Roger Fahrenkrug attended the first round of the Masters this year, then headed to Augusta’s small airport. A flight attendant correctly guessed that the longtime teaching pro at Braemar Golf Course had an interest in golf, and asked on which side of the plane he was sitting.
That sounded like a strange question, until Fahrenkrug peered through the window and saw a private jet painted with a Nike swoosh and the initials “TW.”
It was late Thursday afternoon. Tiger Woods had finished his first round at Augusta National, competing in his first major championship since severely damaging his right leg in a one-car accident and being told that amputation, in his words, “was on the table.”
Fahrenkrug saw a large black SUV pull up next to Woods’ jet. Then Woods, who had just walked 18 hilly holes, required help getting out of the vehicle, and more help to make it up the stairs to the airplane.
On Thursday morning, Woods played in the first round of the British Open, shooting a 78 and looking like an older golfer recovering from injury.
Outside of Woods’ team, perhaps the people with the best window into Woods’ remarkable recovery were sitting on an adjacent plane in Augusta on April 7.
“Here come the Suburbans with flashing lights, security, the whole deal,” Fahrenkrug said. “I’m thinking, ‘Hey, Tiger’s going to get out right in front of me.’ Sure enough, the doors open and the security guards come out and the plane’s stairs dropped down.
“Nobody gets out of the vehicle. A couple of seconds more pass, and nobody gets out of the vehicle. Security guards come around the side, Tiger basically grabs their arm, he’s escorted out of the Suburban and helped up the jetway.”
Woods was flying home after each round to undergo extensive therapy on his right leg. He was limping around Augusta National’s ski-slope hills, but by the time he sat in an air-conditioned car long enough to get to the airport, he couldn’t walk without assistance.
Woods made the cut and struggled on the weekend, for obvious reasons. He missed the cut at the US Open, skipped the PGA, and is playing St. Andrews, which is blessedly flat, this week.
While the golfing public may view Woods as either a hero or a public figure who has been embarrassed by revelations about his personal life, golf pros tend to focus on Woods’ work ethic, skill and knowledge.
Fahrenkrug, who has taught for 27 years at Braemar, said he spent a morning watching Woods practicing a difficult, delicate chip early in Masters week. Justin Thomas, one of the top-ranked players in the world, and one known for a deft short game, came over and tried to hit the shot, failing repeatedly, while Woods teased him. Thomas finally gave up.
At 46, Woods can hit shots the best in the world can’t.
Fahrenkrug also remembers watching Woods practicing putting at a British Open as a youngster. His caddy, Mike “Fluff ” Cowan, had grown weary of retrieving putts and was sitting on the green, flipping balls back to Woods.
Woods hit so many putts from the same spot that when he left, there were two brown footprints embedded in the green.
Woods is unlikely to win another major, and should retire with the second-most in golf history — 15, three behind Jack Nicklaus.
He will stand alone as a transformative force in the game.
Fahrenkrug credited Woods with bringing athletes and intense athletic training to the game. And with popularizing it among people who previously thought golf was the province of your boring old uncle with the pastel slacks.
“Being at a public golf course like Braemar, we saw the numbers go crazy, from the driving range to the course,” Fahrenkrug said. “You couldn’t get a tee time. That wasn’t a thing in the early ’90s. We were running promotions to get people to the golf course. Tiger changed all of that.”