TOUR pros: My first time with Tiger
It’s a thrill of a lifetime – and the ultimate nerve-tester – when you tee it up with Tiger Woods for the first time
February 10, 2020
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
It’s a thrill of a lifetime – and the ultimate nerve-tester – when you tee it up with Tiger Woods for the first time
One player nearly ran his car off the road upon hearing the news. Another used a single hole’s worth of confidence to kick-start a career. A third was beaten so badly he almost reconsidered turning professional.
There have been tears, cheers, roars and, of course, nerves when it comes to PGA TOUR players who are part of the lucky fraternity of having shared on-course time with Tiger Woods.
Woods’ first PGA TOUR appearance came at the Riviera Country Club in 1992 as a 16-year-old. Now, 28 years later, he will serve as host for this week’s Genesis Invitational in its new elevated status, putting it in line with the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, hosted by Jack Nicklaus.
Oh, and should Tiger win this week, he’ll break the tie with Sam Snead and be the solo record holder for most wins with 83 on the PGA TOUR.
Woods has played in 360 official TOUR events for those first 82 wins, with 1,292 completed rounds. Add to this further efforts in off-season events like his own Hero World Challenge and team events such as the Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup and World Cup and the count rises. It’s a lot of playing partners – not to mention practice rounds if you’re lucky enough to nab an invite.
These days Woods still finds himself meeting new playing partners. And they all have a story to tell afterwards. While we certainly haven’t gone close to uncovering all of the amazing tales, we’ve given it a crack. Here are some of the recollections of TOUR players playing with Woods for the first time.
BUBBA WATSON: “It was a practice round at Torrey Pines North Course in 2007. I was on the old No. 10, which is now No. 1, and he was on nine. I had never met him, but I had sent him a funny T-shirt as a Christmas gift, so Teddy [Scott, Watson’s caddie] and I were kind of watching him finish as we walked down the fairway. But he yelled out and asked if he could join us. I looked around, trying to be funny because there's nobody watching us but there are thousands of people watching him and I’m like, ‘Sure, you can join us.’ So he just picks his ball up, comes under the rope and drops it right there in the fairway with me.
“We played that nine holes and it was the thrill of a lifetime for me. I mean I graduated high school when he won the Masters. It seemed unreal. After we got done, he said, ‘Hey, you want to go to dinner this week?” I stumbled out a ‘Yeah, man, I'd love to’ and he says, ‘OK, you got my number?’ I was like, ‘How do I have your number? Where do you think I got your number from?’ He laughed and gave me his number and a couple of days later, we went to a dinner in town. He ended up winning that week so I joke with him still that I probably inspired him.”
RORY McILROY: “I played with him at his tournament at Sherwood back in 2010. I've never said ‘good shot" as much in my life playing with anyone as I did that day. It was just ‘good shot, good shot, good shot.’ He was consistently hitting great shots the entire day and shot 6 under. I felt pretty nervous the first few holes, but then I settled in and sort of did my thing, was playing OK. Afterwards, inevitably you compare yourself to him and what you've just seen. I was thinking definitely he's better than me there and I can definitely hang with him there and I need to do better with this.”
ADAM SCOTT: “I had just decided to turn pro in 2000 and got Butch Harmon’s blessing to do that because he was coaching me, and of course Tiger, at the time. We talked about it and he felt strongly that I should go and play in Europe first and gain some experience. A week or so before the U.S. Open, I was in Las Vegas and Tiger was stopping in on the Sunday before heading to Pebble Beach. Butch said to me on Saturday, ‘Tiger is coming in and if he goes and plays, you can play with him.’ So I was nervous, of course.
“We went out and played and we had a match, and I was maybe 1-down through the turn at Rio Secco, and then Tiger stepped it up and went birdie, birdie, birdie and had an eagle. He closed me out on the 14th and shot 63 – with a double bogey at the ninth. I was a bit blown away by what I saw. It was quite windy and I thought I played quite well. I probably shot even par and I was nine off the pace. I made a throwaway comment to Butch, something like, ‘Maybe I should reconsider turning pro.’ The only thing that made me feel good was he won the U.S. Open by 15 the next week, so I was quite happy to see that no one else really played like that.”
