Any story that comes out about Tiger Woods piques my interest; and I mean every story. Someone could write a 2000-word profile on Tiger’s bathroom habits and I’d soak that baby up like a Bounty paper-towel roll. That being said, this latest story to come out about Tiger Woods is an all-timer.
First let’s set the stage:
2003 Presidents Cup, Sunday singles. The powers that be chose South Africa as the host nation for the 2003 iteration, knowing it would setup a clash of the titans between team captains Jack Nicklaus and hometown hero Gary Player. Their two top players, Tiger Woods for the American squad and another local legend Ernie Els, were the two best players in the world at the time and squared off against each other in Sunday singles. Tiger would wrap up a 4&3 win over Els, but as the other matches ended the two stars quickly realized their day was far from over.
34 matches had been played over four days but the score was deadlocked at 17. Captains Nicklaus and Palmer voiced the instructions; they’d to go to a sudden-death playoff between a player of their choosing; with the winner getting the cup. Both Captains had placed that name in an envelope earlier in the week, and to the surprise of no one, the two names were Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.
What would follow in the next hour or so would go down in history as arguably the greatest playoff of all time. Both players would make lengthy putts on the first two holes two extend the match to a third. While they made their way up the final hole in near darkness, both captains knew this would be the last possible hole; but neither wanted to concede a tie. Ahead on the green both Ernie and Tiger left their lag putts far from gimme range. Tiger’s around 15-20 feet, Ernie’s in the 6-8 foot range. With the fate of the Presidents Cup on their shoulders, tensions rang high. As we’ve come accustomed to seeing over the years though, Tiger stepped up and drained his putt, walking it in with a passionate fist pump. Ernie’s turn. Without wasting any time, he sunk his putt as well.
One of the more impressive displays of one-on-one golf we had seen in years would be followed by one of the stranger scenes on a golf course in that same time. Despite Captain Nicklaus’ best attempts to pry the trophy away from the International squad by invoking the Ryder Cup’s “defending champion retains in the event of a tie” rule, the two captains finally agreed (in an epic display of gamesmanship that you can see in the clip below at the 11:00 mark) to call it a tie and share the Cup.
But this we knew. What happened immediately after that epic playoff, we didn’t. Until now. And it gives some incredible insight into how much the match meant to Tiger. Known for his steely demeanor and unprecedented record in golf’s biggest moments, one might think Tiger would revel in the chance to not only represent his country as a teammate, but to literally be responsible for the outcome of all 12 team members and a nation watching at home. But that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Playing and winning for yourself is one thing, but it’s a completely different animal than the task of doing so for a country and a team. Here is a recollection of Tiger’s steps following the conclusion of that playoff:
(Original story from Golfweek.com)
Dennis Alpert, then tournament director of the Presidents Cup, recalls the moment both players realized they were chosen for the playoff:
“Tiger’s demeanor completely changed,” Alpert recalled. “He went stone cold. The enormity of the situation hit them both. The burden fell on their shoulders… I remember trying to make some small talk with them, wishing them both good luck and feeling as though a cold breeze had fallen over me.”
But it wasn’t until after that Alpert discovered how the match shook Tiger
“Tiger is sitting in front of me in the van back to the clubhouse and he’s shaking,” Alpert said. “One of the players said it was incredible how he handled the pressure of the moment and asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ Tiger held up his hand and it was shaking. He wanted to show these guys – this is how I feel. He said he’d never been this nervous in his life.”
On the short, uphill winding ride to the clubhouse, Woods had one special request, asking if the clubhouse served cranberry juice. Why, yes they did.
“Can you get me a vodka cranberry?” Alpert recalls Woods then adjusting his order. “He said make it a big one.”
Alpert had the driver pull over at the side of the clubhouse near the bar and he jumped out and fetched a pint glass inside and had the bartender make a stiff drink. Woods was sitting in front of his locker when Alpert arrived, and his hands were still shaking.
“Tiger took the drink and chugged it like it was water,” Alpert said.
And Woods’ thirst wasn’t quenched yet. He asked for another to take the edge off. Alpert came back with another and a Miller Genuine Draft. He pounded those too.
What a legend. Now this was back in the days when Tiger was (allegedly) partying quite a bit, so two tall glasses of Vodka-Cran and an MGD probably didn’t do much more than alleviate Tiger’s shaky nerves. But still. If there was ever a time a guy had earned a cold drink, it was that moment right then.
A couple things come to mind here. First, if that was how the post-match drinking STARTED, it must have been one hell of a rowdy night. Second, Tiger choosing VC as his drink of choice is so great. When you’re that level of alpha you don’t have to play by the general rules other men do (remember this was in 2003, a different time). Think anyone on that team was going to make a single comment about it to him? No chance. They probably ordered a vodka-cran for themselves. Third and most importantly, it is really cool to see the human side of Tiger in such an intense moment. In basically the peak of his career, surrounded by his closest competitors, he decided to show them that it wasn’t just another round for him; it was the most nervous he had ever been. By all accounts Tiger wasn’t the most friendly or social guy on Tour in those days so him letting the boys in on that moment is pretty awesome. I just wish there was a video out there of Tiger housing a tall glass of vodka-cranberry like water. Maybe he will recreate it if his squad can get the better of Els’ this weekend in Australia.