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'Let the legend grow': Behind Tiger's first win at TPC Sawgrass

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Tiger Woods as seen during the 1994 U.S. Amateur Championship at TPC at Sawgrass, Stadium Course, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  (Copyright USGA/Robert Walker)

Tiger Woods as seen during the 1994 U.S. Amateur Championship at TPC at Sawgrass, Stadium Course, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Copyright USGA/Robert Walker)

Behind Tiger's thrilling first win at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course



    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    Tiger Woods is the only man to win at TPC Sawgrass in both March and May.

    His first victory on the Stadium Course came in August, though.

    Before wins at THE PLAYERS Championship in 2001 and 2013 – before “Better Than Most” – Woods made another memorable putt on the Island Green. This one led to a historic victory in the 1994 U.S. Amateur.

    The wiry Woods, wearing a striped shirt and large straw hat, let out a violent fist pump after holing his birdie putt on the Stadium Course’s iconic par-3. It's an image that has a permanent place in his career's highlight reel. For many, it was the first time they witnessed one of Woods' electric celebrations.

    He was once 6 down to Trip Kuehne in the Amateur's final match. That putt gave Woods a 1-up lead. He won the 18th hole, as well, to become the youngest player to hoist the Havemeyer Trophy.

    He was 18 years old and still weeks from starting his college career at Stanford. It was the first of three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles that preceded his 80 victories on the PGA TOUR.

    He can laugh now about his wardrobe at TPC Sawgrass, admitting recently that it “wasn’t very good.” His colorful cotton shirts were too large for his skinny frame. His shorts stopped short of his knees. And then there was his headwear.

    “The straw hat, no, I’m not bringing that back,” he said with a self-effacing smile.

    But there are also heartfelt memories from that victory.

    “One of the things that I will always miss, and I still get emotional about, is I'll never get that hug again from my dad,” Woods said.

    Tiger and Earl almost didn’t make it to TPC Sawgrass. Tiger's U.S. Amateur qualifier was in California the day after he won the Western Amateur outside Chicago. They missed their flight after getting caught in traffic, though.

    They waited on standby, but didn’t get seats until the last flight of the night.

    “I prayed, and my prayers were answered,” Earl said. “Thank God we got on that damn airplane.”

    If they didn't, Tiger would have missed the qualifier and been unable to play that year's Amateur.

    He prepared for TPC Sawgrass by watching videos of Greg Norman’s record-setting victory in that year’s PLAYERS Championship. He’d recently started working with Norman’s swing coach, Butch Harmon, as well. Tiger and Harmon had only worked together twice in person before the Amateur, but exchanged videotapes, phone calls and even faxes.

    Woods beat a varied cast of characters at the Stadium Course. His six match-play opponents included collegiate All-Americans, as well as a college golf coach, PGA TOUR rules official and 35-year-old businessman with a newborn son.

    To celebrate the 25th anniversary of that win, PGATOUR.COM asked all six of his opponents, and Woods himself, for their recollections from that week. (Note: quotes from 1994 noted in parentheses.)

    FINAL

    Def. Trip Kuehne, 2 up

    It was a familiar storyline in Woods’ amateur victories: dig out of an early deficit with some heroics on the final holes. The 1994 U.S. Amateur was no exception.

    Trip Kuehne was one of the top players in college golf, but he looked more like Ben Hogan at the start of their match. Kuehne made seven birdies in the first 13 holes. All seven came on putts of 5 feet or less.

    Kuehne was 4 up after the morning round of their 36-hole match. During the break between rounds, Earl told Tiger, “Son, let the legend grow.”

    Woods was still 5 down with 12 holes remaining, though. He won six of the final 10 holes, including the last three.

    Woods had earned a reputation as a strong closer even before he set foot on the Stadium Course. He'd already won three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateurs (1991-93) in dramatic fashion. Two of those wins were in extra holes, and the other came down to No. 18. Kuehne knew a fast start was crucial.

    KUEHNE: “Quite honestly, I was kicking his ass and playing really good. There were a couple times we overheard Tiger talking to Jay (Brunza, his caddie and sports psychologist) about, ‘Trip’s playing really good. He’s killing me. I don’t know how I’m going to beat him.’”

    Woods was able to make a comeback against Kuehne despite hitting just two of the final eight fairways. He was missing in both directions. Several of his tee shots strayed far from the short grass, ending up in the trees and pine straw.

    WOODS (1994): “I’ve grown up in the trees. I’ve been so wild for so long. I play out of them all the damn time. When you're able to scramble, that drains an opponent.”

    KUEHNE: “He was hitting it all over the golf course.”

