A little more than one year ago, Tiger Woods, sat in the media center at the Presidents Cup just outside New York City and told the media that his future in the game was uncertain, unsure if he would ever play golf at its highest level again.
Fast forward 14 months and we find Woods, a recent winner of the TOUR Championship, on a whirlwind tour of Melbourne, Australia, as the Captain for the United States Team that will come to The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, for the 2019 Presidents Cup.
Woods, who served in 2017 as an assistant captain for the United States Team, credits the young team members with playing an important role in what we now know as one of the greatest comeback stories the sport has ever seen.
“Mentally, it gave me a shot in the arm. The guys really, they really encouraged me to come back and play. They were offering whatever dinner or practice rounds or practice, I’ll fly down here, let’s just get me being a part of the game of golf again,” Woods said during a press conference alongside the Yarra River in downtown Melbourne.
Woods’ 26 hours in Melbourne included media activities, sponsor visits and charity fundraising and began with a photo tour of what he called, “one of the greatest sporting cities in the world.”
First stop was Eureka Tower where the 80-time PGA TOUR winner was challenged with the most nerve-racking six-foot putt in town – a putt game on the Eureka Tower Skydeck 88 stories above the city. Just as he drew his putter back, the frosted glass turned clear exposing the cityscape below. Without batting an eye, Woods sunk the putt.
“I’ve jumped out of too many planes for this to bother me,” he calmly stated.
From there, Woods stopped by a nearby graffiti wall where street-art of both he and International Team Captain Ernie Els is displayed in true Melbourne style. His final stop came at the iconic Brighton Beach Boxes where unsuspecting “nippers” from a local primary school were spontaneously called over from the ocean to have a photo with the eight-time Presidents Cup team member.
Woods advanced to The Royal Melbourne Golf Club for a course tour with superintendent Richard Forsyth and a series of video and photo opportunities that even included trick shots from YouTubers How Ridiculous and a surprise coaching moment with youth members of the Golf Australia My Golf program.
On Wednesday evening, at a charity dinner with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the two swapped stories about what makes the golf courses in the Sandbelt reason so special.
“Well, playing here in the Sandbelt golf courses, it’s just heaven,” Woods told the audience
“The ball chases. It rolls. We have so many courses in the States where that’s not the case. You have to hit the ball straight up in the air, and you have to put spin on it. Well, it’s fun to chase it along the ground. When we played in ’98 , it’s really fascinating to kind of think about it. We were still in the transition from persimmon to metal wood at the time,” Woods said. “My (course design) philosophy is just like what it is here, to have the opportunity to use the ground as a friend. I love the fact that you have fairways that roll into bunkers…. It will roll right into a bunker. You can putt into a bunker. These are things that you don’t normally see back home in the States.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, himself a member of famed Sandbelt layout Kingston Heath, revealed a deep and passionate knowledge of the game of golf as he unashamedly praised his own backyard.
“What makes our collection of courses different and absolutely unique, firm, fast, play from tight turf, invariably narrow. Royal Melbourne is different though. It’s very wide. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Alister Mackenzie came here in 1926 and was leaving right around this time of year and laid out the west course and left plans for lots of other golf courses around our nation but went on to New Zealand and back to the States,” Mr Andrews said.
“He was a wonderful democrat in that you go to Royal Melbourne, because of that width, there’s a way for everyone to make a bogey. There’s only one way to make a birdie though. If you’re on the wrong side of the fairway, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the hole. That’s a long way of saying Sandbelt golf is tactical golf. It’s a much more strategic form of the golf. Other obvious things, not much rough, no rough around the greens, every club in the bag, weather is a really important part of it. But it’s a more thoughtful style of golf than perhaps some of the stuff we watch from time to time.”
The next day, three hours of media by the Yarra River in downtown Melbourne capped off Woods’ take over of the city. Radio and TV interviews were followed by a press conference which allowed fans to view as they passed by. Those lucky enough to stumble across Woods during his travels around Melbourne were often greeted with an autographed pin flag.
“We are in probably one of the greatest sporting countries, cities in the world,” Woods said. “This crowd is supposed to cheer for the international team and for your own players, but you guys have always been so respectful, and that’s one of the neat things for us as Americans coming to your country, to be able to play in front of a bipartisan crowd, which is great. You guys are going to cheer louder for our putts missed, your putts made, but you guys are true sports fans, and you also understand. That’s what makes this event and having it here in this city so special for all of us.”