Working with Tiger Woods
By Lorne Rubenstein, SCOREGolf Magazine Columnist
I’ve been asked frequently what it was like to work with Tiger Woods on his book The 1997 Masters: My Story. Above all, I enjoyed learning about what went into the making of his twelve-shot win in his first major as a professional. Our back and forth during multiple, long interview sessions enabled me to get insights into his approach, and the week as it unfolded.
In the early stages of our discussions we watched video of that Masters. One vivid memory led to another, one story to another. I attended that 1997 Masters and followed Tiger as he shot 40 on the front nine. I watched as he walked from the ninth green to the tenth tee, deep in thought. What had gone wrong? How could he turn things around? Was he worried?
I was interested and even surprised when he said he had put the front nine out of his mind by the time he reached the tenth tee, and that he had already focused his attention on what he needed to do. It wasn’t so much that he needed to correct what had gone wrong. He resolved to find the feeling that had allowed him to shoot 59 the week before at the Isleworth Golf & Country Club when he had played with his friend Mark O’Meara.
This was the sort of insight that helped me appreciate Tiger’s golfing mind. I kept this story in mind as we continued to chat during our talks in a conference room in his office in Jupiter, Florida, and many follow-up conversations over the phone. I was provided the opportunity to dig deep into the mind of a golfer who had accomplished amazing things in the game. Tiger’s recollections went from one story to another, and from one period in his career to another. We were having a conversation as much as I was conducting an interview. This led to many time shifts in the book. Tiger reflected on other majors he won, and as he considered matters both on and off the course: his workout regime, the equipment he used, and changes in equipment over the years, his childhood and relationship with his parents, incidents of racism that he had encountered, his views on where he is now in his game and life off the course.
Tiger was half the age he is now when he won that Masters, the tournament that amplified exponentially the expectations others had for him. But, as I learned, Tiger’s expectations for himself were equally high. Still, how did he deal with the intense attention that his play generated? What has it been like to live under the microscope? Tiger answered every question I asked, and willingly ventured into directions that, I thought, were important. There were times I encouraged and even pushed him to take a certain thought further, and he did that.
I found it particularly enlightening to see how deeply Tiger thought about the holes at Augusta National: what he saw, how he played them. He’s an architecture aficionado, and he went far into analysis of the course. He told me that the tee shot at the par-three twelfth “is one of the most demanding and confusing in golf,” and elaborated in depth on why this is so. He expanded on the strategies he employed and the way he saw the holes. There were many times I realized that I didn’t need to ask a question, but only had to let him continue talking. His body language told me when a question totally engaged him.
He leaned forward over the table, or he asked that we stop the video or run it back so that he could review in detail what had transpired.
We started the book in the spring of 2016, and continued until the end of the year. Twenty years have passed since Tiger’s breakout win. I see Tiger in my mind’s eye as he recalled his final round, which he started with a nine-shot lead. “Could this really happen?” he asked himself before that last round. “Was I about to become the youngest golfer to win the Masters?”
All that happened. I saw him win when I was at the 1997 Masters, and I saw him win again as, twenty years later, he immersed himself in, and explored, the details of the tournament. “The Masters has meant so much to me,” Tiger said. “It’s hard to fathom.”
It was easy to speak with Tiger about that win, and his life on and off the course. He is a golfing genius. I feel fortunate to have been writing golf throughout his amateur and professional career, and to have had the opportunity to collaborate with him on his book.