Tiger’s ace in Phoenix 25 years later

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The 16th was playing 152 yards that day. To that point, neither Woods nor Uresti had done anything remarkable during the round. As always with Woods, the crowds were following. Since they teed off just after noon, Woods and Uresti made it to the 16th in the middle of the afternoon — perfect timing for the crowd, which was estimated to be around 160,000 in total. They were lubricated and ready for something to happen.

Omar Uresti: “I hit my shot in there about two-and-a-half feet right behind the hole, a little to the right. Got the crowd going nuts, and I thought to myself, ‘Let’s see you hit it closer than that.’”

Mike Brisky, who played in the group in front of Woods and Uresti: “I’m on 17, I hit my tee shot and I’m walking off the tee and I hear this incredible roar in the background. We [him and partner Bob Tway] both kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, Omar.’ We knew it wasn’t Tiger at that point because we heard the roar but it wasn’t a Tiger roar,. So it’s like ‘Omar must have hit it really close.’”

Holliman: “It took us a couple of minutes to get the crowd quiet again.

Rusty Uresti: “Everything was going smooth. Omar hit it in there tight. We’re both kind of just standing there to the side.”

Omar Uresti: “So, I turned my back, crossed my arms, looked at the ground, listened to him hit.”

7:05 AM ET

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s one of the most iconic shots in PGA Tour history, not as much for the feat itself but for the celebration that ensued.

After Tiger Woods‘ hole-in-one on the par-3 16th hole on the Saturday of the 1997 Phoenix Open, there were the missed high-fives, beer showering the tee box, the raise-the-roof by Woods as he walked from tee to green and the wall of noise that lasted from the moment he hit his shot until after he picked his ball out of the cup.

That iconic ace turns 25 years this year. As the PGA Tour returns to the site, for what is now called the WM Phoenix Open (Thursday, ESPN+), we talked to more than 20 players, fans, journalists and Thunderbirds from the charitable organization that helps run the event about their memories. Together, they re-created the moments leading up to Woods’ shot, the shot itself and the celebration.

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Before the shot

Woods was paired with Omar Uresti for the third round in 1997. Both entered the day 6 under and 10 shots back from the leader, Steve Jones. They teed off at 12:22 p.m. local time on the TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course.

Omar Uresti: “My brother [Rusty] was caddying for me, and he told me the night before, he’s like, ‘Bro, don’t watch him swing tomorrow because it’ll get you out of your rhythm,’ because he hit it so far and had so much speed through impact.”

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Rusty Uresti: “I didn’t want Omar to overswing, to stay within himself. This was back in the Tiger Woods days when he was hitting that pitching wedge 165 yards, 155 yards. I want to say Omar was hitting the driver — and a good driver — to Tiger’s 3-iron.”

Rob Myers, the owner of RM PR Group in the Phoenix area, who volunteered in the media center that year but took Saturday afternoon off to walk the course and watch some golf: “Back in that day, 16 wasn’t what it is today. Just north of the green were just a couple of little stands and there were bleachers that you see in high school baseball games where 40, 50, 60 people could fit on them. They weren’t big at all.”

Greg Mast, the tournament chairman of the 1997 Phoenix Open: “We announced Tiger coming to the tournament and I think we sold another 25,000 daily tickets.”

Jock Holliman, a Thunderbird who has worked as a marshal on the 16th hole for 25 years: “This was back when the hole only had about six or seven skyboxes on the left side, on the south side of the hole, and the tee box was surrounded by kind of a horseshoe hillside behind it. It accommodated a lot of people. There were probably 8,000 or 9,000 people around the hole.”

Mast: “I think it was around 160,000 [people in attendance on Saturday].”

Myers: “When Tiger was on 12 or 13, I was able to get a seat in one of the bleachers just north of the green, so hung out there. The crowd kept getting a little bit bigger and then, obviously, as he’s coming up, where we could see the green straight in front of us before, now there’s probably five, six, seven, eight people deep lined up in between us and the green.”

