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Tiger Woods on Wednesday in his press conference ahead of the Genesis Invitational.
Tiger Woods was once not Tiger Woods. So he thought he needed to show proof.
It was 1992, the then-16-year-old had asked his high school principal if he could be excused to play at Riviera Country Club on a couple of school days, and he was on the first tee for his first shot at a PGA Tour event. Thirty years later, ahead of this week’s Genesis Invitational at Riv, Woods remembered well his sponsor invite to the then-called Los Angeles Open. And the tee shot on the iconic par-5 1st.
“I remember when I hit my first tee shot there, I hit my little 3-wood out there, I looked like the size of a 3-wood, but it was neat to be a part of that first tee shot,” Woods said.
“You look back at that tee shot, OK, every great champion has basically from the ’40s on has hit that tee shot. You see photos of [Ben] Hogan and [Byron] Nelson and everyone after that, subsequent after that, all hit that tee shot. You can’t lengthen that tee shot; it’s not going anywhere. The clubhouse is in the same spot, the same road, the same cart path, same everything. It’s an iconic tee shot.”
And what does Woods remember most about his? He’s now the host of the event, and as part of his duties, he picks an exemption in honor of Charlie Sifford, the first Black man to play in a Tour event. This year, it’s Aaron Beverly, and Woods was asked what advice he’d give him.
Hint: If you find the video, check out his left front pants pocket. Remember, he was not always Tiger Woods.
“Well, first of all, don’t do what I did,” Woods said. “I had — we all have our credentials; you guys hang your lanyards around your neck. I had my credential in my left front pocket, and I remember on the range, a couple putts I hit, I actually hit it. I’m like, maybe I should move this. But yeah, they won’t let me in the tournament. So I didn’t move it. If you look at my left front pocket, I’ve got my little credential there.
“Don’t put it there. It’s a bad spot.”
The Skratch website shows it well here. Over about 400 words, Woods remembered more of his late February 1992 rounds.
“Looking back on it, I was trying to explain this earlier to a few people,” Woods said. “It was — I was in high school. I was, what, a sophomore in high school. It was like going from playing JV baseball to all of a sudden facing — you’re going to be on the bump against Nolan Ryan. That’s how big a jump that felt like.
“I thought I played well. I shot 72-75, and I felt like I could improve maybe four shots better, and I was still 17 back of Davis [Love III, the runner-up, after a playoff, to Fred Couples]. It was quite humbling, but I had to say, OK, this is one of the — you have to understand where I grew up. I grew up playing public golf courses. I played down there at Heartwell Golf Park down there, a little 18-hole, par-3 course. If you guys remember the pyramid of clubs — three clubs on each side, so you carry that around, a six-pack of beer — and that’s how they played golf, right?
“Well, to play in a Tour event, to not have to use a range token and to have brand new — at that time, brand-new balata balls on the range, I wanted to fill my bag and like steal the whole thing. That’s the difference between going from where I was playing at the time to come out here and playing on Tour. It was an enormous chasm.
“I was lucky enough to get an exemption to play here. Mr. Nelson gave me an exemption to play at his tournament in Dallas. So eventually when I ended up getting a few more exemptions, I won a few events that allowed me to play a few more tournaments, that chasm didn’t seem as big and didn’t seem as, you know, awe-inspiring, an awe moment. I feel like I’ve been here, I’ve seen this, I know what these guys are capable of, now can I do this. It wasn’t as big a shock factor.
“So having that exemption at that age, yes, it was a big jump, eye-opening, but it allowed me to understand how far I had to go, how much I had to work. I had to go dig it out of the dirt. Charlie and I used to talk about that all the time, you’ve got to go earn it in the dirt. Perseverance, as Aaron was alluding to, that’s what embodied Charlie and that’s what allowed me to get here. I persevered, I worked my butt off, I went out there and earned it in the dirt, which allowed me to get on Tour.”
Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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