Tiger Woods broke into a beaming smile when he reflected on his first experience of links golf at Carnoustie.
Speaking at the same course as he prepared for a return to Open Championship action this week following a three-year absence, Woods dispensed with his perfunctory responses and instead told a story about a teenager in love with the game of golf.
It was 1995 when he first ventured to Angus on the east coast of Scotland to compete in the Scottish Open as an amateur, getting his first taste of the oldest and most pure form of golf.
A 19-year-old Woods, accompanied by the father who first introduced him to the sport, was immediately enthralled by it.
"It was one of the coolest things, just staying on that range and hitting the ball to the 100 metre sign," he said when asked about his memories of that maiden Carnoustie outing 23 years ago.
"I was hitting nine irons and four irons and five irons, just having a blast trying to hit the sign.
"I hadn't been able to do that before. I've never played links golf. This was my first time. I remember my dad on the range with me saying, 'Are you ever going to hit the ball past the 100 yard sign?' And I said, 'No, I'm just enjoying this. Are you kidding me? This is the best.'"
As he recounted the story, Woods' body language said as much as his words - his shoulders dropped, his grin was permanent and unforced, he even seemed to rise a little from his chair, as if floating, buoyed by the sheer joy of the memory.
Recalling time spent with his father Earl in those formative years of what has proven to be a remarkable career appeared to transport Woods back to that time, a time before he had won any of his 14 majors, before he had spent even a week at the top of the world rankings, let alone 683 of them.
Listening to him offered an insight into the passion the man has for the game of golf, removed from the wider context of fame, fortune and media scrutiny.
In his wistful reminiscence, Woods was remembering the pleasure that can be drawn from the simple act of playing a game you love, of having fun on a golf course, of bonding with your dad.
He wanted to keep on reliving that, and so he did.
"I remember going down number two, and I was about probably close to 120 yards out, and bringing out my putter and putting it, I've never done that before. That was one of the cooler moments," he continued.
"Throughout the day, like on eight, I remember my dad would put a little wager on with me, closest to the hole from 100.
"I've never been able to [that] do up until that point. So that was one of the coolest things. It stuck with me. You see I'm just telling the story now.
"Those little moments like that, that was my introduction to links golf, Carnoustie and St Andrews. Doesn't get any better than that."
For all this man has done, his many achievements and not inconsiderable number of missteps, those are the moments he cites as his very best. Moments that yielded no monetary reward, no silverware, no column inches. It's enough to make even the biggest cynic smile along with him.
26 de marzo 2019
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