Scott Jenkins, last year’s tournament chairman who was at the 1997 tournament with his brother, Mike, as a 21-year-old college student: “I’m just with my brother, sitting on the hill, right on the tee level and just doing as we normally do: gambling, closest to the pin. I had Tiger Woods. You could just tell, the electricity, everybody knew he was coming through. A crowd just surged.”

Jim Furyk, who teed off at 10:14 a.m. that day: “Basically, Phoenix is kind of like a party and a golf tournament broke out.”

Robert Wrenn, who was the on-course reporter for ESPN, started following Woods around the sixth hole. As soon as the group got to the 16th hole, Wrenn made a beeline for the green: “Simply because there’s very little area back there for an announcer to stand and if I’m going to talk in a normal tone of voice, your voice is kind of trapped there. It’s got nowhere to go and so I can’t even call the shot unless I fade out 30 seconds ahead of time. So, I get up to the tee and kind of see what’s going on, verify my numbers and I get on down the fairway and get up to the green so that I can talk in a normal tone of voice and not worry about disturbing them.”

Omar Uresti: “I think I made birdie on 15, so I had the tee on 16.”

Nick Price, who had teed off at 11:50 a.m. and was on the range when Woods and Uresti made it to the 16th: “I didn’t know he was on the golf course. Obviously, when he got to the tee, you could hear more of the noise, [but I] never really gave it a thought.”

John Vasseur, who was reporting for Prodigy at the time, was inside the ropes and had worked his way to the back of the tee box, where he sat on a rock with an unobstructed view of the course: “I’m in the front row and they come up, and he was just a kid. He was laughing and everything.”

Andy North, two-time U.S. Open champion, who was the analyst for ESPN that week: “We’re watching it on monitors.”

Wrenn: “Of course, there’s always some kind of murmuring going on in that crowd because people are making bets on every player that comes through there.”

Lee Rinker, who had teed off at 9:26 a.m. and was already done with his round: “I was actually on the back of the range hitting balls with Nick Price. I was done with my round and was practicing. From the back of the range, you got a really good view of the 15th green and 16th tee. It was kind of interesting because they walked off 15 and I’m looking over there and, I mean, he had, obviously, a very big crowd following him and 16 was obviously loaded anyway. Nick Price is over there, and I go, ‘If somebody hits it close, they’re going to go nuts.’”

The shot

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The 16th was playing 152 yards that day. To that point, neither Woods nor Uresti had done anything remarkable during the round. As always with Woods, the crowds were following. Since they teed off just after noon, Woods and Uresti made it to the 16th in the middle of the afternoon — perfect timing for the crowd, which was estimated to be around 160,000 in total. They were lubricated and ready for something to happen.

Omar Uresti: “I hit my shot in there about two-and-a-half feet right behind the hole, a little to the right. Got the crowd going nuts, and I thought to myself, ‘Let’s see you hit it closer than that.’”

Mike Brisky, who played in the group in front of Woods and Uresti: “I’m on 17, I hit my tee shot and I’m walking off the tee and I hear this incredible roar in the background. We [him and partner Bob Tway] both kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, Omar.’ We knew it wasn’t Tiger at that point because we heard the roar but it wasn’t a Tiger roar,. So it’s like ‘Omar must have hit it really close.’”

Holliman: “It took us a couple of minutes to get the crowd quiet again.

Rusty Uresti: “Everything was going smooth. Omar hit it in there tight. We’re both kind of just standing there to the side.”

Omar Uresti: “So, I turned my back, crossed my arms, looked at the ground, listened to him hit.”

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Holliman: “Tiger stepped up and hit the shot, and I remember the finish. I have a photo of him finishing that shot. It was a Titleist 9-iron. As soon as he hit the shot, the crowd exploded, started yelling and screaming. It was just the usual Tiger kind of crowd noise, and his eyes were just lasered on the ball.”

Wrenn: “The expectation for some of the crowd is that Tiger’s gonna hit it stiff. That’s just sort of the expectation.”

Myers: “There was just a feeling of anticipation. Anytime you’re on a par-3 as a golfer, you’re hoping it goes in. At the time, he was Tiger but he wasn’t the Tiger we all know today. But there was still a sense of anticipation and the ball’s in the air and you think, ‘OK, he’s gonna hit it close.’”

