A Tiger tale that’s indelible

Like most people who follow golf, I saw Tiger Woods for the first time on television. Never a big fan of late-night TV, I did not see him at age two, smacking a golf ball into a screen on the Mike Douglas Show, a replay that has been shown ad nauseam in succeeding years. My “introduction” to Tiger Woods was watching the U.S. Amateur, which I would normally have skipped but for being lured by this young phenom who was going to set the golf world on its ear…yeah, right.

This was 1996 — a not-too Distant Replay ago — and many times since then I’ve wondered what became of Steve Scott.

Steve Scott?

Woods was trying to win his third consecutive U.S. Amateur (I managed to skip the first two), and Scott was his opponent in the 36-hole match-play final. He had Woods down by five holes at one point and was two-up with three holes to play. They were putting. Woods marked his ball and moved the marker to one side because it was in Scott’s line. Scott putted, then Woods put his marker down but didn’t move it back “on line.” As even non-competitive golfers know, this is a rules violation with a two-stroke penalty.

Scott brought the mistake to Tiger’s attention, Woods replaced the marker properly, won the match in extra holes and stunned the golf world by winning the Masters a year later. Scott was off to oblivion after what I have always thought was the epitome of fair play, of doing what is right, of displaying all that is honest about a game that’s based on honesty.

Apparently, Woods never even thanked him. A couple of years ago, Scott explained why that didn’t upset him, to golf writer Ewan Murray of The Guardian:

“I could easily have forgotten…but I’m 100 per cent glad I didn’t. People would have said I did it on purpose. That would have been bad for golf, to have the U.S. Amateur end on a technicality. He wasn’t wired to be thankful or grateful; he was just wired to win. I’m proud of what I did. He won it with his clubs.”

Scott, then 19, played in the 1997 Masters, the first of the five Woods has won, as an amateur. He turned pro, did not win 15 majors, tried the PGA Tour for six years and eventually became a teaching pro in Florida, where presumably he expects his students to get ‘A’ for Integrity. He married his caddy, had two kids, wrote a book about his Tiger moment: Hey, Tiger — You Need To Move Your Mark Back, when the pandemic gave him time to do it. And he left people like me with an indelible memory.

Woods is now 46 (the same age Jack Nicklaus was when he won his final Masters). He deserves to be at Augusta for his ability. A long-forgotten opponent deserves to be there for his integrity.