MARC LEISHMAN and BRANDT SNEDEKER
Their first time playing with Woods happened in the same threesome during the FedExCup Playoffs.
LEISHMAN: “Incredibly, Sneds and I got him for the first time at the 2009 BMW Championship in the FedExCup Playoffs in the final group. But unlike Sneds I wasn’t in the final group until the next morning. Weather came through and they changed to threesomes, so I didn’t have to sleep on it, I was just thrown into it – which was probably better. He had a big lead but and on the first tee, I was so nervous I was going to hit driver even though it was too much club. I just wanted to be certain I got the ball in the air. But I calmed down enough to hit a good 3-wood.”
SNEDEKER: “Everybody says they want to play Tiger at his best and then you have it and you're like, ‘Well, do I really want him in the last group on Sunday for the first time playing with him like we did?’ It definitely made for a little bit of a sleepless night. These young guys don't really understand. That Tiger had a different effect back then. He really did have an intimidation factor and he was two shots ahead before you stepped on the tee, he was that dominant. On that day he started seven clear of us, so you kind of knew beforehand how it might play out but seeing him up-close and getting a real look at how he went about playing with a lead and playing smart. … Unfortunately I had a four putt on the last hole, which meant I missed the TOUR Championship. I was trying to kind of get out of his way and I hit a few putts really quickly and that actually taught me a really valuable lesson. After the round, Tiger was like ‘What were you doing?’ and I told him, ‘I felt I was going to be in your way and you're going to win.’ He was like ‘Man, I'm going to win by seven shots. You weren't in my way, don't worry about that sort of thing.’ Like I said, I learned a lot.”
JORDAN SPIETH: “We had a little 12-hole match, Tiger and Kuch [Matt Kuchar] versus Steve Stricker and I the practice day before the 2013 Presidents Cup. We started on No. 7, and on our [par-3] sixth hole, Tiger hit an 8‑iron and it looked like he went after it, so I went ahead and hit kind of a smooth 7. It was 173 into a little breeze, played 175, 176, and started at the flag and never really left it … and all of a sudden, it dropped. Everybody's hands went up, so our arms went up, and it was really cool; a cool environment that we had that many people around. We were all just giving each other high‑fives and the next hole we were talking about how many [aces] each other had and I realized it was a lot humbling because they all have a lot more than I do.”
MATT KUCHAR: “It was the 1998 Masters where he was a defending champion and I was the U.S. Amateur champ. The walk from the practice putting green to the first tee used to be longer back then – a good 20-30 yards through kind of what felt like a tunnel of people that you walked down before you made the right-hand turn on to the tee box. Tiger had walked out ahead of me and I heard this huge roar… and I thought, ‘Wow, I've got to follow that up?’ But I remember being so excited to get a chance to play with him and also so nervous.
“It’s funny the little things you remember but one vivid part is the pin was back on one and he hit this massive drive over the bunker, had pitching wedge in and hit it over the green. I looked at my dad who was my caddie and I said, ‘I can't believe he hit it there -- even I know that you can’t go long to a back pin and it’s my first Masters.’ But then he hits this most remarkable chip shot, a kind of quarter-swing chip that he somehow put tons of spin on the ball and gets it like 6 inches away. It just blew my mind. That shot would be impossible for me and he made it look easy.”
JON RAHM: “My first time was the  Ryder Cup singles. He just won at East Lake; he's 0-3, I was 0-2. I'm like, he really wants to win this for sure, and I'm not playing my best. I went to bed that night, woke up, and all the way from the hotel to the golf course I was talking to a mental coach of what I wanted to do … I kind of went with the mindset of I'm going to have to beat this guy at his own game. I'm not a person known for not making mistakes, but I'm going to have to play as flawless as I can and it's what I set my mind to. Then on the last putt right before I hit it, somebody in Spanish yelled, ‘Do it for Seve,’ at the top of his lungs. Knowing how much Seve means to me, having the 5-footer to beat Tiger Woods, earning the first full point for the Europeans when it was looking kind of dark, there was a lot going on in my mind.
