At the Ryder Cup every little detail becomes an obsession, from the pleats in the golfers’ pants to how the pin positions favor the collective ball flights of the home team. No minutia is insignificant … unless you’re Dustin Johnson and his brother-caddie, Austin, golf’s most laconic characters. During last year’s event at Hazeltine, Dustin faced a sloping mid-length putt that plainly had two or three feet of right-to-left break. After conferring with his brother, he started his ball a yard left of the hole, missing the putt by at least six feet. Had the tension short-circuited his stroke or perhaps clouded his vision, even though this was just a practice round? In his soft South Carolina drawl, Dustin offered his caddie a different explanation: “Awwwww, man, I had the [green-reading] book upside down.”
This isn’t just jingoistic chirping about the enemy. In some cases, it’s Americans critiquing Americans, or Europeans burying Europeans: “It started with slightly dodgy mechanics,” said one, “and it has developed into a full-blown mental problem.” Another player’s weakness is highlighted: “Over a bunker to a tight flag is his worst nightmare. It’s not pretty.” And this: “He’s well capable of giving up. … If he’s not in the mood, he’s just not in the mood.”
Outside of the golf course, it really seems that Tiger felt most comfortable using his superstar status to train with Navy SEALS.
Eventually, Woods learned how to clear a room, working corners and figuring out lanes of fire, doing something only a handful of civilians are ever allowed to do: run through mock gun battles with actual Navy SEALs. “He can move through the house,” says Ed Hiner, a retired SEAL who helped oversee training during the time and wrote a book called First, Fast, Fearless. “He’s not freaking out. You escalate it. You start shooting and then you start blowing s— up. A lot of people freak out. It’s too loud, it’s too crazy. He did well.”
At one point, Marshall put him through a combat stress shooting course, making him carry a 30-pound ammunition box, do overhead presses with it, do pushups and run up a hill, with shooting mixed in. Tiger struggled with slowing his heart rate down enough to hit the targets, but he attacked the course.
“He went all out,” Marshall said. “He just f—ing went all out.”
Marshall got his golf clubs at one point and asked Tiger to sign his TaylorMade bag. Tiger refused, sheepishly, saying he couldn’t sign a competing brand. So Marshall challenged him to a driving contest for the signature. Both Marshall and Brown confirmed what happened next: Tiger grinned and agreed. Some other guys gathered around a raised area overlooking the shooting range. Marshall went first and hit a solid drive, around 260 or 270 yards. Tiger looked at him and teed up a ball, gripping the TaylorMade driver.
Then he got down on his knees.
He swung the club like a baseball bat and crushed one out past Marshall’s drive. Tiger started laughing, and then all the SEALs started laughing, and eventually Marshall was laughing too.
“Well, I can just shoot you now and you can die,” Marshall joked, “or you can run and die tired.”