Golf: Assuming a new role, Tiger changes his stripes

Tiger Woods (above) has been communicating a lot with the rest of the American team at Hazeltine.
Tiger Woods (above) has been communicating a lot with the rest of the American team at Hazeltine.

CHASKA • Tiger Woods was standing behind Dustin Johnson on the driving range at Hazeltine National Golf Club last week when his posture stiffened. Years of celebrity have given him the ability to sniff out a camera like a bloodhound.

Out of the corner of his eye, Woods had spotted a man approaching with a smartphone attached to a hand-held gimbal. He relaxed when he saw that the man was videotaping Johnson's swing.

Woods, 40, whose playing career has been halted by a chronic back injury for the last 14 months, came to Hazeltine as a vice-captain for the American Ryder Cup team.

Even in a non-playing role, he commands attention: During a range session, the caddies for two players in Woods' four-man pod separately approached a photographer to ask him to snap candid photos of them next to Woods.

Despite his well-honed apprehension, the caddies probably could have asked for selfies.

Since his last win on the PGA Tour in 2013, Woods appears to have approached relationship-building with the zeal he once devoted to legacy-building.

The walls that he constructed to support his competitive aura and keep his distance from the public are crumbling now.

As a player, Woods was not inclined to open up. As a vice-captain, he has been hard to shut up.

Brandt Snedeker, a member of the American team, said he had several telephone conversations with Woods before the competition, including one that lasted an hour and a half.

"To say it's unusual to get a call from Tiger Woods would be pretty accurate," Snedeker said.

Woods made his Ryder Cup debut in 1997, his first full year as a professional. Lee Janzen, another member of that year's US team, said then that he was happy Woods had the chance to become better acquainted with the American players.

During a typical tournament week, Janzen explained, Woods was mobbed on the range, and "that's why he doesn't spend that much time with other guys".

At Hazeltine, wires from a communications device have been dangling out of Woods' right ear, a look normally associated with his tournament security detail. They let him stay in touch with the American team captain, Davis Love III, and the four other vice-captains.

In his new role, Woods is mentoring a player in his pod, Patrick Reed, who has long emulated Woods' game, going so far as to wear red and black on Sundays.

Reed, 26, said he had not had much contact with Woods and did not know what to expect from him when he arrived on Monday. Someone as successful as Woods, Reed said, could either go through the motions or go the extra mile.

That first day, Reed said, Woods went the extra 3,857 yards - or 3.5km - for him. The wind was gusting over 48kmh, and the other players called it quits after the front nine. Reed wanted to keep going.

Woods, who finished second at the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, offered to accompany him. Reed said the tips he got from the veteran on that back nine would help him not only this week but in the years to come.

"It was amazing," Reed said. "I learnt so much just from that nine holes walking around that I felt like that alone could save me so many shots throughout my career - just by thinking about the little minor details.

"He'll answer any question, whether it's about golf, on the golf course, off the golf course, anything."

Woods was not included in the official Team USA photograph. Yet, in his first appearance as a vice-captain, he will not feel like a bystander. His regard for the game has only deepened. It is there for all to see with every fist pump he makes to celebrate someone else's success.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Assuming a new role, Tiger changes his stripes'. Print Edition | Subscribe