“When I turned around, I had to apologize because I didn't see he was coming to me and he came to me with a smile. He said, "Man, don't even worry, you played great.’ I started crying in front of Tiger… it was such an emotional moment. I saw him win a great deal of events, grew up with a dream of someday beating him, and to do it on the Sunday of a Ryder Cup -- it was extremely special. There's not many things that are going to be better than that in golf for me.”
KEVIN NA (THE PLAYERS Championship 2019): “The third round at last year’s PLAYERS is one I’ll never forget. Ever since I was 10 years old I’ve had a habit of walking after putts and pulling the ball out of the hole quickly but when I did it with Tiger it went to another level. On the famous island par-3 17th I hit a great putt and it started right online and I took a big stride and I got it really quick. My hand went right in as soon as the ball went in. I have always done it so it wasn’t a big deal and I kind of looked over and he was just cracking up. And then he did it also. I said oh my god I can’t believe the goat just did that. It surprised me. I never in a million years would have thought he would imitate me and do that. But when the Big Cat does it, it really goes viral. We had a lot of fun, we laughed about it and ever since then on social media I get tagged every time somebody walks in a putt. I’ve been enjoying it.”
ZACH JOHNSON: “It was so long ago I can’t even remember specifically. We competed a little against each other as amateurs, but that was very brief. And then he got on TOUR in 1996 and my rookie year was not until 2004. Our roads were slightly different. He was on an interstate and I was on a gravel road for seven years.”
SCOTT STALLINGS (2013 Memorial, third round): “I thought he was big-timing me on the first green. I had 2 feet, he had 3. He said, ‘You should putt.’ I’m like, ‘You’re out. What do you mean?’ He said, ‘OK.’ He putted and sure enough (the crowd starts running).”
BRONSON BURGOON (2018 Quicken Loans National, final round): “He hit a driving iron on the 11th hole… it was probably the best shot I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’ll never forget it. He had the honor so I was able to hit after that. I put my tee down behind his divot, and it was the most perfect dollar-ball divot I’ve ever seen in my life.”
XANDER SCHAUFFELE (2019 Farmers Insurance Open): “These days I do like to make fun of him for being old and stiff and stuff like that, and I think I might have tried that a little on that first day, but he shut me up pretty quick.”
SCOTT PIERCY (2013 Masters, first two rounds): “That was the year of the infamous drop and subsequent penalty and I remember it didn't look like he did anything wrong from where I was, so I showed up the next day and had no idea that anything had even happened. It was pretty awesome to see how he went around Augusta and getting to listen to him talk to his caddie, saying things like ‘This always feels into the wind, but it plays down,’ lots of stuff like that.”
BRENDAN STEELE: “It was Sunday after my first made cut on TOUR at Torrey Pines in 2011… so it was certainly a trial by fire. I was doing the quick counting Saturday to figure it out and was obviously super nervous but also super excited when it became official. I don't remember how I slept. It probably wasn't awesome and I definitely had nerves off the first tee and nerves for a lot of the day. Tons of friends and family came out to watch and deal with the madness that is the galleries. To get to play with him at all and then have it at a course like Torrey where he's had so much success, it was pretty surreal.
“He was really nice and really cool so it made it a lot more comfortable because I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Am I supposed to talk to him? Or leave him alone and just stay out of his way? He came over and talked to me on the second or third hole -- and it relaxed me for sure. It helped me play a great round and I moved up to 17th place. I had missed the first two cuts in my rookie year so it was a nice finish and gave me a huge confidence boost.”
SCOTT BROWN: “It was the final round of the Wyndham Championship in 2015 and I made a hole-in-one on the third hole. I live close so had my whole family out there. Everyone was excited before the round knowing the pairing and I was a little nervous but excited to play with my idol. I remember the ace was an 8-iron from 162 yards and any time you make a one, it's such a bonus. But being with Tiger, it was obviously electric. I high-fived his left hand and he kind of made a dunk motion with his other hand and then he said that it's the only one he's ever had to write on a card that wasn’t for himself. So I'll take his word for it.”
