The 2005 Masters and how I fell in love with golf
By Peter Santo
To many, the game of golf is very simple– hit a little white ball into a tiny hole. But to people who play the game competitively– whether for a living or not– it is so much more than that. I have been playing golf for as long as I can remember, first learning the game at a public course not too far from my house. Like most recreational golfers, I follow the professional game very intently. While it is almost as if the professionals are playing a different game due to their immense skill, there are moments where they inspire you to work harder in your own game.
Let’s set the stage for the moment I fell in love with the game of golf. April 7-10, 2005 was supposed to be Chris Dimarco’s week. After contending as a Masters rookie in 2001, the former University of Florida star seemingly put it all together that week. He opened with a pair of 67s to open up a big lead, but the greatest talent the game has ever seen, Tiger Woods, was right on his heels on the weekend. By the time they reached the 16th green on Sunday, Woods had taken the lead by one, poised to win another green jacket.
The 16th, named Redbud, is a seemingly simple hole. A 170 yard par 3 that just requires a middle iron to reach the green. But this hole is anything but simple, the severely sloping green makes being below the hole a must, and there is a bunker and a pond to the left of the green. Dimarco, trailing by one, played safely into the middle of the green, while Woods pulled his tee shot long and to the left, advantage Dimarco. While Dimarco looked to make par and possibly birdie, Woods faced an extremely difficult pitch. He had missed his tee shot in the spot you just can’t miss it at 16, and was staring bogey square in the face. He needed to play is shot upwards of 25 feet above the hole to even think about getting it close. His ball rested against the second cut, eliminating the possibility of hitting a flop shot. It was a shot that would be considered impossible under the simplest of circumstances, never mind with golf’s biggest championship on the line.
The mental fortitude of some people simply amazes me. On that day, with everything seemingly stacked against him, Tiger Woods simply refused to lose. Everyone questioned him, commentators Verne Lundquist and Lanny Wadkins, legends in their own right, said Woods would be lucky to get it inside Dimarco’s coin. After what seemed like an eternity surveying the shot, Woods finally played, and the entire world of golf held its breath. He hit his landing spot perfectly with just the right amount of spin, letting the slope carry it towards the hole. It quickly became apparent that Woods had played a phenomenal shot, but no one knew yet just how good. When the ball appeared to come to rest on the edge of the hole, we thought we had been robbed of history, but fate wasn’t going to let that ball stay out. Woods had made birdie, he had a two shot lead with two holes to play, and he had stolen yet another green jacket. “In your life! Have you ever seen anything like that?” Lundquist proclaimed as the ball fell in. It was a rhetorical question, but the obvious answer was no. We thought we had seen it all with Tiger Woods, but he was just getting started.
Physically, the shot was very difficult, but the inspiring part of this shot is the mental strength. At the time, Woods had gone winless in his past ten majors, he had made a lot of changes in his life, and was knocked off his perch at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking. He had recently made an equipment and instruction change in search of more distance, and as it delivered mixed results early on, people once again questioned the great Tiger Woods. No athlete, or person, has ever lived in the constant spotlight as much as Woods. The constant scrutiny simply does not compare. Here he was about to lose The Masters to journeyman Chris Dimarco, you could hear the talk shows buzzing already, and in one swing, everything changed.
Staring defeat in the face, facing one of the most difficult shots at one of the most difficult courses in the world, Tiger simply refused to lose. He could have folded, let Phil Mickelson slip the jacket on Chris Dimarco, and retreated to his mansion in South Florida. No one would have been surprised, like I said, this was supposed to be Dimarco’s week.
Having faced many challenges in my life, that refuse to lose attitude was one that got me through lots of difficult things. The ability to summon your best when everything is stacked against you, that is what I admired. Tiger Woods willed that ball into the hole, I willed myself to go on when everything told me to stop. It was at that moment in 2005 that I knew that I was going to work as hard as I could at the game of golf, it was going to be my outlet for everything that was going on in my life.
While I will not be a successful professional golfer, that mental fortitude is something I plan to take with me for the rest of my life, and I owe a thank you to Tiger Woods for teaching me that. Every time I see him play, it inspires me to get over whatever it is and keep going, to keep working, because sometimes, if you work hard enough, physically and mentally, if you will it to happen, it will.