Tiger Mania

tiger

We witnessed Tiger in the flesh on Sunday at the HSBC Champions tournament at Sheshan Golf Club here in Shanghai. Here you can see him lining up a putt on the 9th, but when I get my next role developed I expect to have a much better shot of him, which I shot up close after he finished his round.

It was really a great event. I, who love golf, was bound to have a good time – no surprises there. But many doubted that my lady would be amused at walking around a vast expanse of land for hours on end watching large men hit little balls at faraway targets. The doubters were wrong; she loved every minute.

In fact, this was not her first golf tournament. She accompanied me to the 2004 China Open, also in Shanghai, which gave tickets away for free because Chinese people don’t care about golf Tiger wasn’t there. The biggest name at that event was Thomas Bjorn.

But this one was huge. I guess there were over 10,000 people there Sunday. And media were all over the place, as were the corporate sponsors. They had an area set up to play games, and I took shots of her playing mini-golf and getting a free ten-minute lesson.

The Chinese love Tiger, and some will say it is because they love a winner. All Chinese F1 fans (that I have met) love Michael Schumacher. All basketball fans love Jordan. And all golf fans love Tiger. People become golf fans because they love Tiger. This is not limited to the Chinese at all; it’s a worldwide phenomenon.

I have to admit, the guy is MAGNETIC. Just knowing that I was on the same course as him made me feel electric. When I saw him up close, I felt magic. I can’t describe it. Star power, I guess.

I got tickets by playing up the media angle, getting a pass to the media tent and a free lunch. That meant that I got to go to the press conference the Tuesday before the tournament started, at which Tiger made an appearance and answered some questions. I tried to ask him if he would ever design a golf course in China (he recently announced the formation of a design company), but the moderator never called on me and eventually a Chinese journalist asked my question. Tiger answered in his usual loquacious, noncommital, and media-savvy way.

On Friday he shot the course record, 64, but in the end he didn’t have enough to win, and came in second – the same as last year. And again, a relative unknown won. This year the champ was Yang Yung-eun of Korea, who beat out third-round leader Retief Goosen in the final holes. Cool finish.

Lord Byron, RIP

Byron Nelson
Byron Nelson

The great Byron Nelson is dead. At the ripe old age of 94, one of golf’s greatest legends has passed on. The New York Times did a great obituary on this giant of the game, in which they said

Nelson won the Masters twice, the P.G.A. Championship twice and the United States Open once. His triumphs in those five majors were among his 52 tournament victories, placing him No. 6 on the PGA Tour career list. His 18 tournament victories in 1945 remain a single-season record. During a seven-year stretch in the 1940’s he made 113 consecutive tournament cuts, a total exceeded only by Tiger Woods, who passed him in 2003. He was named male athlete of the year for 1944 and 1945 in an Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters.

They should have added there (they did later) that part of those 18 victories in 1945 made up a stretch of 11 consecutive wins. Both records still stand, and will probably stand for all time. No golfer has come close to either. The great Sam Snead “only” managed 11 in one season, and Tiger, in all his glory, has only gone as far as six straight – impressive feats, nonetheless. And I believe Tiger has gone 6 in a row twice. But nobody has touched 11 and 18, and I doubt they will.

Another noteworthy part of the article says that Byron Nelson was once an assistant pro in my hometown of Ridgewood, NJ, at the storied Ridgewood Country Club. Actually, the RCC is in Paramus, but hey, what can you do.

Here is my favorite part of the article, which I think sums up the way that I want to look at my own life, whether in golf, music, business, study, or anything:

“”What I did in 1945 was mostly a mental achievement”,” he recalled. “”In those days, I could drive the ball so well that I would really get bored. I just decided I was not going to hit one careless shot. Plus, I had the focus of the ranch.”” Nelson needed $55,000 to purchase ranchland, something he had long coveted. In his memoir “How I Played the Game,” his recalled: ““Each drive, each iron, each chip, each putt was aimed at the goal of getting that ranch. And each win meant another cow, another acre, another 10 acres, another part of the down payment.””

Nelson’’s winnings in 1945 —- about $63,000 in war bonds -— enabled him to buy a 740-acre spread in Roanoke, near Dallas, that he named Fairway Ranch. It became his home for the rest of his life.

I’ll raise my glass to that.

UPDATE 9-28: NYT has a new piece on Nelson here (requires subscription) which includes this anecdote about Ridgewood:

Nelson hit the ball so straight, the caddies there once challenged him to try to hit the flagpole about 100 yards away across the practice green from the slate deck outside the pro shop. Together, the caddies put up about 55 cents. They put down three balls on the deck and gave Nelson three shots to hit the flagpole, which was about six inches wide.

“I used my 3-iron,” Nelson often recalled with a smile. “My first ball just missed the flagpole, then my second clanged off it. I picked up the 55 cents.”

Damn. And here’s what kind of a guy Lord Byron was, in the words of Ken Venturi:

“I once asked Byron why, wherever we went, he would always go into the pro shop and ask, ‘’What is the course record and who holds it?’’”” Venturi recalled. “”He told me: ‘‘If the home pro owns the course record, you don’’t break it. The home pro lives there. We’’re just visitors.’’ Now that’’s class.”