SCOTTSDALE, Az. –The weather on Wednesday may be remembered as the best day of the week. Jackets in the morning, sleeveless by noon. Heavy storms expected Friday and Saturday.
Tiger ‘Woods got the day going with the first tee time at 8:30 off #1. The atmosphere was absolutely electric when he walked out and some in the crowd were even asking “Is it really him?” It’s a slimmer, healthy-looking Tiger these days, and he appeared to be genuinely enjoying himself, especially with his buddy Marcus Allen.
The cheers for Bubba’s group, that immediately followed Tiger’s, were equally enthusiastic when Arizona Cardinals head football coach Bruce Arians was introduced. Bubba took over the mic to give Arians a hard time on the tee – “Are you nervous out there, Coach?”
Future Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey, Jr., was as entertaining as always. He insisted that he rarely plays golf these days, instead devoting his time to son Tevin and the teen’s multiple activities that range from football, Tai Kwon Do, to music. It’s likely that Tevin is actually the best athlete in the family, better even than his older siblings Trey and Taryn, who play Division I football and basketball, respectively, at University of Arizona. Trey, in fact, was picking dad up after the round and the two were going to enjoy dinner at Pappadeaux, Phoenix’s top seafood spot.
But, for someone who says he rarely plays, Junior still has a sweet and powerful golf swing that’s like butter and so reminiscent of that fluid home run stroke we all remember. He outdrove his playing partners (including Jim McMahon and pro Hideki Matsuyama) on the first hole, but ended up off the fairway with a sidehill lie and the ball below his feet. No problem. He wedged a perfect shot that landed just off the green, but pin high. The rustiness only showed up in his short game, when he left his chip way short.
And why, exactly was he paired with Matsuyama? Well, if you believe Junior, it was all Ichiro’s doing. The Matsuyama group finished T24 (out of 26).
The Tiger | Griffey connection:
Tiger and Griffey were introduced on the field of the Kingdome in 1992, during Mariners batting practice. Tiger was just 15 and in Seattle with his dad to host a golf tournament benefitting inner city junior golf. Earl Woods had played some semi-pro baseball and was eager to attend a couple Mariners games. Tiger threw out the first pitch and later had sore back worked on by Mariners trainer Rick Griffen.
Years later, Tiger and Griffey became neighbors in Isleworth, the exclusive Florida enclave of the wealthy, famous and athletic. Griffey even played several Pro-Ams with Tiger, but their friendship eventually cooled as their lives took different paths.
Venezuelans representing – It was fun to catch up with the Cub’s catcher Miguel Montero, who was traded by the Diamondbacks in the middle of last season. He and good friend Jhonattan Vegas, along with a lively contingent of fellow Venezuelans, held court outside the players’ clubhouse. Montero was a fan favorite in Phoenix, and his exuberant personality is sorely missed in the D’backs clubhouse. Montero was the one who kept everyone loose.
Side note: Winning Pro-Am team was led by pro Bill Haas, my winning pick at last week’s Humana Challenge.