Chip Shots

JACK AND TIGER

This past week, the traveling circus better known as the PGA Tour crossed the country from Los Angeles to Palm Beach Gardens, which kicked off the PGA’s Spring Swing.

Tiger Woods had committed to play the event, and it was easy to feel the buzz in the air. Tiger’s home is located only a few miles from the course, as well as his very upscale, expensive restaurant—and I mean expensive even by East End standards. I took full advantage of the close proximity.

After finishing dinner in a nearby restaurant in my price range, I headed to Tiger’s place, “The Woods Jupiter.” I was excited as I approached the restaurant and thrilled to be there. Of course, when the valet opened my car door and asked for the keys, I simply said that I had made a wrong turn. Even though the thrill was short lived, it was a nice fantasy. Plus, no tip required.

Several years back, Jack and Barbara Nicklaus joined forces with the Honda Classic, and the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital became the main charity of the tournament. A real bonus for me about the week is that I get to spend some time with Jack. Jack, regarded as the best golfer of all time, having won 18 Majors—four more than Tiger, who is in second place.

His memory is downright scary. During my interview with Jack this past week, I told him I wanted to revisit the first time we met. It was the Thursday of Masters week in 1986. When I informed Jack of that encounter, he floored me when he said he remembered that interview. Apparently because of my look of disbelief, Jack told me the exact question I had asked him back then . . . and then he went on to tell me the exact answer he gave to the question—and that was 32 years ago! Some days I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, much less a question and answer from 32 years ago.

This past week, the Honda Classic had the largest gallery in its rich history, shattering all records with 224,642 confirmed spectators. They all seem to “eat, drink, and enjoy the golf,” translating into more money for the Children’s Hospital. Yes, Tiger is good for the game.

Tiger, who has not won a golf tournament in five years, is still by far the biggest draw in golf. A special moment occurred this week when a student from the nearby Parkland school, site of 17 tragic deaths, was a volunteer on the range and got to meet Tiger. The two spoke, then Tiger gave the young fan the 2018 version of an autograph, a selfie.

You may ask: Just how different is it when Tiger plays well? It is amazing. Bob Joyce, long time friend and former head professional at Southampton Golf Club, was in Tiger’s gallery. According to Joyce, nearly 20,000 fans struggled to see Tiger, while only nearly 100 followed the leaders in the last group. Tiger rewarded his fans with a 12th place finish.

Meanwhile, the new Honda Classic champion is last year’s player of the year, 24-year-old Justin Thomas. The talent pool on the PGA Tour may be the deepest and the youngest in history. Justin Thomas has won seven times in his last 31 starts, including winning a Major, the PGA Championship . . . simply incredible.