While Webb Simpson was slaying the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass to ultimately win THE PLAYERS Championship 2018, Tiger Woods was simultaneously captivating the attention of thousands upon thousands of people who stormed upon Ponte Vedra Beach for the sole reason of watching him play the game.
From Thursday to Sunday, fans traveled in a mob mentality with Woods, sprinting from hole to hole and emphatically yelling absurdities like, “He’s like Elvis Presley,” and, “We want to roar with you, baby!” along the way. It was the “Walking Dead” meets “Caddyshack.” A strange combination but the truth.
Regardless of Simpson’s historic performances or those otherworldly golfers who were paired with Woods, such as Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, Woods, who finished 11-under and tied for 11th, commanded the gaze and bewilderment of the majority of fans in attendance at THE PLAYERS Championship. No other golfers, no matter their talent, fame or play, did the same.
The question of why produces a rather simple answer: He’s arguably the greatest golfer of all time, and people enjoy being in the presence of greatness. What becomes more interesting, though, is when you peel the onion back a few additional layers, and examine the fans who follow the man, the people with their iPhones raised high in the air and their children sitting upon their shoulders. Where did they come from? What are their stories? And what motivates them to fight the crowds and the heat, shot after shot, day after day and tournament after tournament, to ultimately watch one man play a game?
Tiger’s No. 1 fan
Machel Hosang is from Port St. Lucie, and he proclaims himself Tiger Woods’ No. 1 fan.
On Sunday of THE PLAYERS, he was wearing a red shirt, with a picture of Woods shushing the crowd, and the words, “Look out Jack … Greatest Golfer Ever” above and below the image. From hole to hole, he carried a step stool, and subsequently stood upon it to ensure he had the greatest view of all.
“I’ve been following him for years,” said Hosang, who didn’t watch any golfer but Woods at THE PLAYERS. “This is the most excited I get about anything in life.”
The Port St. Lucie resident said he’s attended every golf tournament that Woods has ever played in Florida. From the Honda Classic to Bay Hill to the Valspar Championship and now THE PLAYERS Championship, he goes if Tiger goes. His reasoning? Simple.
“Tiger made golf cool,” he said. “The things he does, more than half of his competitors can’t even imagine what he just pulled off. Every facet of golf has changed because of him.”
A surprise gift to watch Tiger
Like Hosang, Michael Tatti didn’t watch anyone at THE PLAYERS but Woods either. He didn’t know he’d be doing so until just recently, however.
The Long Island resident attended the tournament to watch Tiger live thanks to a surprise birthday gift from his girlfriend.
Tatti has always idolized Woods. At work, he’ll pull up vintage YouTube clips in his free time of the golfer winning tournaments in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He called him the "pinnacle of golf."
“He was everything,” Tatti said. “He’s brought out the best of the players.”
What about Woods’ indiscretions and recent low points? The mass migration from hole to hole continues regardless.
“He’s a fallible human being,” Tatti said. “It brings him more back to earth.”
Expecting the unexpected
Modusta Wallace traveled from his home of Washington, D.C., to watch Woods continue his comeback story at THE PLAYERS and see what magic he could pull off.
“I like a comeback story,” Wallace said. “I pull for someone who scraped the bottom of the barrel and is working his way back up.”
At the time of the Recorder’s conversation with Wallace, Woods was climbing up the leaderboard quickly on Sunday, and people were beginning to wonder if he would miraculously challenge Simpson. Wallace said that didn’t really matter, though; he would have watched Woods hole-by-hole even if he were at even, just because he produces results that others simply … can’t.
“You expect the unexpected from him … That’s Tiger,” Wallace said. “Everyone else hopes and prays for things. With Tiger, it’s expected.”
A Jaguar follows a Tiger
All-Pro Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell was among the mob following Woods.
Following Tiger’s shot from No. 17 that landed in the water, he and a group of surrounding fans screamed, “DUUUUVAAALLL!” Campbell said he had been following Woods all day.
“He brings out energy,” Campbell said. “He has an aura of greatness around him. It’s just cool to say you were there.”
Cool for Calais? No wonder it was cool for everyone else.
Based on Woods’ performance at THE PLAYERS, the Tiger Woods Effect is bound to continue to make its mark on golf courses and towns across the country.
Look out Shinnecock. You’re next.