what the ear couldn’t pick-up, the eyes could certainly see. Peering toward the crest of the 10th hill some 280 yards back, a heard of briskly walking spectators emerged. It was clear: Tiger was officially on the course.
Though the gallery size and excitement level suggested a late-afternoon on championship Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship, the low lying sun and glistening dew confirmed the truth; it was only 8 A.M. on Friday morning here at Quail Hollow. Already, the crowds were swarming and the course was a buzz.
I stood firmly against the ropes behind the 11th tee, conceding a mediocre view of the 10th for an up-close-and-personal moment with el-tigre on the next. After a less than stellar lag putt, a heart-felt groan confirmed a short miss at birdie, which on this day, would be a premonition of things to come.
A few moments later, the crowd grumblings on 10 were replaced by encouraging claps and boisterous shouts as the man himself briskly arrived on the 11th.
“Come on Tiger!” Get one here Tiger! You got this Tiger!”
An electricity could be felt in the air, and a childlike giddiness reverberated all around. Admittedly, I felt it too. The reason I played golf stood before me. If not his presence in the game, I may very well have never thought it “cool” enough to pick-up a set of sticks in the first place.
Playing partners Reed and Koepka cleared the way, each ripping drives before Tiger’s turn to play. With spectator’s arms extended and iPhone’s ready to roll, a hush drew over the crowd.
Look, waggle, look … smack.
A piercing 3-wood was met at impact by countless cheers as Tiger’s Bridgestone ball sailed perfectly down the left, laughing over bunkers on the corner and peeling right ever so slightly into the perfectly pristine short grass.
“That’s what we came to see!” an elated nearby bystander belted out to what looked to be his son. Me too my friend, me too.
Jockeying for Position
If you’ve never followed Tiger, it’s hard to explain the chaos that surrounds. Even with my 6-foot 5-inch frame, I don’t dare try to witness every shot. Sure, you can stand at a distance and get a view of play on nearly every hole, but in my opinion, the best part of live in-person Tiger spectating is getting as close to the action as possible. To do that, it pays far more dividends to surrender a few shots to better position for ones to come.
My favorite type of spectating is that where I’m within an arm’s reach. Where I can read the expressions, feel the energy and perhaps even catch a coveted Tiger-Joey conversation. These are sometimes found along edges of fairways or on the green side ropes, but most often tee boxes are where it’s at.
On this beautiful May day in Charlotte, I did a little following from afar, but spent much of my time hopping from tee to tee to get an up-close view of Tiger. The 13th (a par 3) yielded a high, towering mid iron to 15 feet short of the hole. The 15th tee (a par 5) delivered an absolute ripped driver — past big-hitting playing partner Brooks Koepka. And at the 18th, another mouth-watering bullet 3-wood, peeling ever so slightly off a meandering creek and into the heart of the fairway. Each instance of prodigious ball striking — witnessed only feet away — sent chills down my arms.
Not only is it incredible to stand in such close presence to Tiger, but it’s fascinating to watch the trajectory and flight of his golf ball. The best spot is right behind the tee, where those towering drivers and piercing 3-woods are seemingly unlike any other.
Delay. Delay. Driver!
As good as these shots were, his tee shot on the 8th (his 17th hole of the day) was the most memorable of all.
Coming off a missed 6-foot birdie putt (a very common theme this day), Tiger sat at +3 for the tournament, one shot outside the projected cut line. The 8th hole is a 340-yard par 4, where some rip driver and others prefer the iron and wedge.
Approaching high noon, galleries had swelled to a near unbelievable size on this popular part of the course. Spectators stood 5-deep the entire length of the hole, with hoards of others looking on from grandstands and nearby hills.
On the tee, Tiger stood hand on hip, tossing grass into the air. He looked up at tree tops as his caddy Joey pointed and rattled off carry numbers for the hole. The crowd was quiet, almost as if holding their breath. Tiger knew he needed a birdie. We all knew he needed a birdie. A little more grass toss, a little more chatter, and off with Frank, his trusty stuffed-Tiger driver head cover.
Cue an epic crowd roar. And again, cue the goose bumps. No one came to see Tiger layup, nor go home on this Friday night. One more ripped driver, one more massive roar, one more happy gallery.
Despite his perfect drive on 8, Tiger reached the 9th still in desperate need of a birdie to stick around for the weekend. I hustled up the fairway and positioned myself 50 yards short of the green. I listened in on spectator conversations, which shed some light on golf’s current Tiger view: everyone wants him around.
Fathers and sons, young and old, men and women … every eavesdropped conversation revealed a burning desire for a Tiger birdie on this final hole. Everyone wanted Tiger to make the weekend. Never mind that Ricky, Rory, Jason Day, and a host of other A-list Tour players would be hangin’ around. People live to see Tiger.
As Tiger strolled the green and stalked his 14-foot putt, shouts reverberated all around.
“Pour it in Tiger!”
He hadn’t made a birdie all day, nor holed a putt of any length. He’d three putted, lipped out, and misread. Nothing from the prior 17 holes suggested this putt would go in. Yet, we all leaned in. We all held out hope. We all believed.
And in the end Tiger did what Tiger does; that putt was as good as holed.
Even in the chaos of fighting unthinkably large crowds, I promise: following Tiger … well, that will never get old.