Tiger Woods’ next best chance at 10th USGA title could come in two years

Tiger Woods of the United States looks on during a practice round prior to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort on June 12, 2024 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Tiger Woods at the 124 U.S. Open on Wednesday.

getty images

PINEHURST. N.C. — Tiger Woods brings heat. He’s 48, decades past his playing prime, but he still packs heat. He doesn’t do casual, and neither does the USGA, which picked up the tab for his dinner Tuesday night, for Tiger and his mother, for his two kids. He got the Bob Jones Award and it comes with dinner.

At the core of Tiger’s golfing life is his USGA record. His three U.S. Junior victories, followed by three U.S. Amateurs, followed by three U.S. Opens. Nine USGA titles. Nobody has more. Bobby Jones has nine, too.

Phil Knight got out his Nike checkbook because of those first six wins, plus Tiger’s life story. His brilliant, profane, crazy-like-a-fox father, with his degrees from Kansas State (sociology) and Vietnam (Bronze Star). His Thai mother, who wasn’t going to junior tournaments to sip tea with the other moms. Tiger’s two years at Stanford, his inherent shyness, his explosive fist pumps. He was brown man in a white game with a body he stole from Gumby. Good lord it was exciting.

The ink was still wet on that Swooshed check when Tiger started winning PGA Tour events. His scoreboard totals are 82 PGA Tour wins, 15 of them majors. There’s not enough money in the world to make Woods go to LIV. That’s why not one of Mark Steinberg’s clients is a LIV golfer. Mark Steinberg owes his career to Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods owes his professional career to the PGA Tour, and his training for it came by way of a lot of things, including, at its core, the USGA.

Tiger could get to 10. He could still get to 10 USGA titles. He’s 48 and his body has been ravaged by extreme weightlifting, extreme practicing, extreme living and an inexplicable car crash three years ago that could have killed him. But his golf skill is still remarkable and so is his will. He could get to 10.

Tiger will be 50 when the U.S. Senior Open goes to the Scioto Country Club in Columbus in 2026. Scioto is where Jack Nicklaus learned the game. Big Jack won two U.S. Senior Opens. No sport does generation to generation like golf. Woods’s main competition has always been against Jack Nicklaus. Tiger will be tanned, rested and ready for that ’26 Senior Open. You can book that. Nicklaus will be 86, and he’ll still have that boyish Buckeye voice, and he’ll say some version of this and mean it: “I’ve said it a million times: Never bet against Tiger Woods.” Jack Nicklaus’s final U.S. Open was at Pebble Beach in 2000 when he was 60 but all these years later he remains the most important voice in golf. He’s still mad about the golf ball.

Stealing here, because this is as good as it gets:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas was born in Wales, died in New York City at age 39, and wrote words with a shelf life of forever. You can draw a line from Dylan Thomas to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, if you feel like it.

So fast so shiny so sharp.

When Jack made his U.S. Open farewell, Tiger Woods won, by 15 shots. The 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Golf cannot be played at a higher level. If you still have your pencil out, you can draw a straight line from Bobby Jones to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods. It says here that there will not be another Tiger Woods as there will not be another Bruce Springsteen. Tiger has Boss in his email address. Talk about fast, shiny, sharp.

Tiger Woods hugs his mother Kultida Woods and daughter Sam Alexis Woods after receiving the Bob Jones Award during a ceremony at the Carolina Hotel
‘For my mommy’: Tiger Woods delivers heartfelt tribute to his mother
By: Alan Bastable

Do you think anyone cares how much money Woods earned for winning that U.S. Open at Pebble? When he endorsed the check this word (you could imagine) was already stamped on it: Immortality. The costs of that win we cannot know, though we have all seen Tiger’s life unfold. (Imagine having a camera pointed at you pretty much all the time.) But those four days at Pebble will live forever, to those of us who care about such things.

