When Tiger raised the roof
February 07, 2022
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM , PGATOUR.COM
The date: Jan. 25, 1997. Tiger Woods had turned 21 less than a month earlier, yet the buzz around him was already palpable. Tiger had won three of the first nine starts as a professional on the PGA TOUR, including two weeks earlier when he beat Tom Lehman in a playoff at La Costa.
He was still three months away from his first major win, but everybody knew this was a superstar in the making.
So here he was, in the third round of the then-Phoenix Open, standing on the tee box at the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. Although the stands that would give the hole its "stadium" effect had yet to be built, the crowd was still raucous, ready to see how the kid would handle golf's loudest hole.
Tiger was not among the contenders, having started his round 10 strokes off the lead and well off the pace of the leader (and eventual winner) Steve Jones. But he was about to add to his legend with one of the most memorable shots of his career -- a hole-in-one followed by his raise-the-roof celebration.
Twenty-five years after one of Woods' most memorable shots, these are the recollections of those who were there.
Tiger Woods aces hole No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale
Woods' playing partner
Playing alongside Tiger Woods that day, Omar Uresti took the advice of his brother (also his caddie) Rusty, turning away from Woods so he couldn’t see the phenom swing.
The thought was that Woods attacked the ball with such speed and voracity that it would mess with Uresti’s own tempo.
Paired with Woods for the first time, the third-year PGA TOUR pro had handled the atmosphere quite well. He was 2 under through the first 15 holes and one ahead of Woods.
On TPC Scottsdale’s 152-yard par-3 16th, Uresti hit an 8-iron that settled 3 feet behind the hole.
“As soon as it landed I made the mistake of thinking to myself, ‘Let’s see you hit it closer than that,’” Uresti says nearly two decades later.
As Uresti turned his back and crossed his arms, he listened for the click of the ball off Woods’ clubface. Uresti started walking and took about 10 steps before he looked up just in time to see Woods’ ball take two hops and disappear into the hole.
“I looked back and saw a shower of cups and cans,” said Uresti, who whiffed on his first high-five with Woods after the shot. “I didn’t even have time to process (the shot) might go in the hole.
“It was the loudest roar I have ever heard, other than maybe the national championship game in 2005 when Vince Young scored the winning touchdown for Texas against USC. It rattled the clubhouse windows some 600-700 yards away. I shook my head and was thinking, ‘Only Tiger.’”
It was also “deflating” to Uresti.
Woods went on to birdie 18 to nip him by a stroke and by Sunday Uresti was worn out mentally and physically and faded from contention (finishing 46th) while Woods went on to finish 18th.
Still, it was a moment in time that Uresti says he was proud to be a part of.
“It comes up every year, especially around tournament time,” he said. “I get (asked about) it a few times a month and I don’t mind talking about it because it was such a great moment in golf, especially for my career and being able to be part of it.”
Fan on the 16th
Allan Henry was standing about 30 yards away from the tee when Woods hit his shot. He remembers the 16th as never getting completely quiet ... except after Woods' ball found the cup.
“It went dead silent for a split second and then the whole place erupted,” said Henry, who was 24 years old at the time. That split-second of serenity was like a collective inhale as people processed what they’d just witnessed. “There was that split second where everyone just gasped inward.”
But before that shot, Henry recalls the buzz after Uresti hit his tee shot to 3 feet. He also remembers what he thought at the time.
“Everybody was abuzz because Uresti had just stuck it,” Henry said. “I wouldn’t say this if it wasn’t the truth. I swear on my life, I thought in my head, ‘I wonder if Tiger is going to make a hole-in-one.’ (Tiger) hit the ball and I just remember it took one hop, kind of moved left and then I lost it a little bit.
“I get the chills just thinking about it.”
Henry also recalls one detail that played a part in the wild post-shot scene. He said “last call” was declared about an hour before Woods arrived at No. 16.
Plastic beverage cups rained down on the hole as Woods walked toward the green. Fans would be hesitant to part with a full beer purchased at concession-stand prices. An empty one is a different story, though.
“So now everyone’s beers are mostly empty because everyone’s been nursing their $8 beer for the past hour,” he said. “It just became this spontaneous shower of beer cups as he walked down the hole.”
Event volunteer, now TOUR professional
As a member of the Scottsdale Community College golf team, Robert Garrigus was working on the driving range during the 1997 Phoenix Open. Garrigus, now a PGA TOUR winner, and his teammates left their posts to wander over to No. 16 and watched Woods come through.
“We left to go see what (the 16th was all about),” Garrigus said. “He ended up making a hole-in-one there.”
Garrigus was two people back of the ropes when Woods and Omar Uresti approached the hole. Uresti hit his tee shot to 3 feet.
