Bob Bubka recalls his encounters with Tiger over the years

The Master Returns

As the final putt by Tiger Woods found the bottom of the cup, a new generation of golfers and perhaps, more importantly, non-golfers, got a taste of the experience so many enjoyed in 1997 with Tiger’s first victory at Augusta. It had been more than a decade, a decade wracked with major surgeries and setbacks, public embarrassments, and worst of all, the possibility that he would never play again.

That 1997 victory sent golf on an upward trajectory as if powered by a rocket ship. Back in 1997, Tiger’s paycheck was less than $500,000, but this time around, he banked just under $2 million. In ’97, it was Tiger’s dad waiting greenside to greet him after the last putt dropped. This time it was his children, mom, and girlfriend, and about a dozen fellow competitors who stayed around to say, “Well done.” I was also there.

Watching Tiger Woods make his way to the clubhouse with thousands of patrons screaming his name Sunday was simply overwhelming. I count myself very fortunate now to have seen and been to each of his 15 Majors, including all five Masters. But none could ever, or will ever, compare to this one. Anytime Tiger does something good, it is good for the game, but when he does something great, like he did Sunday, it’s even better.

The sheer joy on Tiger’s face when that last putt dropped made me realize that having someone that famous as a friend is remarkable. I was never one to be on the negative bandwagon when things were going wrong for him. How could I? I have had more than my share of special moments with Tiger. Some of which I can share, while others shall remain just between us. Let me share a few not necessarily in the order they took place but rather in the order they flashed into my memory shortly after Tiger completed his historic victory.

Back in 2005, at the Open Championship at St Andrews, I had two very key assignments. One: Cover Jack Nicklaus as he was playing in his last Open Championship and Two: Cover the play of Tiger. It was obvious that Jack wasn’t going to make the cut, but he did craft out a birdie on his last hole. After signing his scorecard, Jack joined me live on talkSPORT. That was a special moment for me.

On that St. Andrews Sunday, I was alongside the 18th green waiting for Tiger to finish his round, and I spotted Tiger’s mother. I asked her if she would come on the air with me and she agreed. Tiger’s father, Earl, was often on television and radio, but this was the first time for Tiger’s mother. She did great and Tiger was pleased his mother enjoyed the experience.

Then in 2000, when working for the USGA, it was my job to conduct an interview with the key players and certainly the winner. Luckily for me, the winner was Tiger. I was directed to wait for Tiger in the passenger van that would transport him to the winner’s press conference. The van provided good sound quality and a measure of quiet privacy, so it was an ideal place.

So, there I was, waiting in the van for Tiger to arrive, and when he got into the van, he was talking on his cell phone. Obviously, I waited patiently for him to finish his call. Then I heard Tiger say “Yes, Sir. Thank You, Sir.” He ended his call by saying, “Thank You Mr. President. Now, what do you need Bob?” President Clinton had called Tiger to congratulate him on his U.S. Open victory. As you can imagine, it took me a few seconds to segue into that interview.

Lastly, I was in Southampton Hospital for some routine tests one time, and my partner and producer, Janis Self, went to Tiger’s event in California by herself. Tiger saw Janis and asked about my whereabouts. Of course, she mentioned that I was in a hospital for some routine tests, and Tiger insisted that she call me so that he could hear for himself how I was doing. When I hung up from Tiger’s call and told the doctor who was on the line, he promptly scheduled some additional tests claiming I might be delusional.

Well, there was absolutely nothing delusional about Tiger’s 15th major championship win on Sunday. There are many who say that this Tiger victory represents the greatest comeback in sports history. I couldn’t agree more. 

bobvoiceofgolf@gmail.com