    Woods’ tee shot on 17 came within inches of going into the water before spinning back into the fringe surrounding the Island Green.The pin was on the right side of the putting surface, in the traditional Sunday placement for THE PLAYERS. Avoiding the water wasn’t Woods’ only good fortune. He revealed recently that he learned the proper line after missing a similar putt in the morning round.

    KUEHNE (1994): “He tried to hit it in the water both times. ... You don't see pros try to hit right at that pin.”

    STEVE MELNYK (on broadcast): “That is a combination of being very good and very lucky.”

    WOODS: “That was one of the great breaks I got. But more importantly, I had that same putt in the morning, so I knew it broke a little bit more. I was on the green in the morning session, I missed it low, so I gave it a little bit more break and ended up making it.”

    KUEHNE: “I looked over at my dad, knowing full well that he was going to make it because he was in the exact same spot in the morning. … He poured it in, started air-boxing and the rest was history.”

    Woods' birdie at 17 gets all the attention, but Kuehne says No. 16 was “probably the most pivotal hole” of their match. Both players drove into the right rough on the reachable par-5, but Kuehne laid up on the advice of the first man to win at TPC Sawgrass, Jerry Pate. Woods got a good break and converted it into a birdie that squared the match.

    KUEHNE: “In a previous match, I hit it in the exact same spot and tried to go for the green. That long, gnarly Bermuda turned my clubface over and I went way to the left and it was no good. I was talking to Jerry Pate afterward. He was like, ‘Hey, if you ever get in that situation again, you’re not going to knock it on the green from there and things are going to happen. Just pitch a wedge out and wedge it onto the green.’

    “Tiger pulled out a (6-iron). I was like, ‘This is going to be awesome.’ Same thing, that grass closed his clubface. There’s a tree in a bunker about 50 yards short of the green and, instead of going into (thick rough), it hits the tree and goes back in the fairway. I hit a chip that to this day I still don’t know how it didn’t go in.”

    Kuehne still believes that laying up on 16 was the right play. There’s another lay-up that he regrets, though. Kuehne was 4 up with 10 holes remaining but lost the ninth hole after trying to take the safe route.

    KUEHNE: “I had an opportunity to stomp on his throat and didn’t do it. I probably outdrove him by 30 yards on No. 9.

    “I had the 3-wood out, but I didn’t know what was to the right of the green, so I put my 3-wood back in the bag and probably didn’t really commit to laying up with a 4-iron. I fat-hooked it into the left bunker and made bogey. I just gave him the hole. … (My game) was really good for the first 26 holes and then I fatted that 4-iron and my game got a little stressful. That gave him a little bit of life and that’s kind of what happened.”

    WOODS (1994): "When I won the ninth hole, ... I figured I had a shot."

    The match has forever linked Kuehne and Woods, but they knew each other well before they met at TPC Sawgrass, dating back to their days in junior golf. Trip had two siblings who also were elite golfers. Kelli Kuehne won the 1994 U.S. Girls’ Junior and the next two U.S. Women’s Amateurs. Hank Kuehne won the 1998 U.S. Amateur. And Trip got his USGA title at the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

    KUEHNE: “The very first Canon Cup (a team competition between junior golfers on each side of the Mississippi), the AJGA paired Tiger and I together because of our relationship. We smashed Stewart Cink and his partner. Tiger caddied for me in singles. I caddied for him. Earl and Tiger, when he was 13 and 14, they would stay at our house when they would come to Dallas. The first time Earl let Tiger travel to a tournament without him, he stayed at our house.”

    “Tiger was instrumental in getting my sister to be the Nike girl when he was the Nike guy. Her first professional tournament was the JCPenney Classic with Tiger. When my brother was in rehab (in 1995), Earl and Tiger would call and check on him every week. Tiger could have played with anyone at that Battle at the Bridges, but he plays with Hank. He’s done a lot of nice things for my family.

    “I don’t have a problem forever being linked to arguably the best player ever to do it.”


    SEMIFINALS
    Def. Eric Frishette, 5 and 3

    Frishette was an All-American at Kent State who spent his summers working on the grounds crew of his local golf course. “From weed-eating to mowing the greens, whatever they needed,” he said. Frishette played briefly on the Web.com Tour but now owns four bars in Ohio.

    The winner of their match earned an invitation to the Masters, a reward that made it difficult for Woods to sleep the night before. He didn't have any trouble once he arrived at the first tee, though.

    FRISHETTE: “My friends tease me about this. They call me No. 5 because I was the fifth guy that he beat. I remember he was quoted as saying mine was the easiest match he had because he was hitting it as good as he could hit it. The day he played me, he never missed a fairway.”

    FRISHETTE: “I didn’t notice him being that long until the (par-5) ninth hole. He hit it right down the middle. I said, ‘Good ball,’ and he said, ‘Get down.’ I looked at my caddie and thought, ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ He was 3 feet short of the creek that I didn’t even know was there even though I’d played there six days in a row.”

