From the Golf Journal Archives - Tiger's Tale

Jul 15, 2011

Eldrick (Tiger) Woods enhanced his reputation as America’s best junior player by winning
the 44th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

By Les Unger

(Note: This article originally appeared in the September 1991 issue of Golf Journal.)

WHEN ARNOLD PALMER was in his prime, the whole world of golf watched. Now, when Palmer talks golf, it’s worth listening to – especially for junior golfers, like the 156 boys who were treated to his observations on the game and his experiences at dinner at Palmer’s Bay Hill Club, in Orlando, Fla., on the evening before qualifying began at the 44th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

Palmer voiced support for the traditions, etiquette, and integrity of the game. “My most coveted win came early in my career,” he said. “It was the Amateur Championship, in 1954.” The field against which he competed reads like a Who’s Who of Golf: Frank Stranahan, Frank Strafaci, Harvie Ward, Jr., Ed Tutwiler, Jr., Don Bisplinghoff, Charlie Coe, Chick Evans, Jr., Bill Campbell, and Hord Hardin were among the contestants.

WHO’S TO SAY that, upon reflection, this Junior Amateur field won’t produce a group of men as distinguished as those who played in the 1954 Amateur? There are those who already think Eldrick (Tiger) Woods has the skills to make a name for himself in golf. Certainly, his victory at Bay Hill showed all who cared to notice that the young, powerful junior, although erratic at times, is possessed of considerable talent.

Woods, 15, from Cypress, Calif., was medalist, shooting a four-under-par 140, which led the qualifying for match play by four strokes. In his first five matches, he trailed only once, and in his final match, although admitting to feeling great pressure, he came back from a three-hole deficit, after his opponent Brad Zwetschke, of Kankakee, Ill., birdied three of the first six holes. Woods stopped the bleeding by halving the seventh, and then won the next consecutive five holes.

Then a strategic move misfired. Woods chose to use an iron club from the tee, but failed to make a good shot, and his ball sailed out of bounds. Shaken, Woods lost the next hole as well, and the match was all square. The two halved the 15th; then on the 16th, Woods’s wedge approach almost spun back into the hole. Zwetschke conceded the tap-in. Both players narrowly missed birdies on the par-3 17th, bringing them to Bay Hill’s 441-yard 18th, where Woods erred again, hooking his drive out of bounds.

So it was back to the 400-yard par-4 first, where Woods had begun his day with a bogey. As it worked out, five was enough; both players drove into the rough, missed the green with their second shots, and found themselves having to assume awkward stances. With his ball in an extremely difficult lie, Zwetschke was unable to pitch his ball onto the green. His second attempt left him 8 feet away. Woods chipped weakly, leaving himself a 25-footer, but he lagged his putt to a few inches from the hole. When Zwetschke missed his 8-footer, Woods tapped in for the championship.

AFTER HIS VICTORY, Woods was subdued. “It was grueling,” he said. “I never thought there could be so much pressure.” Part of the tension, it must be noted, was self-imposed; in addition to his out-of-bounds tee shots, Woods also missed two putts of less than 3 feet.

Nevertheless, let it be known that this young man, one month younger than any previous Junior champion (15 years, 7 months), is a superb shot-maker and putter. His greatest flaw at this time is uncertainty from day to day about how far his iron shots will fly. He recalled one 5-iron that sailed 200 yards, and on the 18th, he used a driver and a 7-iron. Now six feet tall, he is still growing. He has been told he may reach six-feet-four.

He is longer than any other junior in the championship, intimidating his rivals by outdriving them by 30 yards or more, and sometimes reaching 300 yards. His irons soar high and land softly. His swing is a beauty, and he appears to have everything in perspective, perhaps a result of consulting with his sports-psychologist caddie, Jay Brunza.

Woods intends to go to college when high school is finished in three years, right now thinking about accounting as a major.

His march to the final began with an 8-and-7 victory over Dan Konieczny, of Mt. Pleasant, Pa. The next victims were Pat Fry, of Fort Collins, Colo., 5 and 3; Don Padgett, of Fairlawn, Ohio, 2 up; Tom Biershenk, of Inman, S.C., 2 up; and Kevin Mihailoff, of Naples, Fla., 5 and 4.

Zwetschke, who thought his semifinal match had been lost on several occasions, said he was just happy to be in the final. He defeated Brock Fankhauser, of Dublin, Ohio, 3 and 2; Travis Deibert, of Doylestown, Pa., 3 and 2; John Lawrence, of Houston, Texas, 4 and 3; David Seawell, of Aiken, S.C., 1 up; and then took 20 holes to defeat Mark Slawter, of Winston-Salem, N.C.

If the final lacked luster, it might be blamed on the weatherman. There were six lightning-and-rain-induced suspensions of play. Homeowners at Bay Hill extended hospitality to players and officials forced to seek shelter.

Roger Harvie, of the USGA’s Regional Affairs staff, and Dr. John Reynolds, chairman of the Junior Championship Committee, and the staff were in constant touch with weather services. Each day, as if on schedule, the storms hit in mid-afternoon, one so severe that 36 players were unable to complete the second qualifying round, and the first day of match play was reduced to one round. The final, therefore, was pushed back to Sunday morning.

Clearly, Woods’s last round was not his best: Zwetschke, qualified as an expert on the subject, called it a terrible round. But, as it turned out, what was terrible for Tiger was good enough.

Eldrick (Tiger) Woods, in spite of erratic driving in the final match, causing him concern, prevailed on the first extra hole. (USGA Museum)

Runner-up Brad Zwetschke gave it his best, but found too much of Bay Hill’s trouble. (USGA Museum)

Eldrick (Tiger) Woods enhanced his reputation as America’s best junior player by winning the 44th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. (USGA Museum)