The Napa Way: Safeway soldiers on without Tiger


NAPA, Calif. – There aren’t any towering likenesses of Tiger Woods sprawled about Silverado Resort & Spa. No extra inventory of red Nike shirts in the Safeway Open merchandise tent. No programs with the big cat on the cover.

That wouldn’t be the Napa way.

Instead, officials bill the boutique tournament as a place to enjoy wine and music and food - and wine.

So when Woods announced on Monday that he wouldn’t be making the event his high-profile return to competition after a 14-month hiatus, there was no panic, no post-mortem, no pity party.

That wouldn’t be the Napa way, either.

It turns out the party, and the tournament, will go on as scheduled.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” said Jeff Sanders, the executive director of the Safeway Open. “But our marketing pillars are food and wine and golf, and there’s no better place do that than Napa.”

Sanders said he got the call from Woods’ manager Mark Steinberg about 10:30 a.m. (PT) on Monday that the 786th-ranked player in the world wouldn’t be making the trip into the California hills. Sanders admitted that he and the other tournaments officials didn’t like the news but all accepted it.

The vibe at the Safeway Open is that life goes on with or without the game’s most mysterious man. There are really no other options.

But that doesn’t mean Woods is forgotten. On Tuesday, as the Tour season got off to a sleepy start, nearly every conversation began and ended with Tiger.

There were rumors swirling that he played Silverado on Sunday, although staff in the golf shop said that didn’t happen. There was also a theory that a less-than-stellar forecast of rain this weekend might not have fit Tiger’s idea of an ideal return.

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In his announcement, Woods said his game wasn’t ready for primetime and that his decision to skip Napa had nothing to do with his rebuilt back.

Whatever Woods’ motivation for not playing this week, the impact will be real.

Sanders said officials had ramped up added security, shuttle buses and food to prepare for what many believed would be a bounce in attendance. All of those measures have now been reversed. 

Even the one person who benefited from Woods’ withdrawal had mixed feelings about the news.

Max Homa was making the turn at Monday’s qualifier down in Seaside, Calif., when he got the news that he would get Woods’ spot in the field as the first alternate.

“I’m looking out for myself first, but it is very bittersweet. Obviously, everyone wants to see him come back,” Homa said. “It’s weird being the one to take his spot. He’s doing what he thinks is best and that’s the most important thing.”

It was a line of thinking that was almost universally shared. Although everyone involved, from tournament officials to players to fans, shared a genuine curiosity regarding Woods’ return, they all agree: If Woods isn't ready for the competitive fray, then his decision not to play was for the best.

“At the end of the day, let’s hope he gets healthy and comes back and plays the Safeway Open next year,” Sanders said.

Although Sanders wouldn’t give exact numbers, he said ticket sales compared to last year’s event had doubled, and that was before Woods committed to the tournament.

Much of that bounce was thanks to Phil Mickelson, who committed to the event four months ago. The avalance of attention Woods could have brought would have been a lagniappe.

In truth, Woods playing the Safeway Open after more than a year of uncertainty would have been difficult on Napa, a cozy hilltop enclave of 79,000. To put that in context, that's nearly the number of people on property two weeks ago at the Ryder Cup . . . in one day.

Sanders was confident that Woods will one day play the Safeway Open, but it will likely be under drastically different circumstances. Until that day, he embraced his field and his tournament.

“We’re not a major, not a FedEx Cup playoff event. We need to make this event fun, a party,” Sanders said. “We’re thrilled with the players we have. We would have had more ticket sales [with Woods playing], but we were already going to have a great week.”

It’s the Napa way.