    WOODS (1994): “I could have gotten there (on No. 9) by drawing the ball, but I didn’t want to risk pulling it into the trees.” (Note: Woods hit 3-wood from 283 just short of the green. Steve Elkington was believed to be the last player to reach the green in two, in his win at the 1991 PLAYERS.)

    FRISHETTE: “When I saw that he was in my bracket, I knew there was a chance that if I happened to make it to the semifinals I would face him. When Buddy (Alexander) had that 3-footer to go 4 up (on Woods in the third round), my caddie said, ‘Hey, you’re not going to get to play Tiger. He’s going to get beat today.’ The rest is history.”

    WOODS (1994): “I was pretty nervous. I’ve never been here and when you don’t know what to expect, you get a little edgy. I usually have a bit of the butterflies, but last night was pretty bad. … But then I said, ‘To hell with it, go out and play your game.’”


    QUARTERFINALS
    Def. Tim Jackson, 5 and 4

    Tim Jackson was little known outside of his native Tennessee when he faced Woods in the quarterfinals. He won the Memphis City Amateur and Tennessee Amateur earlier that summer, though. Jackson won his first national title, the U.S. Mid-Amateur, less than a month after losing to Woods.

    JACKSON: “The two short par-4s on the front, 4 and 6, he hit wedges literally 6 inches from the hole. I remember him hitting a very impressive long-iron shot on 8, the long par-3. He hit it in the left fairway bunker on 10. I was in the middle of the fairway, maybe 2 or 3 down. I was thinking I could get one here because he looked like he was totally blocked out. He hit it out of the bunker with a little draw to the middle of the green, inside of where I hit it.

    “Those are the three or four shots I can specifically remember. It’s not so much the power shots, it’s the shots he had to hit when he got into a little trouble and the precision. That day, with his wedges, he was really spot on.”

    JACKSON: “I remember my wife being there. Our youngest son, Austin, was born a month prior and she was carting him around out there. … He played college golf at Samford and he’s now a CPA.”


    THIRD ROUND
    Def. Buddy Alexander, 1 up

    Woods’ comeback against Kuehne gets most of the attention, but he needed another big rally in the third round.

    Buddy Alexander, the head golf coach at the University of Florida, had a 3-foot par putt to go 4 up on Woods with five holes remaining. He missed that putt and didn’t par any of the next five holes, either. Similar to the Kuehne match, Woods’ tee shot on 17 came to rest just a couple feet from the water. “I nearly passed out,” Woods said.

    WOODS: “If he made the putt on 13, it basically would have been over.”

    ALEXANDER: “I just remember running out of golf, guts and game at the same time. It was fairly hot, it was the afternoon match. … I was so pissed off that I couldn’t get out of town fast enough.”

    WOODS: “I ended up not going to Florida, and maybe that's one of the reasons why he didn't like it too much when I did beat him.”

    ALEXANDER: “I sent him a (recruiting) letter and he never responded, which is kind of what I expected. I think he knew early on that he wanted to go to Stanford.”


    SECOND ROUND
    Def. Michael Flynn, 6 and 5

    Michael Flynn knew Woods’ tendency to fall behind early in matches. Flynn, who played for TCU, wanted to build a big lead and then hold on for the final holes. Woods never let him. He won the first four holes, three of them with birdies. It resulted in the largest win in any of Woods’ U.S. Amateur victories.

    FLYNN: “I can remember people saying, ‘I saw you on Tiger Tuesdays on Golf Channel. You got beat the worst.’ Well, at least I’m in the books for something. I wanted to say, ‘Thank you, Stephen (Ames). Thanks for letting me off the hook.’”

    FLYNN: “I always thought I was a fairly good closer, so I just wanted to get off to a good start and put as much pressure on him as possible. I remember making four pars and being 4 down.” (Note: Flynn made one bogey and three pars.)


    FIRST ROUND
    Def. Vaughn Moise, 2 and 1

    Moise, who spent three decades as a PGA TOUR rules official, was just 1 down to Woods when they arrived at the 17th tee. The match ended after Moise hit his tee shot in the water, though. Moise later served as the referee for the Showdown at Sherwood, the made-for-TV match between Woods and David Duval.

    MOISE: “The first green is right there by (PGA TOUR offices). I remember a lot of people from the home office came out. … He outdrove me by about 100 yards on the first hole. I hit 6-iron. He was flipping a wedge up there. He had just started taking those lessons from Butch Harmon. He was struggling with his swing, didn’t know how to drive it straight.”

    WOODS: “I don't think he ever gave me a good ruling after that when I got out here on TOUR.”

    Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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