Having Panned the largest amateur golf gold nuggets in his own country this year, 18-year-old U.S. Amateur champion Tiger Woods journeyed to the outskirts of Paris last week in search of treasure in the shadow of the gilded Palace of Versailles. The result: He unearthed another hefty lode of confidence and experience in helping the U.S. win its first World Amateur Team Championship in a dozen years.
The Americans' 11-stroke victory over runner-up Great Britain & Ireland was indisputably led by flinty Allen Doyle, whose 72-hole total of 277 was the low individual score in the biennial competition, which this year attracted four-man teams from 45 countries. On Sunday, the 46-year-old Doyle made up for a bogey, triple bogey start with a heroic six-under-par run over the final seven holes. "I felt awful," he said of his 40 on the front nine, "but I was damned if I wasn't going to come scratching back." And so, with the U.S. trailing by four strokes with nine holes to play, he fired a 30 on the back nine to spark the runaway victory.
But Woods also had his claws out, shooting a 72 on Sunday despite the pressure of playing in the tournament's final threesome. "I thought batting cleanup would suit Tiger to a tee," said Doyle. "He already had the crowd, and the young man is not afraid of pressure."
"I loved it," said Woods, whose rounds of 70-75-67-72 (sixth individually) all counted toward the team score in a format that tallied a team's best three rounds each day. "My only thought was to hit solid golf shots all day long. Nothing can go wrong then."
Almost nothing has gone wrong for Woods in his meteoric golf career. As a superstar amateur—he is the only player to win three straight U.S. Junior Amateur championships, the only player to win both the U.S. Junior and the Amateur and the youngest player ever to win the Amateur—he is galvanizing interest in amateur golf for the first time in decades.
In Versailles, Woods was clearly the star, drawing galleries larger than those of all the French golfers combined. The Gallic press celebrated him as much as it has any American since Jerry Lewis. The sports daily L'Equipe called him TIGER LA TERREUR, while the daily Le Figaro compared him with another prodigy—Mozart.
The World Amateur began in 1958, when 29 countries competed for the Eisenhower Trophy at the Old Course in St. Andrews and Australia upset the U.S. The Americans were out for revenge two years later at Merion, outside Philadelphia, and they won by 42 strokes.
Although the U.S. won eight of the next 11 World Amateurs, it came to Versailles riding an ignoble streak of five straight runner-up finishes. The fact that the Americans lost to a different team each time speaks well of the improvement in world golf, but this year's U.S. contingent—Doyle; Woods; Todd Demsey, the 22-year-old 1993 NCAA champion from Arizona State; and 42-year-old John Harris, the '93 U.S. Amateur champion—was the favorite to regain the Eisenhower Trophy.
Woods had been to France before, at 14, as a member of a team of Southern California junior golfers who played juniors from the French Golf Federation. So this time he skipped the U.S. team's sightseeing tour of Paris and stuck close to the course and the practice range. Indeed, for the entire nine days he was in Versailles he avoided French cuisine, dining instead at the McDonald's down the block from the team hotel. "I can't handle all these sauces," he explained.
In short, Woods was not on some exotic field trip. Although his manner at the golf course is outwardly calm, his intensity is visible in flashes of anger after bad shots and in his tight focus on the practice range. He also has a sharp eye for the techniques of others, and last week he helped Demsey with his swing and Harris with his putting stroke.
Woods didn't mess with Doyle's buggy-whip swing, and he developed tremendous respect for Doyle's fighting spirit. When Harris and Doyle teamed to beat Woods and Demsey out of $20 in a friendly practice round on Wednesday, Woods duly submitted to Doyle's needle. "We sort of left them there, dazed in the corner, bleeding from the nose, with the towel thrown in," said Doyle. But Woods got a measure of revenge when a British journalist wondered aloud whether Doyle, who operates a driving range in La Grange, Ga., was twice Woods's age. "Oh, he's a lot older than that," Woods said, accurately.
For all his practice. Woods's game was at loose ends when play began in earnest last Thursday. Yawning and trying to stay warm on a 38° morning at Golf de La Boulie. a heavily wooded course built in 1887, Woods promptly bogeyed the 1st and made three more bogeys before the turn. But he then summoned all his scrambling genius to keep his round in hand over the next seven holes. Finally, with the gift for the dramatic turnaround that has marked many of his triumphs, he eagled the 507-yard 17th hole with a drive, a four-iron and a 20-foot putt, and birdied the 18th to salvage a more-than-respectable, one-under-par 70.
By Woods's account, he hadn't hit the ball much better than Dzintars Vieglins of Latvia, who had toured Golf de La Boulie in 115. Vieglins, the coach of the Latvian team as well as the father of two of its players, had been enlisted to play only two weeks earlier after one of his players fell off a horse and broke his wrist. A 15 handicapper who actually lives in Sweden, Vieglins said. "We came here with two goals, to beat Russia and not to finish last." Since the Russian team had pulled out before the event and three teams finished behind Latvia, all went well. Throughout the event, officials armed with walkie-talkies kept things light with occasional updates on Vieglins's progress. "The Latvian is well into his second hundred," R&A secretary Michael Bonallack somberly intoned toward the end of Vieglins's 111 on Friday.
After the first round the U.S. led by two strokes over Sweden as it moved for the final three rounds to Golf National's L'Albatros course, a well-regarded design opened in 1990 that has been the site of the last four French Opens. Woods again had to scramble, this time to a 75 that counted toward the U.S. score when Harris shot 77. At the end of the day the U.S. trailed Great Britain & Ireland by one.
"I'm putting it so well, but I can't hit it," a frustrated Woods said on his way to the range. But after a couple of buckets, he discovered and corrected a slight reverse pivot. "I'm going to be tough to beat now," he said. Before going to bed, he called Houston for a confidence-building talk with his teaching pro, Butch Harmon.
On Saturday, Woods came to the 1st tee both rested and fired up. He opened with birdies on the first two holes, made three more to turn in 31 and survived two late three-putts to shoot 67, including a birdie at the last hole. With the steady Doyle adding a 69, the U.S. led by one stroke over Great Britain & Ireland and by four over Australia, which got a tournament-record 63 from Jason Dawes.
That night, at the U.S. team dinner, Woods, who recently began his freshman year at Stanford, got up and borrowed from Chip Beck's speech to his teammates before the final day oil he 1993 Ryder Cup. "The will to win can overcome mechanical breakdowns," Beck had said. "I'm a big believer in that," Woods told a friend the next day. "The way I won the Amateur taught me that."
Indeed, for all the fluidity and power of Woods's game, it is his mental toughness that appears to be his greatest weapon. As each success brings higher expectations—not to mention the temptation to leave college, turn professional and mine real gold—it is Woods's inner strength that will have to hold him in good stead. "As talented as he is, Tiger's going to have to be better with his head than with his hands." says Doyle. "What I really like about him is that he knows that he's a long way from where he wants to get to. In golf, the way you get better is by knowing you're not there."
In the case of Tiger Woods, he might get closer to "there" than anyone yet.