In 1991, Jack watched Tiger hit balls and predicted Masters greatness

In 1991, Jack watched Tiger hit balls and predicted Masters greatness

Eddie Merrins, left, invited a then 15-year-old Tiger Woods and his father Earl to a clinic at the Bel-Air Country Club.
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Thinking about Masters week reminds me of the first time I met Tiger Woods. In April of 1991, I was the coach of the UCLA golf team and the head pro at Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles. Tiger was just 15 and hadn’t yet won his first national junior tournament. (He would win the U.S. Junior Amateur later that year.)

We were hosting our annual “Friends of Golf” tournament to benefit student golfers and we had an impressive lineup of attendees: Byron Nelson, UCLA players Steve Pate and Duffy Waldorf, and our guest of honor Jack Nicklaus. We invited Tiger Woods to represent high school and junior golf.

For my “what might have been” files, I sometimes think of another guest we invited to attend that year: NCAA and U.S. Amateur champion Phil Mickelson. What an even more fateful day that would have been! Unfortunately, Phil had commitments at Arizona State and couldn’t make the trip to Bel-Air.

In fact, Terry Jastrow, a Bel-Air member and president of Jack Nicklaus Productions, brought a video camera to record the meeting of Jack and Phil, which Terry envisioned as a “passing of the baton” moment. He was disappointed Phil wasn’t there; little did he know that he would catch an even greater moment for posterity.

We asked Tiger to lead off the clinic portion of the day by hitting a few 3-iron shots on the practice tee. I was immediately impressed with his swing and natural ability and I asked him to hit shots: fade, draw, low, high. The composed teenager hit them all perfectly on command. Jack and the 400 or so in attendance knew they were witnessing something special, and Byron smiled in delight. Later that day, when Jack received his award, he made a point to compliment Tiger.

“Tiger, you might well win as many Masters as Arnold and I combined,” Jack said.

What a prophet Jack turned out to be. Now if I could only get ahold of that film!

To read more about Eddie Merrins, visit his Web site at