Following Tiger ... For An Entire Year

So the other day I was sent this book, "Follow The Roar: Tailing Tiger On All 604 Holes of His Most Spectacular Season", by a sitcom writer appropriately named Bob Smiley. It's pretty great.

It's about a guy who grew up playing golf near Tiger Woods (they were a year apart in high school) and for better and for worse has been obsessed with him ever since. A year ago, in the throes of the writer's strike in Hollywood and with his career in limbo, Smiley decided to turn to the one person he thought could show him the path to wisdom and happiness but without ever speaking to him. Thus, Smiley traveled from the seaside cliffs of San Diego to the deserts of Duai, through the gates of Augusta National, and ultimately to Torrey Pines and Tiger's heroic one-legged victory. Here are a couple of excerpts I'm sure you'll enjoy.

Tavistock Cup, Orlando, Florida, March 24, 2008

I sit down for dinner at nearby Jersey Mike's sub shop and start to flip through the complimentary Tavistock program. The paper they use to print it is of such high quality that when I try to hold open the pages with my soda, the cover flies back at me in rebellion. Given the ads inside, it's apparent its producers are well aware of their readers' taste. One realty listing is for a $12 million "French farmhouse" that boasts of having its own massage room and "apothecary theatre lobby." I know what a theatre lobby is, and I know that an apothecary is a pharmacy. How in the world those combine into something enticing is beyond me, but then again, I'm not the Tavistock Cup's target audience.

What I am anxious to read are the profiles on the players. They are all asked a variety of banal questions, such as "Name something you do that's 'green.' " Who knew that England's Justin Rose and his wife make their own compost? I turn to Tiger's Q and A, expecting to read IMG-filtered answers. What I find are the same seemingly ridiculous questions but, in response, a collection of answers that read as more honest and devoid of calculation than anything he's said in years.

What does he hope someone invents before he dies? "Teleporting." This is a guy who hates to waste time. His favorite childhood cartoon character? Optimus Prime from Transformers - the leader of the Autobots who battled without end. If NASA ever okays a trip to outer space, will Tiger go? "Damn right!" The possibility of what is to be gained from a challenge excites him more than the risks. I keep reading. What does Tiger think he will be doing thirty years from now? "Hopefully I won't be fertilizer by then." My favorite answer is his last. "What disease do you want to see cured in your lifetime?" Most players give the obligatory sad response, naming some illness and then presumably hanging their heads and asking for a tissue. The disease Tiger would like to see cured? "The yips!" My soda almost falls over again, this time from my knocking the table while laughing. It is clear that Tiger Woods is much funnier and more interesting in private than he can ever afford to be in public.

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The Masters, Augusta, GA, April 9, 2008

Wednesday • Already out of tickets, I had walked down Washington Road after Tuesday's practice round and taken down some scalpers' phone numbers. When I wake up this morning, I call them at random to see what the day will cost. The low price is Tony, asking $350. Yesterday, he was working the curb near Arby's. Today, he's setup on the south end of town, just off the Bobby Jones Expressway, and claims to have only one left. I am obviously losing a sense of what is too much to pay for a ticket and set out in my red Pontiac to find him.

On the way, I pass another scalper who offers me the same ticket for only $300. I call Tony to see if he can match the price. "What?!" He's angry. "You're killing me! I could have just sold your ticket to someone for four hundred!" He hems and haws as if he's getting ripped off on a ticket that has a face value of $36. His tough Boston accent is intimidating, but it's the first time I've had any leverage, and I let him wriggle.

Following Tiger ... For An Entire Year

He finally agrees to match it, so I keep driving. Tony is on the sidewalk with another scalper, working the long line of traffic headed to the course. I pull over, and he comes to the window, but he wants to make small talk first. I'm not sure why I mentioned that I was a TV writer, but he gets excited and decides to pitch me his life story, which he thinks would make a great movie. "It'd be called Death Row to Front Row," he says. "You were on death row?" I ask, quietly slipping the car from park into reverse. Tony explains that yes, technically he killed a guy, but eventually they proved it was self-defense and now he's free. "Awesome," I say. His buddy interjects that he thinks his life would make a great movie too, but says it would have to be an adult film.

The conversation thankfully returns to my ticket. Tony's still not convinced that I actually found someone selling "a Wednesday" for $300. He turns to his pal and says, "Should we take a ride?" This is just what I want - to be driving around Augusta with these guys. The other scalper, the sixty-something leader of the gang, cools him off. "You got it for two seventy-five. You made twenty-five. Good." I give Tony the cash, he gives me the ticket. Never having taken the Pontiac out of reverse, I make my escape.

At the course I discover that Tiger isn't even going to play a practice round today, which means I just paid three hundred bucks to watch Tiger on the putting green. I can't conceive of being able to go play Augusta National and choosing not to do so. But statistically, recent history points to the putting green as the place where Tiger needs to be. He hit more greens at Doral than he had hit any other week since the Buick Invitational. But the thirty-two putts he had in his third round was his worst number of the entire season. He is still easily the favorite, but the question in my mind is whether he has arrived in Georgia having fixed whatever was wrong in Florida. Based on a story I heard a few months
earlier, I can only assume he had.

It was back in February, and my old boss Alan invited me to play Lakeside, a gorgeous, Hollywood-friendly club across the cement-bottomed Los Angeles River from Universal Studios. After our round he introduced me to Ernie, one of Lakeside's starters who had been there for thirty years. "You want a Tiger story? I got one." He told me about a time years ago when Earl Woods was in L.A. having bypass surgery. That day Ernie got a call from Kevin Costner, who told him "Tiger needs a place to hide out." Ernie said no problem, and later that day Tiger showed up. "I tell him, 'What do you want to do? You want to play, you want to hit balls?' " Tiger just held up his hands. In one hand was his putter and in the other were three golf balls. "This is the worst part of my game," Tiger explained.

He walked to Lakeside's putting green, dropped the three balls, and started putting around to the different flags. "An hour and forty minutes later - I timed it - and he's still putting." Finally, Tiger stopped going in circles and found the toughest putt on the green. Ernie stepped out from behind the starter window to show me. It was about twenty five feet, broke four feet left to right, and was dead downhill. It was Tiger's winning Bay Hill putt on steroids. After another hour and fifty minutes, Ernie realized the game. Tiger wouldn't let himself leave until he had made the hardest putt on the putting green three times in a row. Tiger came back the next day and did the same thing. Ernie said Tiger spent eight hours on the putting green those two days at Lakeside. It was early 1997. A few months later, Tiger won his first Masters by twelve shots.

Following Tiger ... For An Entire Year

Bob Smiley (pictured above watching Tiger from afar) has worked on various sitcoms since 1999, including four years on CBS' "Yes, Dear." He's also written for the "1/2 Hour News Hour" and assisted William F. Buckley on his novel "Getting it Right." He is a contributing writer for ESPN's golf coverage and is the author of Fore Right, a satirical golf blog. "Follow The Roar ..." is published by HarperCollins.