Tiger Woods paid tribute to caddie, Joe LaCava for providing the words of wisdom that echoed through his ears as he charged to a 15th Major win at Augusta National on Sunday.
Woods had just three-putted for his second successive bogey at the par-4 fifth when LaCava pulled his employer to one side for a quiet but stern talking to.
“The talk that Joey and I had off of 5, I just listened,” said Woods. “He was saying some things that I can’t really repeat here. Then I went into the restroom and proceeded to say the same things over and over to myself, and then came out and I felt a lot better.”
A former bagman for Dustin Johnson and Tiger’s friend, Fred Couples, LaCava’s loyalty to Woods throughout his injury and eventual comeback was handsomely rewarded on Sunday as the pair tasted Major success for the first time together. But what wisdom did the 54-year old impart that Tiger seemed to cling to?
“I told him, intense but loose,” said LaCava. “Don’t carry the weight of the world but never lose the intensiveness.”
And those simple words seemed to resonate with Woods who went on to birdie 7 and 8 and never looked back on the way home as he signed off with a two-under par round of 70 for a one stroke win. It means Tiger’s now just three away from Jack Nicklaus’ 18-Major haul and although LaCava is reluctant to look too far ahead, clawing back the Golden Bear’s lead in the race for Greatest Of All Time status is now a distinct possibility.
“Now 15’s here, let’s get to 16. Is the record in play? Sure. The guy’s 43-years-old. A guy like him could win when they’re 50. But 16 is the next mission.”
As for Woods himself, there was no fear of looking too far ahead as the sheer enormity of the achievement remained slow to sink in. It was only two years ago that Tiger whispered to peers at the Champions’ dinner that the dream was dead; that his participation in the sport was done for and that he was simply trying to salvage some sort of quality of life so he could be an active Dad to his children.
“Luckily I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life,” Woods said. “But then all of a sudden, I realised I could actually swing a golf club again. I felt if I could somehow piece this together that I still had the hands to do it. The body’s not the same as it was a long time ago, but I still have good hands.
“So that certainly has helped, and I pieced it together, and next thing you know, if you look at it, my first 14 wins in majors were always… I had the lead in every one of them, or tied for the lead. To have the opportunity to come back like this, you know, it is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had for sure because of it.”
The road to Magnolia Lane began many months ago for Woods and although most observers will point to his Tour Championship win as the catalyst for his trip to the Butler Cabin on Sunday, for Woods, it’s been a series of stepping stones that built the confidence for him to pull off arguably the greatest comeback sport has ever known.
“At the Match Play, I hit a couple really nice draws out there off the tee, and was starting to feel comfortable turning it from right‑to‑left. I just felt that, you know, I’m getting comfortable with it, and pretty soon, I was starting to let it go and I was starting to let the speed go and started letting it increase, and I did this week. I started to put it out there and every now and again, I would drop the tee down and hit a little squeeze or cut out there.
“Even those, if I didn’t spin it too much, those would go a little bit further. My swing was getting a little bit better, and more so than any other golf course that we play, you have to miss the golf ball in the correct spots. And so, I just kept doing that, time and time again. And if I didn’t have a good look at a putt, I was going to lag it up there and move on.
“I missed a few shorties out there for birdie this week, but I said, hey, you know what, that’s fine, everyone else is going to do it, as well. Just keep missing the golf ball in the correct spots, and I did.”