JACK’S FIRST MEETING WITH TIGER
The Golden Bear discusses the first time he met Tiger Woods.
NICKLAUS: “I think Tiger was about 13 years old when I first met him. He was at Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles and I was doing a clinic and they brought this young guy out to hit a couple shots. And I saw this tall slender kid whack a couple shots out there and he had a pretty darn good record already. And they said this guy's gonna be a really good player, I say ‘OK, let's just see what happens.’ Well, we've seen what happened, he's done pretty well.”
WEBB SIMPSON: “Mine was a little unique as he withdrew after 11 holes with an Achilles injury at the WGC in Doral in 2012. It was a bit weird because it went from one extreme to the other, from playing with all the people to playing with no people. I‘d already played in some big pairings, having won twice the year before, but still that was something new that I hadn't experienced and I was more nervous than I thought I'd be. I remember I had heard that he likes to get to the tee last because that way whoever's on the team is going to feel his presence. So I putted until the last minute until I knew that he was gone and as soon as he left, I picked up my ball and I walked after him. In the end, he was great to play with.”
CAMERON PERCY: “The one and only time for me was the 2009 Australian Masters, final round. After the third round, I got in my car and was driving out of Kingston Heath with the golf on the radio and someone missed a putt on 18 and with that, I hear, ‘That means Cameron Percy is playing with Tiger Woods tomorrow’ and I just about ran off the road. My phone then went crazy for the next 10 minutes and when I got home, my wife was there and she's like, ‘Well done. Who are you playing with tomorrow?’ I deadpanned to her: ‘Oh you know, just Tiger Woods.’ Her mum was there and she just about had a breakdown.”
RUSSELL KNOX: “Great memory for me in 2018 at The Open. People were texting me all of a sudden – ding, ding, ding, ding – my phone just went nuts and sure enough I was paired with Tiger, in an Open Championship at Carnoustie. I couldn't believe it. I was sitting there thinking really … really? Tiger teed off before I did on the first tee and obviously he’s the best, the legend, and he gets this massive roar. Then being a Scot, I go next and my roar was as big, if not bigger, so I had like goosebumps as I was walking to my shot. I was just so happy I was able to get the ball on the tee because my head was shaking and I just like skanked some 4-iron down the fairway and away we went.”
ROD PAMPLING: “It was 1999 before The Open Championship at Carnoustie and [caddie] Steve Williams helped schedule a practice round for 6 a.m. with Stuart Appleby and me. It was my first major so I was excited but it was pissing down with rain and I’m there with my caddie, thinking Tiger is not going to show. But sure enough he did and we went straight to the tee. Tiger was saying that we will be ahead of the field by practicing in the shocking conditions as no one else would play in it. I had a mind to believe him after it worked for me in the first round. [Pampling led after being the only player to shoot even par in high winds during the first round with the field average being 78.31 but shot 86 in the second round to miss the cut]. Some of the shots you saw from him just seemed from another planet.”
KEEGAN BRADLEY: “It was at [TPC] Sawgrass and it was like playing with Michael Jordan. … I sent the text message that we get from the TOUR with tee times to my buddies in a group chat and they were freaking out. They were more excited than I was. Playing at Sawgrass also – I'd never seen an atmosphere like that. And we were well back from the lead. But to just see the atmosphere he plays in, it's like a Sunday in contention for everyone else … he has that every single day.”
JOEL DAHMEN: “It was a wild time. Earlier in the season at Wells Fargo, I was staying with Brandon Harkins and the Saturday night, we were sitting together watching people finish knowing it's either me or him who gets to play with Tiger on Sunday. Now we are best friends, but it looked like I was playing with Tiger for an hour and all of a sudden something happened where it flipped to Brandon and I was really disappointed. I was happy for him but you always want a chance to play with the greatest of all time.
