The world’s No. 1 player has been flying private for most of his professional career, and most recently flew home from Australia with his mother, three close friends and his office manager. On rare occasions, Woods has flown commercial to Dubai on Emirates Airlines.
But when was the last time he flew in coach class?
“On a really long flight?” Woods replied a few months ago while in Shanghai. “Probably in college.”
That took him back to his freshman year at Stanford. He flew to Paris for the World Amateur Team Championship in 1994 when he played alongside Todd Demsey, Allen Doyle and John Harris.
“That was back when they still had smoking sections in the very back of the plane for international flights,” Woods said. “I was in the row right in front of the smoking section. I asked the flight attendant if I could lay down on the floor. The rules were a little different back then. Then I asked her if I could get something to drink. She asked me how old I was, and I told her I was 18.”
He laughed, choosing not to finish the story.
Woods can be anywhere at the moment, although various reports have put him in Florida and Arizona, on a plane to Sweden and on a boat to the Bahamas, even though his yacht is still docked.
While he has not played since Nov. 15 in Australia, the competition has been as fierce as ever – not against Phil Mickelson or any other player, rather the paparazzi. Since driving his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home, setting off an explosive and incredible sex scandal that dominated news in December, Woods has yet to be seen.
Some say the first picture of him could bring as much as $100,000. Photographers have staked out his yacht in south Florida and his home near Orlando. One place he probably won’t be found – at the back of a commercial airliner.
The search for Tiger capped off a bizarre month at the end of a year that featured more than just birdies and bogeys. These are some of the tales from the tour:
Mark Calcavecchia doesn’t pay much attention to life outside of golf. Heck, it took him seven times playing Turnberry before he noticed that stone monument atop a hill next to the 12th green that commemorates the lost airmen during two World Wars.
Calcavecchia was at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when he was told the story about a writer who inquired about Tiger Woods’ pro-am group and introduced himself to Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo! The writer not only asked Yang what he did for a living, he followed up by asking what he did at Yahoo!
Calcavecchia smiled and looked away.
“I think I can top that one,” he said. “Jerry was my partner the last time I played here.”
Calcavecchia said he called his wife the night before the tournament to tell her about meeting his amateur for the week, describing him as a great guy and that they would have a good time over the next few days.
His wife asked the name of the amateur.
“So I tell her, ‘Jerry Yang, he’s like the chairman or CEO or CFO or something like that … of Yoohoo. You know, that chocolate drink? That’s one of my favorite drinks. I was thinking maybe he can get a couple of cases shipped to us.”’
Asked if she recalled the conversation, Brenda Calcavecchia rolled her eyes and smiled.
Scott Sajtinac, the caddie for Paul Goydos, flew out early to Memphis, Tenn., to walk the golf courses used for U.S. Open qualifying and compile a yardage book. One of the courses thought he was trying to make money off the club and cut short his time.
Sajtinac did the best he could with the map drawings, and the frustration was evident in a note he left his fellow caddies in the yardage book, in which he referred to “minor political restraints” that kept him from spending more time on the course for a proper drawing.
“For those of you that will approach me complaining that this is not a high-quality Picasso job, may I give you this advice: DO NOT,” the note said. “By obtaining my book, you have saved yourself some 20 hours-plus work and a whole lot of heartache. This book will get you through the round just fine.”
Among those who didn’t get through was his boss. Goydos missed a 6-foot birdie on the last hole and failed to advance in a playoff.
Few golf courses elicit such a wide range of descriptions like the TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship. Several players were asked this year to describe the course in one word. Padraig Harrington served up “exciting.” Tiger Woods opted for “tricky.” Paul Goydos called it “surprising.”
Geoff Ogilvy was stumped. He is considered among the most eloquent players on the PGA Tour, someone who puts great thought into every answer and usually nails it. On this occasion, he couldn’t come up with the proper description.
Five days later, Ogilvy was headed for another middling result. He has never finished in the top 10 at The Players Championship, missing as many cuts as he has made. Walking off the 14th tee, Ogilvy saw the reporter who had asked him the question earlier in the week and called him over.
“Annoying,” he said, with no context, although it was quite clear what he meant.
Stewart Cink knew he would get his fill of questions about Tiger Woods and the sex scandal during the Chevron World Challenge in December, and he didn’t shy away from answering them—on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
After the third round, and another batch of questions, Cink called a reporter over to where he was signing autographs.
“Are you going to be writing stories about Tiger?” he said quietly. “Could you somehow work in there that it’s been real easy for everyone in our country – including PGA Tour players, writers, TV people, everybody – to whip up on Tiger? But let’s not forget that we all make mistakes. While it’s easy to tee off on somebody in the press, they deserve for us to remember that we also make mistakes.”
And with that, he reached for another flag and kept signing.
One of the most poignant moments of 2009 came on the Monterey Peninsula for Phil Mickelson’s caddie, only it wasn’t a tournament.
Jim “Bones” Mackay helped arrange a golf trip for close friend Bob Carson, father of Eve Carson, the North Carolina student body president who was shot to death in 2008. They wanted him to get away for a week and spend time with friends on a golf course.
As Carson later noted, it was a trip of incomparable camaraderie, a time for sharing burdens, some larger than others, and a chance for a friend to be lifted up. Mackay said the first round of golf was at Cypress Point on a peaceful morning of stunning beauty. What took his breath away, however, was when he walked into the pro shop.
By coincidence, the staff that day was dressed in a shade of Carolina blue.