The date: Jan. 25, 1997. Tiger Woods had turned 21 less than a month earlier, yet the buzz around him was already palpable. Tiger had won three of the first nine starts as a professional on the PGA TOUR, including two weeks earlier when he beat Tom Lehman in a playoff at La Costa.
He was still three months away from his first major win, but everybody knew this was a superstar in the making.
So here he was, in the third round of the then-Phoenix Open, standing on the tee box at the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. Although the stands that would give the hole its “stadium” effect had yet to be built, the crowd was still raucous, ready to see how the kid would handle golf’s loudest hole.
Tiger was not among the contenders, having started his round 10 strokes off the lead and well off the pace of the leader (and eventual winner) Steve Jones. But he was about to add to his legend with one of the most memorable shots of his career — a hole-in-one followed by his raise-the-roof celebration.
Twenty-five years after one of Woods’ most memorable shots, these are the recollections of those who were there.
Woods’ playing partner
Playing alongside Tiger Woods that day, Omar Uresti took the advice of his brother (also his caddie) Rusty, turning away from Woods so he couldn’t see the phenom swing.
The thought was that Woods attacked the ball with such speed and voracity that it would mess with Uresti’s own tempo.
Paired with Woods for the first time, the third-year PGA TOUR pro had handled the atmosphere quite well. He was 2 under through the first 15 holes and one ahead of Woods.
On TPC Scottsdale’s 152-yard par-3 16th, Uresti hit an 8-iron that settled 3 feet behind the hole.
“As soon as it landed I made the mistake of thinking to myself, ‘Let’s see you hit it closer than that,’” Uresti says nearly two decades later.
As Uresti turned his back and crossed his arms, he listened for the click of the ball off Woods’ clubface. Uresti started walking and took about 10 steps before he looked up just in time to see Woods’ ball take two hops and disappear into the hole.
“I looked back and saw a shower of cups and cans,” said Uresti, who whiffed on his first high-five with Woods after the shot. “I didn’t even have time to process (the shot) might go in the hole.
“It was the loudest roar I have ever heard, other than maybe the national championship game in 2005 when Vince Young scored the winning touchdown for Texas against USC. It rattled the clubhouse windows some 600-700 yards away. I shook my head and was thinking, ‘Only Tiger.’”
It was also “deflating” to Uresti.
Woods went on to birdie 18 to nip him by a stroke and by Sunday Uresti was worn out mentally and physically and faded from contention (finishing 46th) while Woods went on to finish 18th.
Still, it was a moment in time that Uresti says he was proud to be a part of.
“It comes up every year, especially around tournament time,” he said. “I get (asked about) it a few times a month and I don’t mind talking about it because it was such a great moment in golf, especially for my career and being able to be part of it.”
Fan on the 16th
Allan Henry was standing about 30 yards away from the tee when Woods hit his shot. He remembers the 16th as never getting completely quiet … except after Woods’ ball found the cup.
“It went dead silent for a split second and then the whole place erupted,” said Henry, who was 24 years old at the time. That split-second of serenity was like a collective inhale as people processed what they’d just witnessed. “There was that split second where everyone just gasped inward.”
But before that shot, Henry recalls the buzz after Uresti hit his tee shot to 3 feet. He also remembers what he thought at the time.
“Everybody was abuzz because Uresti had just stuck it,” Henry said. “I wouldn’t say this if it wasn’t the truth. I swear on my life, I thought in my head, ‘I wonder if Tiger is going to make a hole-in-one.’ (Tiger) hit the ball and I just remember it took one hop, kind of moved left and then I lost it a little bit.
“I get the chills just thinking about it.”
Henry also recalls one detail that played a part in the wild post-shot scene. He said “last call” was declared about an hour before Woods arrived at No. 16.
Plastic beverage cups rained down on the hole as Woods walked toward the green. Fans would be hesitant to part with a full beer purchased at concession-stand prices. An empty one is a different story, though.
“So now everyone’s beers are mostly empty because everyone’s been nursing their $8 beer for the past hour,” he said. “It just became this spontaneous shower of beer cups as he walked down the hole.”
Event volunteer, now TOUR professional
As a member of the Scottsdale Community College golf team, Robert Garrigus was working on the driving range during the 1997 Phoenix Open. Garrigus, now a PGA TOUR winner, and his teammates left their posts to wander over to No. 16 and watched Woods come through.
“We left to go see what (the 16th was all about),” Garrigus said. “He ended up making a hole-in-one there.”
Garrigus was two people back of the ropes when Woods and Omar Uresti approached the hole. Uresti hit his tee shot to 3 feet.
“We were screaming ‘O‑mar, O‑mar,’ and then Tiger makes it,” Garrigus said. “I might have been the first guy to throw a beer, I don’t know. But it started raining, big time, and everybody in the Thunderbirds was like, ‘No, no,’ and they’re getting pelted with beers. It was unbelievable.”
Garrigus said he can be seen in the background of some photos from the scene.
“You could see me in my sunglasses in the back, in the shot,” Garrigus said. “It was so perfect. It was a perfect shot, high 9-iron, boom, right in the joint.”
It was perfect.
“If I didn’t want to be a professional golfer right there, I wasn’t going to be one. That was pretty cool. And I got to see it.”
He turned pro later that year, then won his first PGA TOUR title at the 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Classic.