“So when I got the call on Friday night in his event in D.C. saying it was him, well, I was at dinner with my wife and my mouth kind of drops and I was super-excited. Then the nerves really took over. I went to sleep OK, but I woke up at like two or three and then it was one of those nights where you toss and turn for four or five hours. We had a later tee time so you could sleep in, but I was wide awake at 6 o'clock. I've played with a lot of top guys, but there's a different atmosphere with Tiger. Even just when he's in the field and you don't even see him you can feel it. He has an aura about him. He went first on the first tee and it really went nuts and I remember running to get my tee in the ground as fast as I could because I didn't want anybody watching me tee the ball up.”
JASON DAY: “I grew up reading his book and idolizing Tiger so for my first time to be an Australian Open in my early 20s was like it wasn’t real. I’d watched him on television for so long that when that day came it was almost like he was just a character. … The one memory I have of his game was seeing his famous stinger shot for the first time in person. It was at the par-5 eighth at the Lakes and he had like 300 yards into a 20-yard wind and he hit this low bullet, 3-wood to about 20 feet. I was hitting driver off the deck about 20 yards short. His shot came out like 10 feet off the ground and was just hunting the whole way. I could only shake my head. It was so cool. It was like seeing his video game in real life.”
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA: “It was in Akron and I was nervous and I was thinking, ‘Why did they pair me with Tiger? It was my first year on TOUR, I was 21 and I was just thinking, ‘Wow, how did this happen?’ But being able to watch Tiger play up close was beyond all my expectations. I was a spectator those two rounds as he shot 66-61 and led the tournament by seven shots at halfway but I still hadn't secured my TOUR card for the next season so I was grinding. Because of that, I didn't realize what a treat it was to be able to play with Tiger and maybe didn’t take it all in. But what it did do was show me how much work I still had left to do and, to be honest, left me a little worried wondering if I could really play that well. It made me continue to work hard and thankfully I was able to get my card.”
RHEIN GIBSON: “It was the 2014 British Open and I was the last guy to make the cut. I had to birdie 18 at Liverpool from about 12 feet to make it and at the time figured it was to be first out Saturday with Jordan Spieth. But then, for the first time in the history of the British Open, they decided to do threesomes off two tees, so instead of being the first out at 7 a.m., now I'm last out with Spieth and Tiger off the 10th. I didn't get my tee time until like 10 or 10:30 at night.
“It was weird because I had a bunch of family and friends come out because it was my first major and we were already happy to have made the cut and then it goes up a notch when I get thrown to the wolves with Tiger. Everyone was excited but all of a sudden it was after midnight and I was like, I got to go to bed!
“Next morning Spieth and I are just in a normal bus to get out to the 10th tee and we are joking, ‘Where's Tiger?’ and all of a sudden this black Mercedes backs up to the tee and he and Joe [LaCava, caddie] get out with his clubs. It was all so cool but then I lost my first tee shot into a gorse bush so I had to hit two off the first tee. We had a couple of jokes about that – I said as we walked off the tee, ‘Hey Tiger, I get two off the first [a mulligan] against you, right?’ He smiled and we had some good banter for the rest of the round.”
SATOSHI KODAIRA (2019 ZOZO Championship, first round): “I was nervous but when Tiger started with three consecutive bogeys, that helped me relax. What I could see was Tiger played with the same rhythm from start to finish and that really impressed me and is something I have tried to learn from. He turned around a bad start and stayed strong -- and of course eventually won the tournament.”
BUD CAULEY (2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard): “I remember the crowd on the first being so big but it was funny as it almost relaxed me. I remember thinking even if I hit it crooked, it's not going to go too far offline because it would hit someone first. Luckily it didn't have to bounce it off someone and I put it in the fairway.”
AARON BADDELEY (2000 Masters, first two rounds): “I was an amateur and the clearest memory was on the first hole after I hit it in the fairway bunker, hit it from there into a greenside bunker and made bogey. We walked off the green and Tiger walks next to me and he says, ‘I know you made bogey, but it's a much better bogey than my first bogey here. I putted it off the green my first hole at the Masters, so I’d say you're OK.’ That was funny and loosened me up a bit for sure.”
