He started his press conference early, raising a question about the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews’ decision to disinvite Greg Norman because of the distracting noise Norman’s presence could cause given his LIV Tour chairmanship.
“The R&A obviously have their opinions and their judgments and their decisions,” Woods said. “Greg has done some things that I don’t think are in the best interest of our game and we are returning to what is probably our sport’s most historic and storied place. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
He later clarified some of the answers: “I know what the PGA Tour stands for and what we’ve done and what the Tour has given us, the ability to pursue our career and deserve what we get and the trophies that we have could play for and the story that was part of that game. I know Greg tried to do this (a competing tour) in the early 90’s. It didn’t work then, and he’s trying to make it work now.
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“I still don’t see how that’s in the best interest of the game. What the European Tour and the PGA Tour stand for and what they have done, and also all the professionals – all the governing bodies of the game of golf and all the major championships as they govern it. I think they see it differently than Greg sees it.”
And he didn’t flinch in his calm reply to a question about the group of players who have already defected, which includes big winners Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen.
“I don’t agree with that,” Woods said. “I think what they did is they turned their backs on what allowed them to get to that position. Some players never got the chance to experience it at all. They went straight into this organization from the amateur ranks and never really got a chance to play here and feel what it’s like to play a touring schedule or play at some big events. And who knows what will happen in the near future with world ranking points, the criteria for participating in major championships. The governing body needs to sort that out.
“Some of these players may never get a chance to play in major championships. … We don’t know exactly yet. It is up to all major championship bodies to make that decision. But that’s one way some players will never get a chance to play in a major championship, never get a chance to experience this, (or) walk down the Augusta National fairways. I just don’t get it for myself.
“I understand what Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer) did (when they started the PGA Tour in the late 1960’s) because it’s different to play professional tour-level golf than it is to be a club pro ( level) and I understand that transition and that step and the realization that a touring pro is versus a club pro.
“But what these players are doing for guaranteed money, what’s the incentive to practice? What’s the incentive to go out there and make it in the dirt? You just get paid a lot of money up front and play a few events and play 54 holes. They play pounding music and have all these different atmospheres.”
He trolled so gently.
“I can understand that when you come to the Senior Tour, 54 holes is almost like a mandate. The boys are a bit older and a bit more excited. But when you’re at that young age and some of these kids — they’re really kids that went from amateur golf to this organization — 72-hole testing is part of it… It would be sad to see some of these young kids never get the chance , to experience it and to experience what we can experience and walk on this sacred ground and participate in these championships.”
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Woods expressed “very optimistic” about the future of the sport, noting “the biggest golf boom ever due to Covid” and how golf has become an outdoor recreation from indoor isolation. “Just look at the Tour,” he said, “the average age is getting younger and younger and they just get better earlier and faster and they win earlier years.
He spoke at length about the holiest of these lands, Saint Andrews, as it celebrates a jubilee with the number ‘150’ ubiquitous on shirts and signs here. “It’s my favourite,” he said of the course, recalling playing the first two days as an amateur alongside Ernie Els and Peter Jacobsen. He spoke of how timelessness outweighed technology so that Tuesday’s choppy winds “hit a 6-iron on the 10 from 120 yards.”
And he spoke like an oldster when he said, “And because the fairways are fast and firm, it allows older players to get the ball out there and have a chance.”
This course won’t challenge his body like the powerful waves of Augusta National did at the Masters in April or the slopes of Southern Hills in Tulsa at the PGA Championship in May. In these instances, walking trumped golf as a challenge for a lower right leg damaged and imbued with hardware following his frightening car accident in California in February 2021.
“It’s still not easy,” he said. “Admittedly, the inclines are by no means steep. They’re not — the declines aren’t steep. But it’s the bumpiness that still gives me a hard time. I have a lot of hardware in my leg.” He said, “I didn’t know I was playing Augusta. My leg was unable to play 72 holes. It just ran out of gas. But now it’s different. It’s gotten a lot stronger, a lot better.”
Where he once came here and ordered a plank of wood into his room to firm the mattress for his back, he said he now orders “more ice.”
He ended up asking himself another statesman-worthy question, whether he thinks the new generation will share his appreciation for history. And while he said they could check history in their phones these days, he’s learned more about golf history that he knows. “I saw Bob beat Charles at 18,” he said. “I think he won in ’63 (yes, right) or something like that. Just to be able to see that in person, live, god it was so special. I just hope the kids appreciate that.” He finished by saying, “You were never given anything. You gotta go out and earn it, and I earned it through the dirt. I’m very proud of that.”