I'll always remember what started off as a normal Saturday morning in the spring of 1980. I was the head pro at Hartwell Golf Park, a par-3 course in Long Beach, Calif., and a woman came into my shop with her four-year-old boy. She said, "My husband and I would like you to help our son with his game." After watching Tiger take a cut-down 2�-wood and launch shot after shot about 75 yards, I told Mrs. Woods that I'd be happy to help.
I worked with Tiger until he was 10, but ours wasn't a conventional teacher-student relationship. He was already such a good ball striker that we seldom discussed technique. Tiger and I were always competing against each other. We had chipping, putting and bunker contests. We invented games and spent lots of time in the practice areas. We'd hit high and low shots with every club-floaters with our drivers and low screamers with a sand wedge. We'd see who could take the fewest strokes playing through the legs of a bench on a tee, over the shrubs, down the maintenance road and back to the tee, where you had to hit the left tee marker. He wanted to win even those tee games and was as competitive at five as he is today.
I always reminded Tiger to hole every putt and to play his ball as it lay, whether it was in a divot or behind a tree. Pound for pound he has always been superlong, and I let him swing as hard as he wanted as long as he stayed in balance. Soon after we started working together, Tiger was aiming down one side of the fairway so he would have an open approach to the green.
When Tiger was six, he and I played an exhibition against another pro and young boy at Chalk Mountain Golf Course in Atascadero, Calif. The 12th hole is a 190-yard par-3 with a creek crossing about 120 yards from the tee, and Tiger wasn't long enough to carry the water. There was a little cart path that ran over the creek. When Tiger's tee shot bounced off it and rolled up near the green, I told him, "That was lucky." He smiled and said, "No it wasn't. I was trying to do that."
If working with Tiger taught me anything, it's that fun and practice—not swing knowledge—are the building blocks for a good golfer. When Tiger was a child, he knew very little about technique, but he always believed he could hit any shot. I'm glad that in some ways he has never grown up.