Read an Excerpt
Follow the Roar
The Buick Invitational
Torrey Pines Golf Course
La Jolla, California
January 24-27, 2008
When Torrey Pines Golf Course was refurbished back in 1999, workers discovered that rubble and pieces of old toilets had been used to build up the tees and greens, evidence to all that no matter how pretty the cameras make it look on TV, the home of the Buick Invitational and this year's U.S. Open is at its core a city-owned muni. My old boss Alan wasn't even that kind. "It's a dump," he had pronounced after a weekend trip to play it a few years back. I'd been to the Buick Invitational once before, back when my high school friend A.J. was in college just down the street at UC San Diego. At the time I hadn't been to a professional golf tournament in years, and A.J. had never been to one, a dangerous combination that led to me stupidly telling him that sure, he could go ahead and bring his camera. When A.J. tried to take a picture of Jeff Sluman (why he chose Jeff Sluman of all people remains a mystery) the marshals were all over him, forcing him to hand over his film as if he had just snapped a shot of Area 51.
¬ Tiger Woods' memories of Torrey Pines were likely quite a bit fonder. For one thing, he'd won the Buick a total of five times, including the last three years. But his history there goes back a lot further than that. Every July when Tiger was growing up, his parents, Earl and Kultida, would pack Tiger in their car and head down the 405 freeway, eventually funneling into Interstate 5 in Orange County, then south past the double-boob-shaped nuclear power plant at San Onofre,through the coastal military expanse of Camp Pendleton, passing the bright yellow signs that warned them to watch out for illegal aliens crossing the highway, then finally west to Torrey Pines and the home of the Junior World Golf Championships, one of the premier events in junior golf. How premier? In 1984, David Toms won the 15- to 17-year-old division, a South African named "Ernest" Els won the 13- to 14-year-old division, and Eldrick Woods won the 9- to 10-year-old division. He was only eight. A few years later, he was old enough to play the big course and made the adjustment, winning his age group in 1988, '89, '90, and '91. It was safe to say that Tiger Woods had plenty of positive memories to keep him coming back to San Diego.
Despite the city being just two and a half hours south of L.A., I couldn't remember the last time I'd made the drive. With two little kids, any trip longer than about an hour means trouble. My friend A.J., on the other hand, had never left. Nine years removed from college, he'd risen in the ranks as a mechanical engineer and was working on defense projects that he claimed he couldn't discuss with anyone, including his wife. As a result, any visit with him would inevitably involve some version of this conversation:
"Does your work involve missiles?"
"I can't really talk about it."
"So it does involve missiles."
Our friendship went back to the fourth grade but was cemented a few years later when his parents bought the house next door. He was the smallest kid in the class, and I wasn't much bigger. Nevertheless, that didn't stop us from spending almost every summer afternoon between eighth and ninth grade shooting hoops in my driveway, determined to make the freshman basketball team in the fall. On most afternoons, the sound of one of us bouncing the ball on the cement was enough to draw the other out of his room. We played one-on-one, HORSE, even ran drills we'd learned in basketball camp, anything to improve our game. In early September, the coach's decision was taped to his classroom door. Neither of us made the cut. For two smart kids who had worked hard, it was the first time in our lives that we learned the grown-up lesson that sometimes you can't accomplish everything you want just by trying.
There's not much worse than failing alone, so the fact that both of us fell short made the disappointment manageable, and we instead retreated to the athletic skills we already had. I tried out for and made the golf team in the spring, and A.J. did the same in tennis. After high school, I went east to college and he went south. And after graduation, the real world took over. I met my wife, Hillary, got married, had two kids. He had one dog, then two, then married a pharmacist with a dog of her own. We'd spent the last few years talking more about getting together than actually doing it, and you can keep that up for only so long before friends morph into acquaintances or eventually disappear altogether. So when I called A.J. a few days before the Buick Invitational to say I might need a place to stay, it was comforting to hear his answer: "Stay as long as you want." Theoretically, I could be going home Friday night if Tiger were to miss the cut. But Tiger doesn't miss cuts. Especially at Torrey Pines.
It's 6:30 in the morning. Not many fans feel the need to arrive at Torrey Pines two and a half hours before Tiger's tee time. As I walk onto the property, the volunteer-to-spectator ratio is two to one, and workers compete over who can hand me the day's pairing sheet. On a grassy island in the parking lot, I sit and enjoy the quiet morning and the comings and goings of less famous golfers. Stewart Cink, six top tens last year but no wins, passes by in a pair of workout shorts carrying his own bag. Boo Weekley, a charmer from the Deep South, walks through security and has to show his ID, the camouflage shirt draped over his shoulder not doing much to scream PGA professional.Follow the Roar. Copyright © by Bob Smiley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.