Wrenn: “It was one of those, where the ball is in the air and I had a little bit of a chill going down my spine because I’m watching this shot and I’m a little bit offline from watching it come down directly. But once he hit the shot, of course, everybody up at the tee is already going crazy because we knew it was on a pretty good line. And from my angle, I’m thinking: This is not just on a pretty good line but it looks like it’s about the right distance.”

Vasseur: “As soon as he hits it, it’s all over the pin. It’s going there. He had this little sly smile and was looking down. I think he was trying not to smile. He was a college kid, and he actually acted like a college kid.”

Omar Uresti: “I started walking, took about 10 steps and I looked up just in time to see it go bounce, bounce, in. I just kind of stopped and shook my head and thought: Only Tiger could that.”

Wrenn: “As soon as Tiger hits, of course they’re going nuts, and then when the ball lands and then takes a hop and goes in the hole, of course, I said something stupid, like ‘It’s in the hole.’ [Editor’s note: Wrenn’s direct quote from the broadcast was “Oh, it went in.”] Clearly everybody could see that, but at the same time, it actually absolutely shocked me like it did everybody else that it went in.”

Rusty Uresti: “I just thought: Only Tiger. And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

The celebration

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What ensued was one of the golf’s best celebrations. The shot has been replayed thousands of times on TV and viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube. High-fives with Uresti and Woods’ caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan, started it off, and a barrage of beer cans and cups rained down on the tee box finished it off.

Tiger Woods, in 2015: “I think I broke Fluff’s hand. I missed — what did I miss? I missed Omar, or was it Rusty? Omar? I missed his.”

Rusty Uresti: “Tiger was overly pumped.”

Omar Uresti: “I turned around and proceeded to go back and whiff the first high-five — because he was swinging too hard, I kind of held back a little bit, so I short-armed it.”

Rusty Uresti: “It was unbelievable. Everybody’s high-fiving each other and looking at each other and looking at each other and hollering. It was loud. It was unbelievably loud.”

Omar Uresti: “Right before the high-five, I was going up, I could have sworn I heard my brother say, ‘Bro, be careful.’ So, I kind of short-armed it and we whiffed, and then we went back and did it again. Fortunately it wasn’t as hard the second time, so we ended up making contact.”

Holliman: He does the fist pump, and the noise just kept getting louder and louder and the beer cans kept coming all the way down the fairway.”

Vasseur: “Everyone’s screaming and he’s doing his fist pump and then everyone starts throwing their koozies all over the tee box and everything. It was completely covered.”

Raise the roof. Tiger Woods is returning to the craziest hole in golf. pic.twitter.com/jq5Epm75Zw

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Holliman: “There were 100 beer cans. They were throwing confetti to celebrate. The beer cans were their confetti.”

Jenkins: “It was like a champagne spraying of just beer, basically, and everybody’s going crazy.”

Leighton Holliman, Jock’s son who was 12 at the time, held the standard for Woods and Uresti: “I remember a lot of the [Arizona State] students threw beer cans at me to change the scoreboard. It was a party. Everyone was just celebrating right there on the tee with him. It was pretty incredible.”

Rinker: “S— is flying everywhere. It looks like a ticker tape parade down in New York City. It was wild.”

Don Pooley, who was playing in the group behind Woods and Uresti: “When we get up on the tee, it smelled like a brewery. The marshals cleaned off all the bottles and stuff but, wow, was it pungent up there on the tee.”

Vasseur had a visceral reaction to Woods’ shot. He leaped off the rock with his arms extended above his head. It was captured in many of the famous photos of Woods in the immediate aftermath of his swing.

Vasseur: “I’m not saying I was there. I have proof that I was there. Tiger is the biggest guy [in the photo], with his fist pump, and I’m the next biggest person in that picture, with my hands up in the air and my six-pack showing.”

Woods kept the crowd alive and loud as he walked from the tee to the green.

