Day one of the 1997 United States Open.
At exactly noon, Tiger Woods, once known as Eldrick, now known as golf's
messiah, stepped onto the first tee at the Congressional Country Club with
playing partners Steve Jones and Tom Lehman. Jones was the defending Open
champion. Lehman was the reigning British Open champion. Among the
thousands pressed against the gallery ropes, five and six deep from tee to
green, there might have been a hundred who were there to see the two Open
Everyone else had come to see Tiger. He was twenty-one years old, a
multi-multi-millionaire, and already a one-name athlete, as in Michael or
Shaq, Deion or The Shark. Only, at that moment Tiger was bigger than all
of them. Even Michael. He was nine weeks removed from one of the most
stunning performances in the history of sports, a twelve-shot victory in
the Masters that had left people in golf groping for words to describe
what they had seen. And what they had seen was impossible. "He's a boy
among men," Tom Watson had said at the time. "And he's teaching the men a
The Masters had elevated Woods to a level of fame that perhaps no athlete
other than Muhammad Ali had ever achieved. People who knew absolutely
nothing about golf, cared not at all about the sport, stopped to watch
Tiger play. Children who once wanted to "be like Mike" and slam-dunk from
the free-throw line now wanted to be Tiger and hit 350-yard drives. He
signed endorsement contracts for staggering amounts of money. He blew off
the president of the United States and Rachel Robinson, the widow of the
century's most important athlete--and made no apologies for it. He didn't
have to. He was Tiger. They weren't.
His arrival on the grounds of Congressional at the start of the week had
made a presidential motorcade look understated. Every time he moved,
thousands moved with him. He was surrounded by so many security people
that even other players were hesitant to approach him for fear they might
get knocked backward by a large, unsmiling man in sunglasses.
Miraculously, Woods seemed perfectly at ease with it all. At one point,
lingering on the driving range while dozens of media types stood at a
respectful distance, Woods looked at a couple of friends and said, "Watch
He took five steps to his left, as if to leave the range. The security
force immediately began to form a wedge, advance men flying toward the
ropes to clear the area lest some fan momentarily impede Tiger's exit. The
media also began moving. Cameras were hoisted onto shoulders, tape
recorders began whirring, notebooks were scribbled in. Then Tiger stopped.
The wedge stopped instantly. The media, of course, also stopped. Tiger
smiled, turned, and walked back to where he had been standing. It was a
remarkable display of absolute power.
Excerpted from First Coming by John Feinstein. Copyright © 1998 by John Feinstein. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.