Remember how little Charlie Bucket finds a golden ticket and gets to tour Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory? This is a similar tale. Except Charlie Bucket is Arlington’s Steve Wood, the golden ticket is actually a silver golf ball, and Mr. Wonka is none other than, gulp, Tiger Woods.
Wood, 40, stopped by Galaxy Golf in Arlington in late July for a new stockpile of Nike balls. Platinum One balls. Top of the line. He shoots in the 90s, but, hey, it ain’t the fault of inferior equipment. He opens one box, stuffs the other in his bag. Two weeks later he’s playing Iron Horse Golf Course in Euless when he cracks open the new box. And a new sleeve. And -- ta-da! -- he finds a silver golf ball! He’d seen the Nike/Golf Digest “Tee It Up With Tiger” promotion on TV indicating 1,000 such balls would be discreetly distributed. “I’m thinking it’s cool,” Wood says. “But I had no idea."
It gets better.
Wood registers his ball online and, whatdya know, two weeks later gets a call from prize company in Atlanta telling him he’s one of 24 grand prize winners. Sure ‘nuff, golf with Tiger. “I thought they were kidding me,” Wood says. “I still can’t believe it.”
In the mail Wood receives an application he must notarize within 24 hours, a detailed background check and a three-ring binder with the Dos and Don’ts of meeting the planet’s all-time greatest golfer. “It was like the rules of engagement,” Wood says. “No autographs. No pictures. And you couldn’t ask him about family, politics or religion.”
Fine, whatev. It’s Tiger Friggin’ Woods. So last Tuesday Wood finds himself flying -- albeit coach -- to Orlando for his once-in-a-lifetime encounter. There’s a meet-n-greet at Orlando’s Ginn Reunion Resort. But no Tiger. There’s a gift bag complete with a trademark red shirt, towel, glove and money clip. But no Tiger. The next morning there’s breakfast and Nike demo clubs on the driving range. But no Tiger. Did I mention the rain?
“It was insane. They were talking two to five inches,” Wood says. “But it was a rain or shine deal.”
During one practice shot in the downpour Wood’s wedge slipped out of his hands and flew 20 yards, forcing the temporary shutdown of the range while he retrieved it. “They didn’t even offer me a rain glove,” he says. “I had to buy my own.”
The format called for Wood and his 23 co-winners to play one hole with Tiger, then tee off with him on the next. No. 2 at Ginn’s Arnold Palmer course is a 152-yard Par 3. Like Charlie approaching Willy, Wood eschewed his golf cart and ambled up to the elevated tee box.
“There was security everywhere, cops everywhere,” Wood says. “Like it was the president or something.”
After an introduction and brief pleasantries, Tiger nails an 8-iron within seven feet. Wood was next. That is, he was supposed to be next. “I was a nervous wreck,” he says. “I literally couldn’t feel my hands.”
After passing on his turn twice to calm himself, Wood chose the same club and swatted a gorgeous shot that tracked a straight line toward the pin. 25 yards short.
“I guess I caught it a little fat,” Wood says. “I was just trying not to make a fool of myself.”
A chip to within seven feet, combined with Tiger’s missed birdie putt, presented Wood with the rarest of opportunities: Halve Tiger Woods. His putt, however, stopped one inch short of the cup.
“He said, 'Oooh', but you could tell he was glad he beat me,” Wood says. “He’s not stiff and arrogant like I expected. But he also wanted to beat every guy out there. He’s probably the same way if he was playing checkers.”
On the next hole Tiger nuts a driver 340 down the middle, then departs to meet the next group on the previous hole. After the round the winners were treated to a one-hour clinic, which Tiger climaxes by hitting a 330-yard drive with a 6-yard draw -- from his knees.
“He could totally kick our ass from his knees, no doubt,” says Wood.
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Wood did get one, framed photo with Tiger and Wednesday night sat in on a casual Q&A in which Woods revealed he’s already met the person he’d most like to meet: Nelson Mandela.
Afterward, the world’s most recognizeable sports figure drove off in his Escalade.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Wood says. “You’d think Nike could’ve jazzed it up a lot more. There really weren’t that many extras. But it was still a very cool deal.”
Eat your heart out, Charlie. --Richie Whitt