Woods, in 2015: “Then old-school, back in the day, raised the roof. That was the thing in the day. Then, on top of that, just smelling and hearing the beer hit behind me on the tee box. It was a different, obviously a different, setup then — to see, turn around and see all this beer flying was crazy.”

The roar

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As the legend of Woods’ hole-in-one in 1997 grows each year, one part of the story remains consistent: How loud the crowd was. Some say it was the roar heard around TPC. Others say it was heard beyond the confines of the course. Either way, it was one of the first Tiger roars. To many, it was one of the best. The noise was constant from the tee shot to the moment the ball dropped in the hole. It calmed a bit as Woods and Uresti walked from tee to green, but it picked up again when Woods took his ball out of the hole.

Wrenn: “When the ball gets hit, everybody goes crazy, and then it goes in and they take it up a whole different level. And it was like three different levels of cheer going on over the span of about three seconds.”

Holliman: “The decibels kept going up and up and up. I never had more noise made by a crowd that size. It sounded like a 747 was taking off. I had some buddies who were playing Grayhawk that day, [about 3] miles to the north and they heard the roar.”

Brisky: “The initial roar was, maybe, 30, 45, maybe 60 seconds. I don’t know because it really never died down completely.”

Doug Barron, who was the first player to tee off Saturday, at 8:22 a.m.: “I was in the fitness trailer riding on one of the bikes, and I heard the sound. Literally, the building rumbled. It was a small rumble. The trainer and we were like, “Oh, my God.’ I’ve never heard anything outside the walls of the fitness trailer before, so it was a cool deal.”

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North: “We had like this green trailer thing that we had as a booth. It was parked behind the 18th green. And it was loud there when he made it. It was like it happened on that hole, that’s how loud it was.”

Allen Doyle, who was two groups ahead of Woods and was on the 17th: “The roar was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The ground literally shook. It was the loudest roar I’ve ever heard, when I say in sports, I was born and raised in the Northeast, so I never saw much SEC or Southern football, but I went to the Clemson game in the middle ’80s when they played Notre Dame and [Joe] Montana played, and I’ve been to Alabama-Auburn in Auburn. I’ve been to Georgia for a couple of big games, and the roars have been tremendous, but it wasn’t anything quite like that roar on 16 when his ball went in the hole.”

Myers: “The bleachers that I was sitting in shook and everything. It felt like the Earth shook. It was crazy. It was so loud and you’re high-fiving and jumping up and down with people and then you look over at the tee box, things are flying through the air.”

North: “Curtis Strange told me afterward, he was playing that week and he had finished his round and he was in his room talking on the phone to somebody. And he was staying at the hotel, the Princess [which is located on the north side of the course off the fourth and fifth holes]. Tiger makes it, and the guy he was talking to asked him, ‘What was that roar?’ That’s how loud it was.”

The players still on the course had an idea of what happened when they heard the roar, but it happened long before cellphones were a staple at golf tournaments. Some asked their scorekeepers what happened. Others asked rules officials.

Woody Austin, who was three groups behind Woods and Uresti: “You always knew the difference between everybody’s roar and Tiger’s roar.”

Doyle: It was only one conclusion that you could draw when the ground shook. I said to [Tommy Armour III] Tiger had to have the hole-in-one because it couldn’t have been Omar Uresti. They would not have reacted like that if Omar had holed out.”

Tommy Armour III, who played with Doyle and was on the 17th green: “It was just a f—– eruption. I mean, the minute it happened you knew what it was. There wasn’t anybody else that made the hole-in-one. It wasn’t Omar.”

David Toms, also in the field that day: “I just remember we knew something crazy happened. We just didn’t know what it was, and then we heard when the people were running over the hill toward 10 green. It’s something you don’t see at normal golf tournaments. I don’t even know what to equate that to. People running on a golf course, we just don’t see that. I mean, you hear roars at Augusta, but you’re never going to see people running at Augusta. They don’t allow running, but at ‘the People’s Open’ I guess they do. It was wild.”

Steve Jones, who was the leader playing in the last group, six behind Woods and Uresti, and would go on to win the tournament and set the scoring record at the time at 26 under: “I just hit my second shot and I heard the roar, and I said, ‘Tiger just made a hole-in-one at 16.’ I told that to our score guy, and he looked it up. He says, ‘You’re right.’ I said, ‘There’s no doubt.’”

