NASSAU, Bahamas — The gallery surrounding the 1st tee started to swell at 12:45 p.m. Saturday.
Seven-year-old Solomon Clark sat on the sand in a Nike shirt and Albany hat. He stood up and looked at his dad, Russell Clark.
“Who’s up next?” Solomon asked.
“Tiger,” Russell said.
The father-son duo, like most everyone in the area, edged closer to the ropes. Russell and his wife, Raquel, encouraged Solomon to get closer, but the boy was only up front for a few minutes. He eventually retreated to his parents.
“Tiger is about to come, and you want to see,” his dad said. As Woods approached the tee box for his 12:53 starting time, the crowd buzzed. Solomon shuffled back to his spot.
“He’s never seen [Tiger] play,” Russell said of his son, while walking down the side of the 1st fairway. “And we don’t know how long this is going to last anymore. Like a Gretzky, a Jordan, a Messier — you have to come see it.”
Solomon saw Woods play golf on one other occasion, at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, but he was only 4 then and doesn’t remember much. Woods, per usual, was wearing his Sunday red — it’s been Solomon’s favorite color since.
The Clarks wouldn’t have come to Albany if Woods hadn’t. When he entered the Hero World Challenge, they were in. They live in Maryland and flew in on Wednesday and stayed through the weekend. They wanted to show their son a living legend; and not just through the TV. They even went to New York City for Woods’s book signing in March.
“I just wanted to make sure Solomon got to experience Tiger,” Russell said.
Tim and Terri Leto had the same thought. They wanted their son, Sam, to get an up-close look at Woods. When Sam was 2 he got so excited when he saw Woods on TV he started calling him “Movie.”
Tim heard the Hero was a great spectator event, and when Woods committed to the tournament Tim surprised his wife, a huge Tiger fan, with tickets. They arrived Friday and spent their first day at the course on Saturday, with Sam often riding on the shoulders of his dad.
“He knows who Tiger is and he’s a fan as well, and it’s important we do this as a family,” said Terri, adding that while Sam might not understand the significance of Woods today, she hopes in the future he’ll appreciate that he got to see him play. “[Sam’s] heard us say that we think he’s the best golfer ever. But to really appreciate him the way we do — no, I don’t know if at 6 years old he’s going to be capable of that, but he knows we think he’s the best ever.”
On Saturday, Sam was hanging out with his parents between the 13th green and 14th tee. Woods gave him a ball.
“He was ecstatic,” Tim said. “I think my wife had tears in her eyes.”
The Clarks and Letos are just one of the many families who came to Albany to see Woods’s first event in about 10 months — the golfing great’s latest comeback attempt. They hope to pass Woods’s story on to the next generation, one that might not truly understand the 14-time major-winner’s significance to the game. Woods transcended the sport, and golf is played differently now because of him. The golfer that Russell and Terri fell for is not the same one that Solomon and Sam see today.
Woods himself deals with the same dilemma.
Although he was surprised this summer when his daughter admitted they live with “a living legend,” he’s joked before that his 10-year-old daughter, Sam, and 8-year-old son, Charlie, only know of his accomplishments from watching highlights.
“I never thought my kids have understood what I’ve been able to do in the game of golf because they always think I’m the YouTube golfer,” Woods said Tuesday. “They’ve never seen me in action. Charlie was there at Akron when I won last time (in 2013), but he doesn’t really remember it; he was too young. So most of the stuff they’ve watched has been on highlight packages. They’ve never seen what I can do on a golf course.”
Sam and Charlie were at Albany over the weekend. They followed their dad with Woods’s girlfriend, Erica Herman, and presumably enjoyed the show.
The living legend, in the flesh.