Arnold Palmer may have helped Tiger Woods win the 1997 Masters with intense practice match at Bay Hill

Was Arnold Palmer the key to Tiger Woods’ sensational 1997 Masters? (Jokingly), The King believed so.

 

Prior to Palmer’s death Sept. 25, the golfing legend was in the process of putting together a memoir, with help from Golf Digest/Golf World’s Dave Shedloski, entitled “A Life Well Played: My Stories”.

 

An excerpt for the upcoming book was released Monday, and it was a good one. The anecdote regards Woods playing a round with Palmer at Bay Hill prior to the 1997 Masters. As we all know, Woods would go on to win that tournament by 12 shots for his first major title. It’s also well-chronicled that Woods shot 59 at Isleworth Country Club prior to heading off to Augusta.

 

But this Woods, then 21, practice round with Palmer, then 67, has not before been talked about. And it’s a fascinating new anecdote, as the round turned into somewhat of a heated match and may have fueled Woods even just a little to demolish the field at Augusta National.

 

Despite being well past his prime, Palmer kept the match close and entertaining. And it’s a tale that’s classic Arnie.

 

Here’s the excerpted story in full. Enjoy:

 

What few people know is that the day before Tiger shot his 59, he joined me for a round of golf at Bay Hill with my business manager from IMG, Alastair Johnston. I like to claim, with a wink, that I helped Tiger warm up for his first major championship win.

 

Obviously, the twenty-one-year-old Tiger was at the top of his game at that time, but the old guy—I was 67 then— hung in there. We had a friendly little match for $100, and hard as I tried, I couldn’t quite hold off a player of that caliber, in his prime—not even on my own golf course. Tiger closed me out on the 17th hole. On the 18th tee, deciding that I didn’t want to let Tiger get into my pocket without a last-ditch effort, I challenged Tiger to a one-hole playoff, double or nothing. He readily accepted.

 

We both hit good drives in the fairway on what is Bay Hill’s tough closing par-4 that measures 458 yards and features an oblong green that wraps around a lake. Of course, Tiger was miles ahead of me. I needed a driver to reach the green with my second shot, and I wasn’t going to back down. I pulled out the driver. You know: go for broke.

 

I’ll let Alastair tell part of the story from here because I wasn’t privy to his conversation with Tiger until much later: “I was standing next to Tiger, and he was really enjoying watching Arnold grinding it out,” Alastair said. “He said to me, ‘Arnold never gives up, does he?’”

 

No, I don’t. I hit my second shot through the green and into the back bunker, while Tiger found the green with his second shot. I got up and down for a par. Tiger missed his birdie putt, and we halved the hole.

 

Palmer then talks about his strong connection to Woods, almost a father-like embrace that only grew after Earl Woods died in 2006. He then ends the Tiger anecdote…

 

(O)n this occasion, he didn’t get to walk off the 18th green with more of my hard-earned cash. But he did get a handshake. The following Sunday, he won the Masters.

 

I’d say that Tiger Woods had quite a couple of weeks of good golf. I’d also like to say I helped by putting him in a good competitive frame of mind. But I think we all know he didn’t need my help for that.

 

Always The King.

 

Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer