Waiting for Tiger
When I arrived at Congressional at 12:45, there were already two cameramen waiting outside the fountain by the clubhouse's front entrance, just in case Tiger decided to enter from that direction. There was speculation about exactly what sort of Buick he'd be driving. There was chatter about the Tiger mystique.
"Tiger Woods is not like a human," Comcast SportsNet behind the scenes person John Gardner explained. "You're like, 'I don't know if I can talk to him.' If he showed me the cure to cancer, I would be like, 'Ok, man'."
Inside, the media throng was growing, as reporters in shorts came off the course, and TV people arrived wearing sunglasses. Everyone was whispering about where Tiger might be. I heard a rumor that he was posing for photos by the bridge on the sixth hole, so I rushed down there with a Baltimore Sun reporter and a high school senior named Matt Poms who was shadowing me for the day. The only golfers we saw were a two-some featuring WTEM's Scott Jackson, who might not be Tiger, but who had just earned a net eagle on the previous hole. We also saw a groundskeeper and a Border Collie named Aaron. None had seen Tiger. Aaron was too busy chasing geese.
Back in the clubhouse, there was a rumor about a helicopter arriving, or possibly arriving, possibly with Tiger. There was no visual confirmation. Some media people stood watch on the patio, scanning the course for Tiger, or possibly just gawking at the sunbathers by the swimming pool. Eventually, someone in the know informed me that Tiger was actually touring the course with a Washington Post reporter.
Which made sense, since there were about as many Washington Post employees as gnats swarming around the grounds yesterday. Counting myself, there were at least five writers, at least one photographer, at least five WashingtonPost.com employees and at least one employee of Express. And it's not like we were alone. WTEM, which was broadcasting live, had about 10 people on site. Comcast SportsNet had the same, possibly more. "Let's put it this way, our station alone put in for eight people," said WJLA VP of News Bill Lord. "I didn't realize that many of you still knew my cell phone number," said Congressional President Stu Long.
The final tally was about 134 media persons, but the place was also overrun with sponsors and volunteers and members and special guests. Well over 200 people were milling about, underneath the tapestries and the ornate mirrors and the big chandeliers, waiting for Tiger.
"As far as press conferences in this area, this is up there with Michael Jordan and with Joe Gibbs returning," Fox 5's Lou Holder said.
"Everyone wants to be where Tiger is," Dave Feldman agreed. "He's the biggest name in sports."
"The biggest damn draw since Michael did his thing," WTEM's Brian Mitchell said. "He's the biggest draw in sports: Tiger Woods and Ultimate Fighting."
And indeed, we haven't had many larger-than-life sports moments around here lately. Gilbert Arenas is a superstar, but no one who sponsors a video-game team and hangs out with his video gamers at Denny's and the arcade counts as larger than life. Alex Ovechkin wears red crocs. Clinton Portis dresses in wigs. Freddy Adu was a kid during his stay. Mike Tyson was in full meltdown mode by the time we got him. Lately, all we've had is washed-up Michael Jordan and the grandfather version of Joe Gibbs. Tiger is something different; one questioner today gushed all over him and then asked whether he was laying the groundwork for a future Presidential campaign; "Hell no," he said, "No, no, no, no. No. No. Uh-uh. Next."
But aside from Tiger, there was perhaps another dynamic at play.
"A) Tiger, B) A hell of a nice golf course for free, and C) free lunch," WJLA producer Alex Parker told me.
"Some of these people I've never seen in my life," WTEM's Scott Jackson pointed out.
"The size of the media crowd is always commensurate to the size of the buffet," WTEM's Scott Linn explained. "Someone from Des Moines showed up because they heard there were burgers."
And the buffet, which, in the name of journalistic objectivity I did not touch, was indeed sizable. There were burgers, with and without cheese, hot dogs, fried chicken (making Fuzzy Zoeller exceedingly distressed), coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad and an extensive selection of desserts, food all in keeping with the idea Tiger laid out for his tournament. "Basically," he said, "it's one big picnic, is kind of how you want to look at it."
Anyhow, the press conference started around 2:27, and Tiger began his remarks thus:
"[Clearing throat]. Sorry about that. We're very excited to [more throat clearing noises]."
He was sick. But he found his voice, and the 134 media people asked many questions, and Tiger gave many funny answers, and then the high school student following me around said he appreciated the experience, because it was interesting to see "what happens when the story goes wrong."
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