In 2004, Tiger Woods gave his word to John Daly and committed to play in the PGA’s 84 Lumber Classic at Nemacolin in Farmington, Pennsylvania. Woods who was preparing for the Ryder Cup said, “I am excited to be returning to Nemacolin to play in the 84 Lumber Classic.” I remember the day vividly. It was Thursday, September 16.
Woods was returning a favor to Daly. Two weeks earlier, Daly changed plans to help his friend Tiger who served as unofficial host for the Deutsche Bank Championship. Daly was the returning champion at The Korean Open, but Daly scrapped his plans to defend his title. He would instead play in the Deutsche Bank event. It was a win-win.
Almost instantly, commercials began to run on television like the one below. Ticket sales skyrocketed. An additional 80,000 tickets were sold by the 80 charities involved with the tournament. It was euphoria.
Fans in Pennsylvania are known to get rather passionate about our favorite sports. The 84 Lumber Classic was the fulfillment of an idea Tiger gave Joe Hardy, the founder of 84 Lumber. In 1997, Tiger played with Hardy in a Pro-Am held on the Pete Dye designed Mystic Rock golf course.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is located in the village of Farmington Pennsylvania, a town that doesn’t even have stoplights. It was madness. The golf course was packed with fans, roads were overflowing, some people abandoned their cars beside the two-lane Route 40 and walked to the course to avoid the traffic jams. Everyone wanted to get a chance to see Tiger play.
During the Pro-Am, Tiger suggested Nemacolin would be a great PGA tour spot. For the next seven years, Joe Hardy worked tirelessly to make it a reality.
Hardy had a lot of help, but perhaps none more important than golf superintendent Brian Anderson. Andersen and his dedicated team helped make the miracle a reality with their efforts. Mystic Rock was lengthened to one of the longest on the tour, thousands of trees were planted tightening fairways, greens were rebuilt, and 1,500 trees were moved to create more gallery and hospitality space for the 225,000 fans the tournament would draw.
It was the mother of all to-do lists and Andersons’ team completed it with time to spare.
It was something everyone wanted to be a part of and Joe Hardy, the party host, had a fun filled week planned with family events, concerts, and of course most of the biggest golf stars in the world were coming to the party.
The biggest star of all, Tiger Woods, was coming back to the world’s finest resort, Nemacolin Woodlands, to play in the tournament. Tiger was on a mission too. He was coming to take back his ranking as the number one golfer in the world. A ranking that Vijay Singh had captured at The Deutsch Bank Championship which was Tiger’s ‘unofficial tournament’ at that time.
Families were excited. Golf buddies everywhere were making plans to escape their wives and partake in the magic. The village of Farmington was buzzing with thousands of volunteers, business owners, and workers making last minute plans. The schools were closed because the buses were needed for transportation of all of the guests coming to the party. The golf world was estatic. The showdown for the number one golfer in the world was going to be settled on a golf course that designer Pete Dye said could be built as long as Hardy never asked how much it would cost.
The PGA’s 84 Lumber Classic was billed like a title fight. GO for the SHOWDOWN was what all the full page ads depicted with photos of No 1 Vijay Singh vs. No 2 Tiger Woods in a heavyweight stare down.
Then it all ended.
Tiger withdrew from the tournament. He was tired from The Ryder Cup loss. He needed rest. On Tuesday, September 21, 2004, just five days after he committed to the event, to the fans, to his friend John Daly, Tiger Woods decided he wasn’t coming anymore.
Many people felt they were entitled to see Tiger when they bought tickets. But the unbelievably bad news was a huge letdown. Tiger had more important things to do. He was in New York on a promotional tour for his EA Sports video game. Fans were able to watch him, it just wasn’t on a golf course, it was on Live with Regis and Kelly.
We understood. Obviously, we have respect for a man who has done so much for the sport of golf. The video game was more important.
Sure Tiger gave us his word. But as his wife Elin would learn years later, Tigers’ words don’t mean much. Let’s trust the words that Woods spoke on Friday finally start to have meaning.