Watching Tiger Woods attempt to win his first US Amateur Championship in 1994, as a gangly 18-year-old, in an old YouTube video, I was struck by a few things. Firstly, the preponderance of quirky American names in golf. Tiger was down by 4 holes after 26 in a 36-hole final to Trip Kuehne. Now, Trip has been known to take a vacation every so often during his round, but he was playing some seriously good golf on this day. Trip had defeated Briny Baird, a salty character, in an earlier match on his way to making the final. Broad stripes were the fashion order of the day in this thrilling matchplay championship.
Watching Tiger Woods & Trip Kuehne Duelling
Golf is a funny game, as we all know, and a bad swing is only millimetres and milliseconds away at any time. Pressure does destructive things to golf swings, especially coming down the stretch. Trip was playing the steadier golf in this final. Tiger had hit a few errant shots. Nine holes to go and Tiger was still 3 down. Tiger was sporting the straw hat and, perhaps, this kept him cool when the whips were cracking. Matchplay is a strange game; swings and roundabouts are often on the menu. You can be a few holes up and when you lose one, suddenly, the pressure seems to shift onto you.
US Amateur Matchplay Final Tiger vs Trip
Golf is all about making putts, as most of us well know. In matchplay this is especially true; and before you can say Trip Kuehne, Tiger was only 2 down with 8 to play. In golf games you have a lot of time between shots. A lot of time to think about stuff. Thoughts can mount up inside your head like dark clouds on a winter’s day. Tiger Woods, according to the commentary, was, already, considered the best amateur in the nation in 1994. Golf being a mixture of chess like strategy and athletically swinging clubs makes reputation a factor in agonistic clashes like matchplay.
Tiger was interviewed about not turning pro until he completed his college education, even if he won the US Amateur. His mum stressed the importance of getting an education. She probably thought it was a good idea to have something to fall back on in case golf didn’t work out. Actually, getting an education is about more than training for a career, some folks forget that fact. One of the reasons why so many ordinary people are susceptible to conspiracy theories is because they don’t really understand how the world works. Getting an education can help with this, widening your interests beyond just making a living.
Tiger looked pretty sharp in his outfit; and his game was starting to cut through Trip’s defences. Now, Trip was only 1 up and he had been 6 up at one point. 36 holes is a long time to compete, it is roughly around 140 strokes, and under all sorts of pressure. Keeping your cool, even, when the chips appear to be down is very important. Matchplay demands an even keel and strategic evaluations throughout the rounds. Golf is no place for histrionics. You must suck it up and breathe through it, whatever the presumed situation. Mentally Trip is, probably, thinking how did I let that large lead evaporate. It is hard to stay in the moment.
Golf can grind away at your composure, as there is so much time to think about stuff. On every hole the closer you get to the hole the pressure builds. Putting exacts the highest price and demands the most from you in the moment. You really cannot afford to miss on the greens. Tiger Woods went on, of course, to become arguably the best putter the game has seen.
Tiger shares in another pre-recorded interview segment that he doesn’t have any one golfing hero but takes stuff from lots of top players. He models his game on the best from a multitude of sources. Interesting insights into a nascent champion making his way.
The televised coverage captures an alligator half submerged in an on-course pond. This is an excellent analogy for the game of golf, where a bad swing can get up and bite you unexpectedly. Golf balls can find trouble like nobody’s business. Tiger is 1 down with 5 to play in the 1994 final of the US Amateur Championship. Both of these lean beans are exhibiting some fine swings on their golf balls. Tiger is putting beautifully, lagging long putts perfectly up to the hole. Trip leaves one short in the jaws, with 3 holes to play. He has not won a hole for a long time. Still 1 up though.
Tiger Woods can. Trip Kuehne was never embarrassed in this match. He was taking on the Tiger right at the beginning of the whole legendary arc of a champion. The match is all square with 2 to play. This Florida TPC Sawgrass course has water everywhere and is home of the Players Championship. Trip and Tiger are playing the 17th, that island green par 3. Take a few deep breaths folks. Tiger’s ball nearly goes in the water, pulling up on the first cut just short of the plunge into the aqua, but not far from the hole either. Trip has a lengthy putt, and he knocks it stone dead. Tiger is standing on the edge, and he drains it for birdie to go 1 up. Wow! Even after all these years it is impressive stuff. Tiger gives the iconic fist pump we have all come to know so well. That ball could have so easily have taken one more bounce and got wet. Golf is a game of inches or centimetres, depending on your perspective.
The green cathedral is rocking, and Elvis is in the building. Well, Eldrick is on the course. This is the spooky start of something special in the game of golf. This is the making of history. It is a fitting arena for such a momentous episode in the development of a legend. Tiger, in this first final of 3 US Amateurs he would win, is like a champion racehorse coming from way back to eclipse the other horse in the shadow of the post. Amazing stuff!
Postscript – Tiger misreads his putt on the 18th but leaves it hole high. Trip, remember Trip? Where is Trip Kuehne today I wonder? Trip makes a bold effort to make his putt but runs it five feet past. He did not die wondering. Trip misses the come back and concedes victory to Tiger Woods. End of story. Tiger reveals that he had never before been 6 down and won in a match.