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Confessions of a Weekend Golfer: My Day with Tiger

Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

(continued from page 2)

"How did you play?" a friend asked.

"Tiger shot 6-under," I replied. That was the response I repeated whenever a friend asked how I played with Tiger Woods on July 27 [2005] at the Buick Open Pro-Am at The Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc, Michigan. The truth is, I've played a lot better! I don't think my game was off due to Tiger alone. It was the first time I had ever played in front of a few thousand spectators. Of course, they didn't come to see me. But nevertheless, they stood by and watched every time I stepped up to hit the ball. For weeks before, I had worked myself up into a nervous lather. Sleep became more and more difficult as the day approached. The night before, I checked into the Townsend Hotel in nearby Birmingham. I had trouble falling asleep and had a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. I had a 45-minute drive ahead of me to meet my host, Gary Cowger, of General Motors at the practice range at 6 o'clock. Tee-off time was 7; we would be the first group out.

When I arrived at the first tee, the team was assembled. We were noticeably all excited. Each of us shook hands with Tiger and we all looked at one another as if we had just landed on the moon. Today we were playing with arguably the greatest golfer of all time!

For me, it was a dream beyond my own expectations. I came to golf late—five years ago to be exact. Since beginning to play, golf has become my obsession. I fell in love with the whole experience—the outdoors, the exercise and lots of fresh air, the natural beauty, the friendship and camaraderie and the fact that it's cigar harassment free! I can smoke my brains out without people giving me attitude. Heaven on earth!

For a new player to have this chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity was beyond words. Exciting and unbelievably intimidating.

On the opening tee, each member of our team was announced to the crowd. I was last. Everyone else had put his first drive onto the fairway. As I stepped up to the tee and my name was announced, my blood began to race. I could not feel my hands. My heart was pounding like a highway construction drill. I took several deep breaths, silently prayed and then swung my driver.

With a soft breeze behind me, I lifted a modest drive onto the fairway. Not far, but in the fairway! Boy, was I relieved. I was ready to go home and take a Valium. And so began my day with Tiger.

My spirit for adventure clicked in and I headed out to the fairway with my group, led by Tiger Woods. My foursome included Gary Cowger, group vice president of General Motors Corp. (a 20 handicap); Steve Shannon, general manager of Buick (a 24 handicap); and Tom Izzo, head basketball coach at Michigan State University (a 12 handicap). I have a 19 handicap.

Friends asked, "What was Tiger like?"

My response: "Reserved, carries himself with elegance, friendly." However, Tiger's aura was bigger than life.

As we walked the course he became more and more comfortable and more willing to converse. You could tell he was making an effort to be friendly. And it was appreciated. He told a number of stories about his recent British Open victory and about some of his hole in one experiences.

I asked if he ever got nervous playing in front of people (as that was on my mind). He smiled and said, "No, it's my job." We kibitzed about his playing golf with his good friend Michael Jordan—whom I had recently interviewed and played golf with—and he smiled and said that Michael always had a cigar in his mouth while playing golf with him. Do you ever smoke cigars, I asked? "Sure, I have one every two or three months, with Michael."

Tiger's game, as we have all seen on TV, is incredible. Standing next to him, I was able to see and hear his tee shots. First, there was a loud pounding noise, then the flight of a little white ball as it sailed off into the sky, rising higher and higher, until it disappeared from view. I never saw it land—it was too far away.

Once he was in the fairway, his second shot would be to the green. He was regularly on in two, even the par 5s. When the ball hit the green, it would stop. Not roll forward or spin back. Just stop! I found that amazing.

Each of his wood and iron shots to the green were pin high. Six feet left, eight feet right, but always pin high! His swing is so calibrated; he was hardly ever long or short. This day, he shot a 6-under 66. He missed, by my count, five six- to 10-foot putts by one inch, always left. Had he been putting as he usually does, he would have played to a course record. (As it is, the second day of the Buick Open, he shot an 11-under 61, tying the course record.)

Tiger ended up finishing second to Vijay Singh, not bad after winning the British Open 10 days earlier.

Perhaps the funniest moment of the day was on the tee of the par-4, 340-yard 12th hole. Up until this point, each of my tee shots had made it onto the fairway or first cut of rough.

I confidently stepped up to the tee and drilled a low line drive left. It hit a male spectator in his mid-20s in his rear end. I was totally embarrassed! Tiger commented, "Marvin, you really smoked that guy's butt." We all laughed, but I was concerned that I may have hurt him. I immediately went over to the young man, who reassured me he was not hurt. I went back later to talk to him, but could not find him.

My game that day was uneven—meaning I had many bad shots. So many that I was able to earn the sympathy of the crowd. On the par-5, 457-yard 15th hole, my third shot landed about 80 yards front-right of the green on a steep, side hill. A tough lie. As the crowd watched, I hit a perfect chip shot that sailed high into the air and landed on the green just left of the pin. To the other golfers, a routine shot, but it was me—and I got loud applause from the gallery. We all laughed.

When the round was over, we all shook hands on the 18th green. I can't explain the relief I felt and satisfaction that "I did it." Through many rough and embarrassing moments, I walked 18 holes with the quiet giant of the sport.

As I sit here remembering this day, I ask myself, if given the opportunity, given the negative effect on my mind, body and nervous system, would I do it again? It took nearly a month to find my game again, and regain some confidence in my swing. But my answer is simple. If Gary would ask me and Tiger would have me, I'd be there in a split second.

Photo by Dave Krieger/Getty Images

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