First the history. At 18 months Tiger played his first hole, a 410-yard par-4 at the Navy. He made an 11, including three putts. Though Tiger wasn't supposed to be on the course, at the beginning no one seemed to mind, as long as he played with his father. At three Tiger broke 50 over nine holes for the first time, shooting a 48 from the red tees, which over 18 holes measured a healthy 5,903 yards. "The score wasn't important," says Earl. "Even back then we gave Tiger a par to play off based on how far he could hit the ball. There were a lot of par-8s and par-9s, and at the end of the day he was always under par. This is important: He never developed a complacency or a fear of going low."
Around the time of Tiger's fourth birthday some of the regulars at the Navy course—a facility open to members of the military but not the general public—took issue with his constant presence, and that was when he found Heartwell. By the time he turned 10, Tiger was ready to exact his revenge on the Navy Golf Course. He was already raising eyebrows with his length, and the wide-open fairways at Navy didn't punish his wildness. He became a regular at the course, usually competing against, and beating, men three to four times his age.
"The progression of courses was ideal," says Earl. "At Heartwell, Tiger learned how to be accurate and how to score around the greens. At Bellflower he learned how to attack longer holes. At Navy he was forced to pull all this knowledge together and compete against more mature players on a regulation-sized track."
All three of those courses featured flat, boring, push-up greens. Los Alamitos, where Woods continued to work with Anselmo, was a quirk?' little bandbox crammed onto less than 100 acres, and the greens were, says Earl, "slopy and grainy and funky." It was on these greens that Tiger learned to read breaks and control the speed of his putts. (In 1992 Los Al was redesigned by Perry Dye and renamed Cypress Golf Club. Four years later, just a couple of weeks before he would win his third straight U.S. Amateur, Woods shot a 63 there, which remains the course record.)
In 1987, when Tiger was 11, Anselmo moved on to Meadowlark Golf Club, an upscale daily-fee facility in Huntington Beach, the self-styled Surf City 15 miles south of Cypress. Meadowlark has a gorgeous range, which became the workshop of Anselmo and Woods. (Woods rarely, if ever, played the course.) By then Anselmo was beginning his fourth decade as a teaching pro. In the years after World War II he had barnstormed on the pro circuit, playing in events up and down the West Coast. Anselmo was influenced by the swings of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, and those influences became the touchstones of his dialogue with Tiger. Duran had provided access, enthusiasm and strong fundamentals. Anselmo offered more sophisticated information.
"Tiger was already an accomplished player when he came to me," says Anselmo. "He had the basics down cold. Now he wanted more than that. How do you play knockdown shots? How do you play flop shots? Stuff like that. I'll never forget the day he came to me when he was still a little kid and said, 'How do you get rid of backspin?' I said, 'Tiger, 99 percent of golfers are dying to get backspin, not get rid of it. Why don't you keep the spin and play the ball past the hole and bring it back?' He just nodded his head. I could tell he filed that away for future reference."
By his early teens Tiger had expanded his range in every sense. He was routinely blowing drives over the net at the back of the Meadowlark practice tee, which was 225 yards out and 50 feet high. Thanks to the Southern California Junior Golf Association, Tiger was also seeing more courses than the Navy. Five days a week members of the association traveled to tracks across the Southland, including a handful of private clubs. "That was important because I wanted Tiger to have the same experiences and the same facilities as country club kids," says Earl. "I didn't want him to be shocked when he got out on Tour and saw those courses."
In the summer of 1992, when Tiger was 15 and coming off his second of three straight U.S. Junior Amateur victories, Earl got an unexpected phone call. On the other end of the line was Bob Lovejoy, head pro at swank Big Canyon Country Club, in tony Newport Beach, the next beach town south of Huntington. Designed by Robert Muir Graves and built in 1971, Big Canyon has since its beginning catered to the Orange Country aristocracy, a fact reflected by the club's outrageous membership fees (currently rumored to exceed $150,000). Lovejoy was dangling an honorary membership in front of Tiger. "The club's policy has always been to help out young, up-and-coming golfers when we could," says Lovejoy, now Big Canyon's director of golf. "Generally these were aspiring pros starting out, but in Tiger's case we were all aware of his potential. I went to the club president and said, 'Why not approach the best junior in the world?' "
Tiger was made an honorary member with the blessing of the USGA and the NCAA He haunted the course throughout high school, and it was a much-needed test for his game, which was long but often wrong. Big Canyon plays 6,876 yards from the back tees, with a slope of 135 and a course rating of 73.9. The course sprawls up and down spectacular, rolling countryside, and there isn't a single flat hole. However, it has plenty of old-growth trees. "Tiger took two or three years to break par at Big Canyon because he was so damn wild," says Earl. "I used to tell him he was aptly named because he was always in the woods. He would say, 'Yeah, Pop, but I can get out.' Big Canyon is where he learned those escape shots, where he learned never to be intimidated by being in trouble."
In the spring of 1996, when he was a sophomore at Stanford, Woods brought Big Canyon a measure of renown (and vice versa) by going 61-65 on the opening day of the Pac-10 Championships, which was held at the course. Both rounds beat the course record. Later in '96 Woods turned pro and almost overnight became a corporation unto himself, but little has changed in his relationship with Big Canyon. He's still an honorary member, and it's still his home course when he's in Southern California. (Woods has a bachelor pad in Manhattan Beach, 25 miles up the coast.)