The idea of following Tiger Woods for an entire season seems like a golf fan's dream. Actually doing it is another thing. Bob Smiley, an out-of-work television writer and ESPN.com contributor from Los Angeles, decided shadowing Woods would be a good idea. His plan was to follow Woods during every round, every hole, of the 2008 season and write a book about it.
After convincing his wife, Hillary, that leaving her and their two children behind during tournaments was a good idea, and after securing a publisher (HarperCollins) and an advance that would pay for most travel and expenses, Smiley was off on an adventure. It included a trip to Dubai and a run-in with a herd of camels, a tripleheader in Florida that featured a harrowing drive from Miami to Orlando on a Monday afternoon, and a journey to golf's holy land, Augusta, where finding a patron's badge is an expensive undertaking. The only thing it didn't include was actually meeting Woods.
The result was Follow the Roar, Tailing Tiger For All 604 Holes Of His Most Spectacular Season. The book hits stores on Tuesday. Woods won four of six PGA events before knee surgery in June. Smiley, 31, recently spoke about what it was like to follow Woods from behind the ropes.
This seems like the kind of journey any golf fan would love to take, but how did you actually get permission from your wife to pull this off?
It was sort of the perfect storm of events. I had been unemployed for most of the past two years. On some level, my wife was excited that there was at least something. But as the reality settled in, I think she first felt it during the match play. Every day when Tiger would win his match and it meant I'd be away from home another day, she sort of realized what she signed on for.
You say in the book that you aren't really a Tiger fan when the season begins. Did your opinion change when it was over?
Until this year I would never be the person just rooting for Tiger. To me there is nothing worse than watching Tiger lead by four or five strokes in the final round. No tension. No drama. It's just over. I was always the person rooting for the underdog to challenge him. But as the year went on I came to appreciate his greatness and how the blowout victory is just as impressive as the nail-biter. I started to admire him and get over some of the issues I had with him over the years.
How hard was it to handle the logistics of following Tiger?
One of the nice things about his schedule is that he rarely plays back-to-back weeks. There was a stretch in Florida where he played in Orlando, Miami and then back in Orlando. That made it tricky. There would have been a stretch later in the year where I had to travel a lot, but that never came to pass. Generally, I'm a procrastinator, so I didn't have those travel plans yet.
And you had a little trouble getting to the Tavistock Cup in Orlando. Tiger had to play the final round at Doral Monday morning and then get to Orlando for a 1:42 tee time. He can fly, but you had to drive, right?
That was a total blast. In my mind I was tailing Tiger, but I didn't catch every single hole. I got there a little too late and missed the first two holes. I tried to catch a writer to ask what happened on those two holes, and I've yet to know. It's a black hole of information.
Your purpose wasn't to interview Woods, but did you think after a few tournaments he would recognize you and strike up a conversation?
He's such a famously hard person to get to. When I sold the idea I already knew the person I was dealing with and never promised the publisher that he would be part of the story. It was always about this idea of watching this larger-than-life figure from afar and recognizing that I'd have just as little interaction as when the year started. But saying that, I hope Tiger will read the book and I'll get a call one day from him giving me his opinions. It's kind of like people who win the World Series get calls from the president. One of the things I like about the book is that it isn't officially endorsed by Tiger so I can be more open and honest about it. I think if he ever does read it he'll at least appreciate that I was honest, and for the most part I come down on his side.
But he didn't even shoot a glance your way in, say, Dubai?
I kept thinking at some point whenever he hit that wayward drive, he would think, "There's that guy again.'' I never got that sense. He's also the best athlete in the world at tuning out people and things, or at least pretending to. Sometimes he was sincerely in that deep, scary focus. Other times, as far as I could tell, it was a facade that he puts on. Sometimes I saw him go from the game face to laughing. Other times he's so deep that he's in another place. There was never a wink or weird sort of look. There were always a lot of people and I don't really stand out. Maybe if I was 7 feet tall with green hair.
There were times when I wondered if I should reach out and be that obnoxious person that says something. But the reality is that Tiger is intimidating. He's intimidating to fans. He'll give you that stare and you're afraid to do anything.
After this book, do you think you'll go to a golf tournament ever again?
I'm a little burned out. I had a friend ask me if I was going to the Chevron World Challenge, which is right up the road from me, and my first feeling was nausea. But I might go to the L.A. Open next year. I look forward to picking a hole and watching everybody come through.
Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] or (727) 893-8810.