Tuesday night, in the Grand Ballroom at the Carolina Hotel, Woods received the USGA’s highest honor, the Bob Jones Award. Not the Bobby Jones Award. Not the Jones Award. The Bob Jones Award. Golf, as Tiger Woods played it and as the USGA administers it, requires precision. Mike Tirico and Mike Whan talked about Tiger’s nine USGA titles, noting that Jones had nine, too. “Mr. Jones,” as Woods referred to the great amateur at a Tuesday-morning press conference. Rickie Fowler was Rick in that same session. Donald Ross was Donald.

But Bobby Jones was “Mr. Jones.” He invented the Masters, golf in the South, the USGA record book. You drive in to Pinehurst on Highway 1, aka Jefferson Davis Highway. Do you think that detail was lost on Earl Woods? Impossible. He and Tiger came here in 1991, to play in a junior event called the Big I. Woods has been here a bunch since then, and Pinehurst has changed since then. Now the USGA and the World Golf Hall of Fame are in Pinehurst. You can play golf around here, this time of year, until 9 o’clock or later, in a long sunset. 

Tuesday night, at the Carolina Hotel here, Woods stood at a podium, before a microphone, and talked without notes for about six minutes. It brought to mind his Hall of Fame induction two years ago, and his acceptance of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House, a couple weeks after winning the 2019 Masters. He talked about his father, his daughter, his son, but most especially his mother. It was brief. He returned to his banquet-table seat to a standing ovation backed by a snippet of electropop called “Don’t Stop.”

It stops. Eventually, for all of us, it all stops. Ben Hogan and Mickey Wright had their way of saying goodbye to their public golf. Sam Snead and Tom Watson had another. Arnold Palmer had another. Nicklaus. With the stature that comes from winning a record 18 majors and leading the life he has led, Nicklaus finds himself in front of a microphone at the Masters and at the Memorial each year, and Fred Ridley and Mike Whan and Jay Monahan have him on speed dial.

Listening to Tiger, and watching him with his son Charlie, you get the feeling that he would happily forgo a 10th USGA title if his son could contend in a USGA amateur event. Just contend! Because that alone is an accomplishment. When Woods was young and brash and callow, he used to talk all the time about “getting the W.” That was a lifetime ago. Or a different life for him, anyway.

Tiger’s work in educational philanthropy is extraordinary. He could write a truthful book called Back or What It Takes or whatever, about the costs of greatness and leading such an exposed life, but it would be hard for him. Why he hasn’t committed to being the next Ryder Cup captain is bizarre. How he really feels about the biggest issues facing the game is essentially unknown. He can find a meaningful path in the game, from here on out, that goes way beyond medal scores over 72 holes. In the meantime, we know this. He grew up in a small house in Southern California. Golf got him out of the house and into the world and to a riser Tuesday night in a Pinehurst ballroom.

Charlie Woods and Tiger Woods at the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Tiger Woods arrives at U.S. Open with a new coach — and 1 thing to prove
By: Dylan Dethier

“I aspired to be a USGA champion,” Tiger said Tuesday night. He talked about his third and last U.S. Amateur win, the one at Pumpkin Ridge, in 1996, over Steve Scott. As good as golf gets. Tiger said he never felt more pressure. His future — the size of the Nike check, the possibility of returning to Stanford — rested on that outcome. Maybe a 20-year-old golfer shouldn’t be under so much pressure, but as Tiger would say himself, It is what it is, or what it was. His mother was at that Amateur, the first one she had attended. She was wearing a Stanford sweatshirt in the cool of a late-summer Oregon afternoon. Tuesday night, she was wearing a black polka-dot gown, a silver-and-diamond necklace, tinted glasses with gold frames loaded with filigree.

“Mom has been there my entire life, she has been, through thick and thin,” Woods said. “This award, I accept it in humbleness, and just unbelievable regard for the past recipients. But I also accept it for mommy, too. She allowed me to get here, to chase my dreams.”

Son finished. Mother stood. The glasses, the gown, the necklace. The pride.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.

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