All that’s required to make Tiger Woods’ memoir (for the lack of a better word) a perfect guidebook for aspiring pros is the deletion of the last chapter (the postscript) in Unprecedented: The Masters and Me, his first-person account of the events leading up to—and through—the 1997 Augusta Masters. But more on that later, as the rest of the book is, and should be, compulsory reading for all youngsters contemplating a career in professional golf. Unprecedented is a rare insight into the single-mindedness required to succeed in the super-competitive world of pro golf—whether it’s hitting 600 balls and playing everyday for years, or, more crucially, developing the kind of mental fortitude required to keep your equanimity on the golf course.
For fans, there are juicy anecdotes that offer a rare peek into the life of a very reticent man. My favourite is about how Woods blasted R&B music while driving out of Augusta’s hallowed Magnolia Lane after his 1997 triumph. Augusta is a bit too highly regarded in my opinion, especially for a club that, as Woods says, “underwhelmed” him because he was aware of its racist history—the club didn’t allow an African-American member till 1990 and Woods makes a point of mentioning this in his thank-you note to the club (reproduced in the book) after first playing there as an amateur in the early Nineties.
While reading the book, you get the sense that there are disparate voices in Woods’ head and he struggles to accommodate what each wants him to articulate. He starts with his undiminishing passion as a student of the game, his clinical approach to rendering his golf swing and body into effective weapons, and most crucially, the mental training drilled into him by his father Earl to become what he calls a “silent assassin”. This is then followed by a fascinating blow-by-blow account of those four days at Augusta in 1997. Woods’ performance is well documented, but the book gives the reader a view from the inside, so to speak—his thought process and approach to the tournament.
In the latter part of the book, Woods moves on to something else he feels strongly about: the evolution of golf into a ‘power’ game and the ensuing havoc that has been wreaked on courses like Augusta that have tried to add distance to counter the prodigious lengths modern equipment and the golf ball are capable of delivering. Woods minces no words about how the Augusta of today bears little resemblance to the layout he mauled in 1997 and laments how those changes have led to the demise of creativity.
He even strikes a defiant note, iterating that he won’t play the competition again if Augusta’s organisers lengthen the iconic par-3 12th hole: “The 12th is one of the best par threes in the world just the way it is. There’s no reason to change it, and I hope Augusta National leaves it alone. The day the hole is lengthened to, oh, 200 yards will be the day I quit playing the Masters…” Ironic because, at this point, Woods’ return to Augusta, or the tour for that matter, seems far-fetched.
From a golfing intelligence point of view, this penultimate chapter that dissects the changes made to the course over the years is the most interesting. It makes a hypothetical case for a return to persimmon woods and the balata ball but, more realistically, for governing bodies to control and disallow any further increase in distance vis-à-vis equipment and the golf ball.
At the very end of the book is Woods’ latest iteration of an apology. It comes as no surprise that this last chapter is inserted as a postscript, implying that Woods thought long and hard before including it. He writes fleetingly about the scandal that led to his divorce and expresses “regret” that will “last a lifetime”. The thing with golf—a game where you’re expecting to keep your own score and call penalties on yourself—is that it demands unimpeachable personal integrity from its superstars. It’s a matter of conjecture whether Woods’ off-course scandals would have faded into obscurity had he managed to keep his game together. But the edifice crumbled on every front, leaving only a trace of the player he once was.
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Woods’ achievements shouldn’t need reminding, but for millennials who weren’t born, or were too young in 1997, there’s no way of knowing the magnitude of his win at Augusta and how it heralded the beginning of athleticism in golf. And how, in one epochal week in Georgia, golf suddenly became ‘cool’ with an entirely new generation. To say that Woods saved the game by reinventing the way it was played is no overstatement.
It’s poignant, though, that 20 years and 13 more major victories later, the 1997 Augusta Masters remains Woods’ most enduring legacy and the man himself understands that ‘better than most’. For Woods, the athlete, the competitor, the student of the game and the strategist, there couldn’t be a more appropriate legacy. But that’s small consolation, I suspect, for Woods who could have been the greatest golfer in the history of the game.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game.