Touring professionals don't assess Tiger Woods's golf game the
way you might. You are awed by the speed of his hands through
the ball and the distance he gets with his driver. Touring
professionals, in the privacy of their courtesy-car
conversations, take a more cold-blooded view. They say, Good
They know, to paraphrase Bobby Jones, that there is golf and
there is professional golf--and they are not at all the same.
Scott Verplank was a good amateur who won a Tour event while in
college and has been ordinary as a professional. Phil Mickelson
was a good amateur who won a Tour event while in college and has
been spectacular as a professional. Tiger Woods is a sophomore
at Stanford. Earlier this month he won the NCAA individual
title. He's a superb amateur golfer. But professional golfers
will tell you: Everything changes when you start playing for
For the first two rounds at the national championship, the USGA
sends off the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and British Open champs as
a threesome, which meant that last Thursday at 12:20 p.m., and
again the following morning at 8, Woods, Corey Pavin and John
Daly were to be found on the 1st tee at Oakland Hills. Woods,
who won the U.S. Amateur last year and the year before, was
playing with two of the best professionals in the game.
And, for a while, outplaying them. Through 13 holes in the
opening round, Pavin was three over par, Daly was level and
Woods was three under. Woods was tied for the lead of the
tournament. The gallery following the three was immense from the
start, but as word of Woods's round spread across the course,
the gallery started to bulge uncomfortably into the wet,
malodorous rough. Nobody seemed to mind. The spectators were
virtually all white, and they cheered for Woods, who is not,
with such verve you had the feeling that maybe American golf is
finally emerging from its racist past.
June 23, 1996
On his way to the 14th tee, Woods sneaked a peak at a leader
board and saw he was tied for first. On opening day that should
be meaningless, and maybe someday for Woods it will be. On this
day it was not. Woods closed like the guy you can beat Sunday
morning: bogey, double bogey, quadruple bogey, bogey, bogey.
On a day when his A game was on, Woods shot 76, six over par. On
a day when their games were dull, Daly shot 72, Pavin 73.
When the round was over, Woods, the first amateur golfer to have
stature on the national sportscape since Jack Nicklaus, put on a
brave face and chatted pleasantly with NBC's Johnny Miller in
front of a TV camera. A half hour later he was standing by the
open trunk of his courtesy car. Wordlessly, he tossed a putter
against a golf instruction book, smashed the trunk closed,
folded his lanky frame behind the wheel while his father, Earl,
took the passenger seat, and got off campus fast.
Daly's been there. "Those things happen," he said
sympathetically of Woods's collapse. "It's happened to me a
hundred times. He was going along so well. But he's tough. I
wish I was that tough at 21. Hell, I was getting drunk every
night when I was 21."
Actually, Woods won't turn 21 until Dec. 30. Before then he's
planning to play in two Tour events, Quad Cities and Milwaukee,
as an amateur. If he wins either event, he said, he will think
about turning pro immediately.
Someday he will turn pro, and when he does, he and Daly will be
among the longest drivers extant. The tendency is to lump all
the long whackers, but their 36 holes together made it clear
that Daly and Woods have wholly different methods. Daly is as
flexible as Gumby; his backswing is comically long; his
downswing is very steep; and his ball seems to float for a day
or so until it returns to terra firma. Woods's swing is classic,
and his tee shots have, compared with Daly's, more of a
stinging, line-drive-drawing quality to them. On fast fairways
or into a wind, Woods is longer. Downwind or on soft, wet
fairways--at the Open the grass was long and the fairways
mushy--Daly is longer, but not by much.
Woods hit one of the longest drives of the week, a 336-yard
screamer on the 12th hole. Overall, he led the Open with an
average drive of 297 yards, a statistic derived from play on
just two holes, the 8th and the 14th. Daly was well back, in
45th place, with an average of 265 yards, which simply reflects
the fact that he mostly used his Zero iron off the tee on 8 and
14. But in the first round, on the only hole on which he and
Woods used drivers and found the fairway, the 2nd, Daly won the
driving contest 326 yards to 314.
As they move closer to the hole, Daly's edge over Woods becomes
more evident. Daly has an extraordinary feel for how a rolling
golf ball will respond to humps and hollows and an innate sense
of the best way to play a shot. He performs with such looseness
and speed you sometimes wonder if he's really trying. With
Woods, there's never any doubt. His manner is technical and
analytical. His skill level is very high, but skill and talent
are not the same thing.
At Augusta in April, and again at the Open, lag putting appeared
to be a weakness in Woods's game. Putting from 30 or more feet,
Woods often left himself with cranky three- and four-footers.
Facing putts of that length every third hole or so makes for a
mental drain that even a smart kid like Woods doesn't need.
Woods says he is very happy with his lag putting, even after a
second round that included three three-putts. With better
putting his laudable 69 for the round could have been even
niftier. The problem, he said, was the awkward places his
approach shots ended up, not the lag stroke itself. This may be
the best proof that Woods is Tour material: Whenever possible,
do not fault yourself. But Woods is old enough to know that
Nicklaus won a bunch of majors reaching par-5s in two shots and
coaxing eagle putts close enough to tap in. Daly, with his
wristy stroke, does the same thing. He nudges the ball right to
The normal route to the Tour for the elite amateur is four years
of college golf followed by a journey through the hell known as
the Tour Q school. If you listen closely to Earl Woods, after
four years of Stanford, Q school will probably be Tiger's route
"Qualifying shouldn't be a problem for him," said last year's
U.S. Open champion. Note, however, that Mr. Pavin said
shouldn't, not won't. The pro golfer knows to take nothing for
granted. An amateur may have all sorts of game. Playing for
money, things change.
With a 72-69-73-73-287, Daly finished 27th at Oakland Hills,
nine strokes behind Steve Jones. Pavin shot 73-70-72-74-289 for
40th place. Tiger Woods had a 76-69-77-72-294. A spectacular
amateur career continues, for now.