AARON WISE (2019 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play): “It was match play so we didn’t talk much. I don't talk much myself in general but he put me to shame that day [3 and 1]. He doesn't care to talk to you [when it’s a match]. He just wants to go about his business and kick your butt and you can't blame him for that.”
ABRAHAM ANCER (2019 WGC-Mexico Championship, first round): “That was by far the most nervous I had been on a first hole to that point. I played half-decent, which was good considering I couldn’t even feel my hands on some shots.”
GREG CHALMERS (Eisenhower Trophy at Le Golf National, Paris): “I was 19 and I think he was 16 or 17. I had heard of him but had no idea what I was in for. Tiger was definitely a little wild off the tee that day but when he got everything right it was like nothing I had ever seen; I honestly didn’t think it was possible to hit shots that good. The strike and the sound were just brilliant and he was just a teenager. I wish I had bet on him winning a huge bunch of tournaments back then!”
PAT PEREZ: “I had known Tiger for a long time before we actually played together. There had been hype around him since we were eight and playing junior golf around San Diego, but I didn’t actually play with him until 1996 in college. We played 36 holes in a two-ball and while I can’t remember a lot of the specifics, I know we had a lot of fun.”
JOHN SENDEN (2007 Farmers Insurance Open, first two rounds): “When I saw him on the first tee, I remember feeling like he just looks like the guy to beat. He was so calm and confident and of course looked like exactly what he was – the best player in the world. We started on the North Course and I shot 64 to beat his 66 on the first day so it was a nice small claim to fame that afternoon at least. Then he beat me by three on the South in the second round and went on to shoot 69-66 on the weekend to win the tournament.”
RYAN PALMER (2005 PLAYERS Championship, first two rounds): “TPC Sawgrass when Tiger was in his prime… the arena was unbelievable. You're going through crowds of at least three or four deep between every hole and all you can hear is Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. I think I heard someone say go Ryan once, which made me smile.”
VAUGHN TAYLOR (2005 Sentry Tournament of Champions final round): “It was 15 years ago in Maui. I was really excited about it and then that night and late morning we got a lot of rain and had a delay so that anticipation was made even longer. You are kind of watching the clock and counting down the minutes. I was surprised at how talkative he was.”
CHARLES HOWELL III: “I played against him in the  U.S. Amateur quarterfinals when he was on his way to a three-peat at Pumpkin Ridge. He was 20, I was 17 and I just remember he wasn't even as big around as his 43-inch steel-shafted driver, but he was hitting it miles and I just had never seen a guy hit it that high, that far and that straight. It was just incredible. It was definitely eye-opening. I'd never seen golf played that way and it was impressive. I had a decent chance to win, but I lost 2 and 1. I was hard-headed enough at the time to think I should have beaten him but I learned quickly.”
JIMMY WALKER: “The first time was just one hole before the 2001 [AT&T] Byron Nelson in a practice round. He was cutting around and I had Monday qualified, I think, as an amateur. But he cut over and played one hole with me, a par 3, and I was so nervous hitting my shot in front of him. I was like, don't shank it, don't do this, don't do that … I had a serious case of the don'ts. He hit first to like 12 feet and I get in there and I'm like, don't, don't, don’t, don’t … but I ended up hitting it like 8 feet and I was like, ‘Wow, maybe I really can play golf.’ It was a huge confidence booster going forward. I mean that's the most nervous I'd ever been to that point and still to this day is the most nervewracking shot I've ever hit in my life.”
ZAC BLAIR: “It was at the Memorial in 2015 when Jason Day missed a 6-footer on the last hole Friday to miss the cut. While the local fans were sad to see him go, that put me with Tiger so I was pretty happy. … Everybody was calling me and texting me. We were playing second off in the morning and I mean it was packed, everybody was out there. It was a cool experience. I was really excited but not expecting too much conversation because I was just a rookie on TOUR and he's Tiger. But he was awesome the entire round, even though he had a really tough day and battled it out for an 85. I didn't think I could like somebody more than I liked him. Yet after I played with him, I liked him 10 times as much. I obviously wished he would have played better, but at the same time it was so cool to beat him.”