Monday, October 7, 2013

Tiger Woods: Up Close in Thailand

Tiger Woods at the Johnny Walker Tournament

Photojournalist Prisana Nuechterlein gets up close with Tiger Woods in Thailand. An uplifting account in the midst of Tiger's great fall.

Story and pictures by Prisana Nuechterlein  

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Ball

“Have you seen my ball?” Tiger Woods asks me. I’ve been following him for a few hours, shooting pictures of the Johnny Walker Tournament for my publisher. I can’t seem to utter a word in reply and begin looking in earnest for Tiger’s ball. Of course, I am not alone in this quest. There are now at least 7 of us searching for the lost ball.

Earlier in the day, I had met Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, as he was riding around in a golf cart. The former Green Beret lieutenant colonel was all smiles and shook my hand with great strength when I introduced myself as “Prisana.”

“Are you a luk kreung?” he asked me incredulously, recognizing that my name was Thai. This was perhaps the millionth time, that I have been asked if I am half Thai, because although my mother is Thai and my father is Italian; I look 100% farang (foreign in Thai). Tiger on the other hand, definitely looks hasip-hasip (50-50 in Thai). Much easier than saying that he is: “25 percent Thai and 25 percent Chinese from his mom, Kutilda Woods; 25 percent African-American, 12.5 percent American Indian, and 12.5 percent Caucasian Dutch from his dad, Earl Woods” as stated in an article titled; Thais that Bind by Dave McKenna.

Earl Woods in Phuket 1998

A birdie, a bogie and an eagle. Oh my!

While I have occasionally visited a driving range, my knowledge of golf is practically nil. This was obvious to Tiger’s mother Kultilda (a Thailand native), when I asked her what a birdie was? She couldn’t have been more kind and patient, explaining to me about a birdie, a bogie and an eagle, as we sat on the greens enjoying the Phuket sunshine and watching her son hit what appeared to be super-natural shots.
For three surreal days, I stalked Tiger and South Africa’s Ernie Els, along with some other fearsome competitors at the Blue Canyon Country Club, the hosts for the Johnny Walker Tournament in 1998. Those were the glory days, when writers following Tiger, didn’t fret about whether to title their article: Tiger Woods: Up Close in Thailand, or Tiger Woods: Up Close in Thailand, but not that close!

Tiger's Great Fall

I have to admit, I was quite saddened by Tiger’s fall from perfection, but not all that surprised. Phuket is a small island, and the coconut wire was hot on Tiger’s trail following his every movement back in 1998. One night, (according to Coconuts in the know) Tiger ventured into Phuket town to let a bit of his bad boy side out and though the details were sketchy...when I asked him the following day; "Did you have fun last night in Phuket town?" Tiger about tripped over his golf club.

This was my second day following Tiger, and my nerves had calmed down immensely since the morning of his lost ball. He gave me a surprised smile and regained his cool stride, intrigued for a moment by my knowledge of his night out on the town.

I suppose what I find hard to believe is that it took so long for Tiger’s secret world to implode. Fourteen mistresses is a hard number to manage. And yet, the world was none the wiser until that fateful day in Tiger’s life, when everything turned upside down.

The Tiger I witnessed back in 1998, was at the height of his game and his life, beating Ernie Els in an astonishing comeback, that amazed everyone watching - including Els, who had been leading the tournament. I’d like to think that perhaps I had some small part in his comeback, due to an observation that I shared with his body guard on day two of the tournament.

Ernie Els

Zen and the Art of Tiger

Tiger was preparing himself for a swing, when the sound of bird calls distracted him to the point of obvious frustration. I wondered if Tiger had ever studied Zen before and asked his bodyguard to pass on a message to him about studying Zen to improve his game. The following day, his bodyguard told me that my message was relayed and that: “Tiger told me to throw you into the nearest pond.”

Tiger in the woods with Mike "Fluff" Cowan, his first caddie.

Tiger Wood’s Second Coming

I think back to those moments of humour and awe and the less tabloid-rich life that Tiger once lived. Before sadly losing his father, (who was also his best friend) to cancer in 2006; and before a large part of his private life unravelled for all the world to dissect. Perhaps the root of his disastrous great fall lies within this quote which his father shared with Sports Illustrated:

“He's the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don't know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power." 

Johnny Walker Tournament at Blue Canyon Country Club

 The Chosen One

His father may have had the best of intentions, but what mere mortal could live up to being called, “The Chosen One?” The Tiger I watched for three glorious days, was an amazing athlete with supernatural abilities – but he was not The Chosen One. He was just a young man, who made Thailand proud and gave the world his best.

Conversely, in the nearly 2 years since Tiger was caught cheating with a harem of women, “he has lost four major sponsors, changed swing coaches, was divorced from his wife and now has cut loose his caddie, ” writes Doug Ferguson.

In spite of all these setbacks, I have no doubt that Tiger will make an impressive comeback, even more spectacular than on that unimaginable day in Phuket. He just needs to practice a bit more Zen and all will be right in his world.

Official Tiger stalkers - Prisana Nuechterlein on right. Picture by Matthew Burns


Blue Canyon Country Club
Address: 165, Moo 1, Thepkasattri Road, Thalang Phuket 83110
Tel:  +66 (0)7632 8088 
Tour Available: Blue Canyon Country Club

Red Mountain Golf Club
: Kathu district, between Kathu village and Kathu waterfall
Tel: +66 (0)76-322000-1
Tour Available: Red Mountain Course

Laguna Phuket Golf Club
Address: 34 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Road, Cherngtalay Thalang, Phuket 83110
Tel:  +66 (0)76 324 350
Tour Available
: Laguna Phuket Golf Club

Loch Palm Golf Club
Address: 38 Moo 5 Vichitsongkram Rd., Kathu District, Phuket , Thailand. 83120
Tel: +66 (0)76 321 929-34
Tour Available: Loch Palm Golf Club

Phuket Country Club
Address: 80/1 Moo 7, Vichitsongkram Raod, Katu, Phuket 83120
Tel: +66 (0)7631 9200-204
Tour Available: Phuket Country Club

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