Ten years ago, the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach, Tiger Woods stayed at the Lodge, in the Sloat wing, just beyond the 18th green. He was a 24-year-old bachelor with a new body (bulked up), a new swing (ruthlessly tight) and the same old attitude (step on their necks). Eighty-eight-year-old Byron Nelson was at Pebble, in part because he wanted to talk to Woods about playing in his tournament, the Byron Nelson Classic. All sorts of people were coming at Woods, wanting him to do this and that. Woods tried to lie low. He wasn't happy with Pebble's crowded, chat-heavy driving range. On the Monday before the first round, he did something no other player thought to do, even though the option was listed right there in the fine print of the contestant information packet.
Woods walked up to an assistant at the range at nearby Spyglass Hill.
"Hey," he said, "can I hit some balls?"
"Sure," said the assistant, Jin Park. "What do you want?"
Park had a buffet table with buckets representing all the major food groups—Titleist, Precept, Callaway, the whole gang.
"No, that's O.K.," Woods said. "I brought my own." Steve Williams was with him, carrying sacks of balls.
Golfer and caddie set up shop on the range, which was closed to regular customers. Woods started hitting balls on the gently sloping downhill practice field, where the far boundary, 270 or so yards from the tee, is marked not by a fence but by a straight line of Monterey pines, all of them well over 100 feet tall.
Park watched Woods go through his whole bag. With a two-iron, Woods was reaching the pines. With the driver, Woods's shots were going over them. Park wasn't awed by Woods's spectacular length. Park was a long hitter himself. What struck him was the precision and the repetitiveness of his ball flight.
Woods left with a simple, "Thanks, guys." A kid picking the range came in with the balls Woods had left behind. Park checked them out. "Look at this," he said to the other golfheads with him. Nike had just entered the ball business, and the souvenirs Woods had left behind were Nike prototypes.
" 'I brought my own,' " Park, now the head pro at Spyglass, said the other day, repeating what Woods had said to him 10 years ago. He'll never forget it. Six days later Woods won the U.S. Open with his new Nike ball—by 15 shots.