The 2009 Memorial tournament will be remembered for Tiger Woods’ heroics on the final day of the competition. Tiger Woods did, of course, what Tiger Woods does, erasing a four shot deficit to start the day and winning the event in dramatic fashion by making birdies on the finishing holes, including a virtual tap-in for birdie at the difficult 18th Hole, to secure the victory (by one stroke over Jim Furyk). I was there as part of the PGA Tour Network’s live coverage crew (I was assigned to do the on course play-by-play for Tiger Woods for both Thursday’s and Saturday’s rounds), but the events of the week that left the greatest impression on me took place the Wednesday before the first round.
On that day, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and six other Tour stars got together for the first ever Memorial Skins game, for charity. Mr. Nicklaus and Tiger were paired together. With no disrespect intended to the other six golfers involved, it might as well have been just Mr. Nicklaus and Tiger on the course, for the focus of everyone was singular.
Somehow it seemed that fate itself was conspiring against the occasion. The weather in Ohio, was in a word, awful. Breezy, with temperatures barely cracking fifty degrees the ultimate indignity was the teaming down rain that accompanied the nine-hole exhibition.
But one thing was for certain. In a world where history usually chooses to define itself at a moment that suits its means, there in Dublin, Ohio – an Irish inspired city name, on Muirfield Village – a Scottish inspired name, in the most Celtic of weather, history would meet at a crossroads and for the 5,000 or so fellow drowned rats like me, we were treated to watching two of the greatest golfers of all time play side by side.
My credentials allowed me inside the ropes and I walked along, usually only a few feet from the competitors. I could hear their banter was they went along and honestly, it was not remarkable. There were no philosophical discussions about their place(s) in golf’s history books or the significance of the historical bridges their walking side-by-side represents. Instead, it was usually discussions about how far it was, usually 270 or 290 yards, to clear this bunker or hazard, with Mr. Nicklaus good-naturally chiming in “you weren’t telling that to me, were you?”. At one point, Tiger hit his approach shot on the par 5, 11th Hole, wayward to the right and as he walked over, he asked me if I saw where it went. I pointed to my right, in a batch of large trees. As he passed, Woods smiled and said to no one in particular, “it’s supposed to bounce out” (he nearly birdied the hole anyway).
For the record, and while it was not official, Jack Nicklaus appeared to be hitting his driver about 270 yards that day and was for the most part, 30 yards behind his fellow competitors, who, the oldest of which, Kenny Perry at 48, Mr. Nicklaus was conceding 21 years. Ever the competitor, Mr. Nicklaus won two skins that day. The overall winner, you guessed it, was Tiger Woods, after making an impossible chip-in at the 18th Hole, in a playoff.
The debate will continue to rage as to who is the greatest golfer of all time (I am of the belief that it is Jack Nicklaus, until such time as, and if, his place atop the record books is supplanted), but on this special day, it was not about who is better, it was about one of the rarest sightings in all of sport, it was about watching 32 combined professional Major wins walk down the fairways together in a rain shrouded forum that only the game of golf can provide.