“We were screaming ‘O‑mar, O‑mar,’ and then Tiger makes it,” Garrigus said. “I might have been the first guy to throw a beer, I don't know. But it started raining, big time, and everybody in the Thunderbirds was like, ‘No, no,’ and they're getting pelted with beers. It was unbelievable.”
Garrigus said he can be seen in the background of some photos from the scene.
“You could see me in my sunglasses in the back, in the shot,” Garrigus said. “It was so perfect. It was a perfect shot, high 9-iron, boom, right in the joint."
It was perfect.
“If I didn’t want to be a professional golfer right there, I wasn’t going to be one. That was pretty cool. And I got to see it.”
He turned pro later that year, then won his first PGA TOUR title at the 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
Tiger Woods and players relive Woods’ ace at WM Phoenix Open
There were probably 15,000 fans in the massive grandstands that surround the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale that Saturday -- and probably twice that many will tell you they were, too.
But John Vasseur has proof.
His picture ran on the front page of the Arizona Republic the next day. Oh, yeah, maybe we should mention Tiger Woods was in it, too, saluting his ace that triggered a raucous celebration at one of the game's most famous holes.
Vasseur was sitting on a rock near the tee box when Woods and Omar Uresti walked into the stadium of a par 3 to take their turns during the third round. He was writing for an Internet website at the time, as well as helping out the tournament, and he had media credentials that allowed him inside the ropes.
With Steve Jones' lead so large it was taking the suspense out of things, Vasseur had looked at the pairings sheet and decided to head to the 16th hole to see the young phemon, barely a year removed from Stanford.
"I had a perfect view," Vasseur said. "One thing most people don't realize is that Omar hit first and hit it to about 3 feet. So it was already crazy. And then Tiger gets up there, (makes the ace) and everyone was going nuts.
"People started throwing Bud Light coozies and covered up the whole tee box. Tiger was basically still a college kid and he wasn't jaded yet. You could tell he was having fun. And when he walked to the green and took the ball out of the hole, it started all over again."
Vasseur followed Woods and Uresti to the clubhouse because he wanted to listen to Tiger's press conference.
"It was kind of fun," he said. "Tiger was still excited. It was his first hole-in-one on the TOUR and the 16th at Phoenix on Saturday is a pretty good time to do it."
When Vasseur got home, his wife said, "Hey, I heard that Tiger kid made a hole-in-one." Almost before she got the words out, Vasseur grinned and said, "Yeah, I was there."
Sunday's newspaper brought another surprise -- and tons of phone calls from Vasseur's friends. He headed back to TPC Scottsdale for the final round and was determined to connect with the photographer, Jeff Topping, in hopes of getting a copy.
Turns out, Vasseur didn't have to look far.
He sat down for lunch in the media center and happened to glance at the credential of the man sitting across from him. It was Topping. So Vasseur told him he'd been looking for him and the photographer asked why.
Copies of the Republic were laying all over the table. Vasseur pointed at the photo. Or, more specifically, the guy to the right of Tiger wearing the white shirt and Bermuda shorts with his arms thrust into the air. Suddenly, the light dawned.
"He said, 'Thanks -- the way you were and this other guy with Tiger in the middle made for a great picture," Vasseur recalled.
The photo is now framed and on display in Vasseur's home office. He can show it to you on his smart phone, too. Vasseur would love to get Woods to sign it someday "but being a realist, I know the chances aren't good."
"I've told the story lots of times and people seem to enjoy it," said Vasseur, who'll be at TPC Scottsdale again this year helping the Thunderbirds out with their marketing efforts.
"One time, an older member of the media, told me, 'I can't believe you did that. There's no cheering in press box.' Are you kidding me? I was, like, it was freaking awesome."
The photo below isn't the one that appeared in the Arizona Republic, but it does highlight John Vasseur as he's celebrating Tiger's ace. (Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
Competitor at the course
Lee Janzen was on the practice green after a third-round 68 when Woods made his hole-in-one.
“When the roar went up, I knew exactly who it was,” Janzen said. “There was a group of people on the putting green, and the second it happened, we knew exactly what had happened and who did it. We all just looked at each other.
“There was no question that Tiger had just made a 1 on 16. Of all the years, of all the holes, of all the days. It had to be Saturday. That’s always the biggest crowd. And of all the people, it had to be him.”
Janzen, the 1993 Phoenix Open champion, shot 70-67 in the first two rounds in 1997. He was tied for 23rd and one shot behind Woods. Janzen shot 68-69 on the weekend to finish 14th and edge Woods by a shot.
“If I was 35, I could tell you everything,” Janzen said. “I don’t remember anything specific. That was pretty long ago.”
He remembers the roar, though.