Pooley: “Everybody backed away from their putts on 15. We stood there and waited for things to die down a little bit and putted out.”

Tom Lehman, who teed off at 11:42 a.m.: “The roar was huge. I was stunned by how loud the cheering was.”

Jenkins: “You’re outside, but it was as loud as any sort of domed stadium. I’ve been to NBA Finals games and big college basketball games at University of Arizona. It matched anything I’ve ever been to.”

Rick Fehr, who was playing with Woody Austin three groups behind Woods and Uresti, doesn’t remember hearing the roar and knowing what was going on at 16. He says it could be that his memory is slipping or that the passage of 25 years has faded a few things here and there or that by playing the 13th hole, he was far enough away from the 16th not to know any better.

Fehr: “Sometimes history is happening right around you and you don’t recognize it.”

Jenkins: “It just seemed like it [lasted] forever because he definitely was taking his little victory lap. He was walking down the middle of the fairway and fist-pumping and doing his little thing all the way down. So, it was sort of this extended celebration because not only did the tee go nuts as soon as he hit it, but basically the whole length of the hole, he got to continue to walk 165 yards. You hit a game-winning shot in basketball or a game-winning touchdown, you don’t get a 165-yard walk down to celebrate while everybody was going nuts.”

Price: “You just don’t hear roars like that too often. Well, there was one louder roar that I heard, when Jack Nicklaus made that putt on 17 at Augusta in 1986. I was playing the 15th hole with Greg Norman, and that was as loud a roar as I ever heard and probably the loudest roar I ever heard from a relatively small group of people compared to the size of the crowd on that 16th hole [in Phoenix]. And, even then, in ’97 it wasn’t nearly as big as it is now.”

The putt

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There was still golf to be played after Woods picked his ball out of the hole. Omar Uresti had a 3-foot putt for birdie.

Omar Uresti: “They were still buzzing pretty good when I was going through my putt. [Woods] and my brother were standing on the back of the green, and he puts his arm on my brother’s shoulder.”

Rusty Uresti: “He’s smiling and he goes, ‘Hey Rusty, I bet nobody’s made a 1 and a 2 on this hole today.’ And Omar is standing over this 3-footer, a little left to right, outside the hole. I mean, a ticklish putt, and Omar not being the aggressive putter — he’s more of your Crenshaw, where everything falls in the front side. If it catches a lip, they go in because he hadn’t overhit the ball.

“I said, ‘Tiger, he ain’t made this putt yet.’ He goes, ‘Man, your brother’s going to knock it in the back of the hole.’ And Omar hits this putt and as soon as he hits it, I’m thinking, ‘go, go, go.’ I think he left the 3-footer 2, 3 inches short. It starts going and it starts breaking right and it catches the right center of the hole and drops in. Then Tiger hits me on the shoulder. He goes, ‘I told you.’ I said, ‘Tiger, it wasn’t in the back of the hole.’”

Omar Uresti: “I freakin’ squirreled it in the left center.”

The aftermath

And just like that, it was over. Woods and Uresti walked to the 17th hole to finish their round. What was left was a mess on the tee box, a hole smelling even more like beer than normal and a moment that’ll be shown on Woods’ career highlights forever.

Woods, in 2015: “The more eerie part was when we were playing 17 and 18, everybody didn’t really care. They were walking in, because they had seen what they wanted to see and 16 was empty. So we looked back on 16. You see all these beer cups everywhere on the tee box, and probably maybe an eighth of the people there.”

Rinker: “Nick looks at me, and he goes, ‘You know, the kid’s really good, but he’s lucky, too.’”

Jenkins: “It was just probably one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, experiences I’ve had going to a sporting event.”

Myers: “It was kind of like, deep breath, holy crap, that just happened. Can you believe it? What’s gonna happen next? Checking your pulse and talking to your friends next to you. I remember it being surreal, just going, ‘Did that just happen?’”

Source: ESPN GOLF

    

Author: Ellen Garcia