Carnoustie caddie Rod Soutar got to know “the real Tiger Woods” during a rollercoaster week at the 1996 Scottish Open.
Rod was chosen by Woods’ father Earl who wanted a local caddie who knew his way around Carnoustie.
Woods as an amateur played all four rounds in the calm weather of 1995 before missing the cut in the tough conditions of 1996 when Rod was on the bag.
The wind got up and Woods shot 81 and 75.
What was Tiger Woods like?
Rod has a business-as-usual demeanour and doesn’t get misty-eyed when anniversaries come round but he professed a genuine affection for the 15-time major winner.
“Tiger was still an amateur in 1996 when he arrived with his dad Earl on a Sunday afternoon looking for a local caddie,” said Rod.
“I got the job and I knew Tiger by reputation because of his US Amateur success but at the same time everybody was speaking about Gordon Sherry.”
Sherry, a strapping six foot eight inch 22-year-old from Ayrshire, was the Amateur champion who outplayed Woods at Carnoustie in 1995.
Rod was impressed by his power when they got on the course and got to see the ‘human side of Tiger Woods’ that made the week at the Scottish Open so enjoyable.
“We immediately went out and played six holes at Carnoustie after he flew in and I found him to be a really pleasant and fun guy,” said Rod.
“He was a great ball striker in the practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday and he was loving links golf because he was getting to take on different shots.
“He had all the attributes and everyone thought he would be the next big star and right enough he was.
“He had played the year before at the Scottish Open and he was cracking jokes and was really so laid back and fun over those first two days.”
Things went wrong when the tournament started
The next day the wind picked up and Woods took 81 in the first round.
Rod said: “I always remember when the tournament started there were 30-40mph winds for those first two rounds and he just tightened up and went into tunnel vision.
“The first couple of holes he was making shots but then the wind just blew him to bits.
“I remember in practice on both days at the 17th he hit a four iron off the tee and a four iron into the green, which normally is the way you play it.
“In the tournament he had to play two drivers for both shots because of the wind strength and even the rough was brutal!”
Woods went on to compete in The Open at Royal Lytham although Rod will never forget how the superstar prepared for his assault on the Claret Jug!
“The Open was taking place at Royal Lytham the week after and he told me his friend at Stanford University was going to be caddying for him,” he said.
“He said: ‘We are having a day off and we’re going away to this theme park which has got the biggest rollercoaster in the world’.
“He was really looking forward to going to Blackpool Pleasure Beach to go on the Pepsi Max and it’s something that’s stuck with me.
“That was Tiger.
“He was so excited about getting away from the golf course.
“He was 21 and his whole life had been golf.
“I can imagine family photo albums of Tiger would be pictures of him on the golf course and not on theme parks or beaches.
“That’s why I think he led his life in reverse.
“What he went on to do in his private life is probably what a lot of people would have been doing when they were 17, 18 or 19.”
Rod has caught up with Woods a few times since 1996
Rod and Woods took a trip down memory lane when they met each other again at Carnoustie when he was competing in The Open in 1999 and 2018.
“Tiger was playing at Carnoustie in The Open in 1999 and I him in the locker room and we had a quick chat before he went out for his round,” he said.
“I met him three years ago again at Carnoustie and I was out with Jason Kokrak and his caddie – just showing them around – and I went across and spoke to him.
“I said: ‘You’ve done all right for yourself since 1996!’ and he kind of laughed and then I took my sunglasses off and he recognised me.
“‘Are you still here?’ he said, and we shook hands, hugged each other and had a laugh.
“But that’s the kind of guy he is.
“He was a really funny guy.
“In 2018 he said he was in a good place and was enjoying his life.
“Since I was his caddie in 1996 I always put a bet on him at the majors because I think he is untouchable when he gets going.”
The 2021 Masters will be without its most famous golfer as Woods continues to recover from a car crash that will leave him out of competition for the foreseeable future.
But Rod said he wouldn’t rule out a return from Woods to past glories.
“There’s just something about him,” he said.
“You wouldn’t count against him coming back and beating the 18-major record of Jack Nicklaus.
“You can never rule him out.”
Rod has spent 40 years working at Carnoustie
2021 marks 40 years as a caddie for Rod.
He said he still loves the job as much as ever.
“It’s brilliant,” he said.
“People ask how can you commit yourself to a 22-handicap rookie as much as someone who plays off a two-handicap or a professional golfer?
“The answer I always give is that this is the only sport where you can be a professional for the day.
“They’ve got a man on the bag and they are walking up the same fairways as the top players.
“You can’t go to Wimbledon or Wembley and play tennis and football with your pals, but with golf you can, and to be honest some of my most enjoyable days are with people with an 18-handicap.
“They are here for the enjoyment and they want one or two stories.”
Rod has carried the bag for astronaut Neil Armstrong during his time at Carnoustie along with celebrities like Hugh Grant and Michael Douglas.
Seve Ballesteros made Rod’s legs go wobbly
He said he has only been star struck once in all his time working as a caddie.
“I caddied for Manuel Perreiro at the Scottish Open in 1995,” he said.
“The Spaniards would all practice together and I said to him: ‘Who are we practising with today?’ and he said: ‘Seve’.
“I took a deep intake of breath.
“We were on the tee and Seve came walking up and you shiver from head to toe.
“It probably was the only time I’ve been star struck.
“This will be my 40th year caddying and Seve is probably the one that you go wow.
“I think because I was brought up watching Seve and I used to watch him on the TV and he was such an exciting player.
“He wasn’t playing well but just to be in his company was amazing – I remember thinking: ‘If I don’t ever caddy again it wouldn’t bother me’.
“He just had that magic.”