On the Tuesday before the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, I was hitting balls on the range, absorbed in a new move I had been developing. It was working. I had top 10s at Riviera and Bay Hill, and a final-round 64 at the Byron Nelson Invitational gave me a top 10 there too. Standing on the range, I had a flickering belief that this was going to be a magical week for me.
My best friend, Jack Harden, who knows more about golf than anyone I've ever met, stood a few feet away. Jack's father, whom we called Senior, was a Tour player, a teacher and a romantic about the swing. A Texas native, Senior had played and traveled with Hogan and Nelson and called them friends. Jack had also played the Tour, but a bad short game led him to a career in real estate. Still, he never quit studying, thinking about or playing golf.
As I hit balls, Jack was quiet, but I knew he was watching — not just my every little detail but everyone else on the range as well. After a good 30 minutes, he said, "Pro, I know you're playing in the national championship. And I know you're playing well. And I know you're occupied with your practice, as you should be, but if you don't stop what you're doing and watch what is going on, you will have missed an opportunity to see up close the single greatest golf swing and exhibition in the history of this game." Behind me, just a few feet away, equally absorbed in what he was doing, stood Tiger Woods.
For the next 30 minutes neither Jack nor I spoke as we watched the disciplined fury of swing after swing from Tiger. It wasn't so much that each shot was struck perfectly, or that each traced the same wind-cleaving trajectory, as it was the inescapable physicality and elegance that produced the shots. Every movement was full of purpose, and every shot piled up on one another in an obscene display of talent.
I was staying at the Lodge that week, in a room right off the 1st tee. Jack and his wife, Nancy, were in the next room. After dinner on Saturday night I went to bed, but around midnight I heard a knock on my door. I looked through the peephole, and there was Jack with a few clubs, a Scotch and a cigar. Nancy stood by his side. "What in the world are you doing?" I asked.
"Pro," he said, "Tiger has a 10-shot lead in the U.S. Open and will probably win by even more. I'm going to play the 18th hole in the dark to add to my memories of being here to witness the greatest tournament ever played. I brought you a Scotch and a cigar too. Come walk with me." I had made the cut but faltered on Saturday, so I figured, Why not?
There was just enough moonlight to see the hole. Jack played, Nancy and I watched, and as we walked, we drank, took in the night and tried to put Tiger's week into perspective. It's something I am still trying to do.
Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open four times, but never by more than two shots. Some say he was the greatest player of all time and had no competition. Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus also won four U.S. Opens each but never by more than six and four shots, respectively. Tiger won in 2000 by 15. In the 370 previous majors, no one had won by as much.
It turned out to be a magical week for Tiger, but I was there with my best friend, Jack, and it was no less magical for me.