ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — It’s not your ordinary drive to work, Tiger’s commute this week. Twenty-two miles to his work station, another 22 home, his work station being the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, home being his yacht, called “Privacy.” It’s not very private this week. He’s staying with his family on the boat, tied up on the edge of a marina here, in clear view of motorists, fishermen, boat-owners and beach-goers.
Tiger’s changing, right before our eyes. He’s a little chattier with the press. He’s signing many more autographs than he used to. He has little waves and hellos from time-to-time for little kids. He’s staying this week not in a private house or a hotel suite with security at the door, but on a boat in a public marina where you can sit down at the Kingfish Grill and watch the golf and drink your beer and eat your fish-and-chips. Back in the day, to use one of Tiger’s favorite phrases, you’d see Jack out and about, standing at a crowded bar on the eve of the ’85 British Open, getting tall pours for Barbara and himself, chatting up the locals, that sort of thing. Ernie’s like that today, and so is Phil. Is Tiger heading there? Probably not. Still. Maybe the boat would get a different name today.
Back to his commute: it’s old, old Florida, straight north on A1A on the way to work, with the ocean on your right and marshlands on your left. There are houses here and there, and the miles of nothing but state beach and wild dunes and dead armadillos that no bird of prey can penetrate. On Saturday, when Woods was getting himself into contention, the surf was mushy. Here and there you’d see kids out with boogie boards and geezers on longboards.
Tiger, of course, grew up in Southern California and loves the ocean, and you can imagine the pleasure the drive brings him, the same for him as it would be for you or me or anyone. His great wins, so many of them, have been seaside: the amateur at Newport, the U.S. Opens at Torrey and Pebble, the British Opens at St. Andrews and Hoylake. The Stadium Course is a swamp monster surrounded by suburban wealth, and there’s something cool about it, but it’s new Florida all the way. The drive along A1A makes you think of Donald Ross, taking a train from Pinehurst down to Palm Beach, looking at duneland.
In some of the Florida high schools, the kids read “The Barefoot Mailman,” by Theodore Pratt. Hemingway could have written it. It’s about a mailman — a letter carrier, if you will — who brought mail to the little beachside villages between Jacksonville and Miami, on foot, by beach, long before I-95 and the contractors and retirees from the North made modern Florida the wacky, messy, gorgeous hit-and-miss sprawl that it is. On Tiger’s drive to work, you can imagine Pratt’s mailman. How lucky am I, that for the week of the Players, it’s my commute, too?