Unprecidented by Tiger Woods

There is something special about a good sports biography.  As wonderful as watching an event is, good writing on that event can bring so much to the subject that the event is enhanced in your mind’s eye, sometime for the better, sometime for the worse.  Boxing has had some truly gifted writers on the subject, a recent favourite being Richard Hoffer’s Bouts of Mania about the five Ali fights in the late 70’s.  When the sportsperson themselves writes the tale, it can be end up being a mixed bag.  Unprecedented is Tiger Woods looking back at at his first Master win, 20 years ago now.  Tiger is a towering figure in modern golf.  He literally changed the game.  Looking back at the 1997 Masters at Augusta National though, Tiger provides a wonderful insight into what made those incredible four round unprecedented in the illustrious history of The Masters.

Tiger Woods, writing with Canadian golf journalist Lorne Rubenstein, opens his tale at the end of the rather poor front nine of his first round of the ‘97 Masters.  Tiger shot 40, 4 over par.  Having only turned professional 8 months before and signing a huge deal with Nike, the world was quite happy with with “reality” setting in.  But for Tiger, the short walk between the ninth green and the tenth tee was enough to reset and show the world that golf would now be very different.  The book uses the ‘97 Master as a frame to look back at what got Tiger to that point.  The influence of his parents and the atmosphere of a Black-Asian-American stepping onto the remarkably white world of golf.  The experiences of the young Tiger and the things that other parents and spectators would say to him in the junior and amature world is quite remarkably distasteful.  Tiger turned to his father, Earl, a former Marine, to toughen him up, which he did, using integration techniques.  I remember the stories back in the day that Earl subject his boy to this, but Tiger covers this eloquently.  He discusses the racism he faced and the approach he took to block it out and keep his focus on his game.  The drive he had growing up is remarkable.  Each of these vignettes from his past inform the day by day coverage of that Masters week.  The tale of those days when Tiger pulled the teeth of Augusta National is wonderfully told.  What comes through as much as the technical discussion of how he used his game, and the advice of the greats, to manage the course, is the reverence he has for that course, pre the “Tiger-proofing” of the early 2000’s.  The inland links of the older Augusta National that had areas to unlock is gone and it is very interesting to read Tiger’s thoughts on the matter.

Tiger Woods with his Pop, Earl, after winning the 1997 Masters

Tiger Woods with his Pop, Earl, after winning the 1997 Masters

As interesting as the discussion of the four rounds and how Tiger got there in 1997, are the final two chapters.  The second to last deals with the modern long-ball game and how the new Augusta National is no longer the course he dreamed of.  The discussion of each of the changes and how he, with his new experience of course design, would have looked at what they have done to the way the course is played.  Coupled to the discussion about lengthening the courses as defence to the modern pro-golfer, Tiger takes aim at the rules authorities, the R&A and USGA, for not reigning in ball and club technology.  What could have come across as pompous from the man who ushered in the modern game as we know it, reads very insightfully and informed.  As does his desire to design course the average and new golfer can play on.  The postscript at the end is surprising and personal.  Tiger discusses life and the injuries that keeps him away from competing.  But, from beginning to end, Unprecedented lets us into the mind one of the formative sportsmen of our times in ways I didn’t expect from Tiger Woods, who is a very private person.  That he does discuss and touch on some of the elements of his life that he will be remembered for as much as his 14 (so far) major titles is brave and, as a fan, it allows a level of closure.  Which, I suppose, was the point.  Nevertheless, what Tiger Woods gives us in Unprecedented is a look inside what went on in his head over those four incredible April days in 1997.  And a fascinating look it is too.

Unprecedented by Tiger Woods with Lorne Rubenstein is published by Sphere and is out now.

Tiger receiving his Green Jacket from 1996 champion Nick Faldo

Tiger receiving his Green Jacket from 1996 champion Nick Faldo