By Sterling Pingree
Each generation has certain sporting moments where you remember where you were and who you were with. When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, I was a freshmen at Husson and watched the final out on my 19” Sylvania television set with probably 10 people in my dorm, room 612 in Hart Hall. I watched the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI in my parent’s living room with my friends Riley Adams and Frank Hayes.
There is one sporting moment however, that made an indelible mark and ignited a passion more than any other. Tiger Woods record victory at the 1997 Masters was one of the first times I ever watched golf in my life and the impact of this moment can be measured by the amount of times I stick a tee in the ground each year.
It’s weird the things you remember from your childhood and in April of 1997, I was 11-years old. I first remember hearing about what Tiger was doing to Augusta National in a doctor’s office of all places. I distinctly remember one of the nurses, knowing that I was a sports fan, asking me about how dominant this kid Woods was at that week’s Masters Tournament. Keep in mind, Tiger was 21 years old and this was the Friday afternoon of the tournament. Tiger probably hadn’t quite come off the course yet from his second round and casual sports fans were already talking about this young man’s assault on the world’s most recognizable course.
People love The Masters for a multitude of reasons, one of which is because there is a lot of scoring and the possibilities of wild changes on the leaderboard. But in 1997, through 3 rounds of play, Tiger had tied the 54 hole scoring record, and set the record for combined score in the 2nd and 3rd rounds but most impressive was that Woods set the record for largest lead going into the final round at The Masters with a commanding 9-shot lead over Costantino Rocca. There were just under a dozen players under par for the entire tournament going into the final round and Tiger Woods was -15 under par.
I was glued to the TV all day on Sunday to watch the coronation of Tiger Woods. We didn’t know then that the black hat, red shirt and black pants that we saw on that Sunday, we would be inundated by on Sundays for the next 20 years. The power of this moment prompted me to take a Nerf golf ball and my dad’s persimmon Sam Snead model driver (without a tee) and go out into our snowbank and ice covered door yard and try to emulate what I had just seen Tiger do on the most beautiful property in the country. Did your parents ever ask you questions like “What possessed you to do something like this?” For the first time I had an answer to this question: Tiger Woods, he possessed me to scrape up my dad’s wooden driver trying to hit a Nerf golf ball off the deck.
It would be 5 more years of major victories for Woods before I would be able to tee it up on a real course for the first time. Now I play over 100 rounds of golf each year (which in Maine where you can play for MAYBE 6 months out of the year is self-admittedly a bit obsessive) and I continue to watch The Masters with religious fervor each year. With live streaming on my tablet, I didn’t get a lot done this week, but it did allow me to watch Tiger’s final round from 1997. It was the first time I had watched the original broadcast since it happened live and in some ways I watched the event differently. I could tell with greater certainty the quality of each shot and I’m somewhat surprised that during such a performance, Tiger wasn’t very good off the tee that day. What didn’t change upon rewatching this seminal moment, was the lens that I still see these images through. Call it rose colored glasses, or perhaps they’re tinted Sunday red, but when I close my eyes and think of the greatest golf victory I can think of, I still come back to Tiger Woods putting on 18, 20 years ago to set the Masters scoring record.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine.com and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.