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Tiger and the Solheim Cup

Germany can now host prestigious events and Woods was there to lead the way

Posted Oct 30, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

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It doesn’t seem so long ago that Germans were complaining bitterly about the reluctance of their local authorities to grant permission for golf course development. Now they are to host the 2015 Solheim Cup at St Leon-Rot, just outside the fabled university town of Heidelberg, where Tiger Woods proved to be quite an attraction a decade ago.

At the beginning of 1989, the then West Germany had the modest number of 109,207 golfers belonging to 260 clubs.  A year later, Bernhard Langer and Torsten Giedeon won the first major sporting trophy for a unified country through victory in the World Cup of Golf at Grand Cypress, Florida.  And 10 years further on, the new Germany could boast 318,284 golfers in 575 clubs.  Of those, 188,376 were men and 129,908 women and, as it happened, St Leon-Rot was the 500th German club, with a fine, 36-hole set-up.

The key to a marked change of attitude among Germans towards the royal and ancient game, lay with the younger generation. From a stage where golf was dismissed as a leisurely, elite exercise for old men, an increasing number of youngsters became involved to the extent that the game there is now effectively dominated by those aged between 22 and 49 years.

It is also significant that where Ireland didn’t have a representative in last year’s victorious European line-up at Killeen Castle, Germany could share in the glory though captain’s pick, Sandra Gal.  Small wonder she was moved to remark about the 2015 staging: "It will be a fantastic experience for our golf in Germany and its upcoming talents to witness the excitement of such a prestigious event like the Solheim Cup. I am sure my home country will be a great host."

All of which brings me back to a Saturday in May 2001 at St Leon-Rot where a  slim, sharp figure in sunshades was giving brief and explicit instructions to the television crews.  "Tiger will give three interviews," said Mark Steinberg.  "You have two questions each.  Nobody asks a third question or he walks."

It was late afternoon and the then all-conquering Woods had just completed a third-round 63 in the Deutsche Bank TPC of Europe.  A short distance away, vendors were selling the last of the "Tiger" pretzels.  With a large portion of the second round carried overnight because of rain delays, it had been a long day.

When the centre of attention descended the eight steps from the elevated score-recorder's area like a major, showbusiness personality, there were further instructions from Woods's manager.  "OK, this is the order: Sky, German, you (to Ken Brown, representing the US Golf Channel)." It was a situation in which the interviewer knew he had to pick his questions carefully.  Ask something like "Well, Tiger you must be pleased with that round", and question number one could deliver a brief "Yes" in reply.  These were practised operators.  The opening question was: "Well Tiger, tell us how the round developed for you."  No monosyballic answer to that.

An exasperated TV cameraman exclaimed: "What a circus!"  Close by, a German worker was driving wooden stakes into the ground to accommodate additional security ropes.  "Crazy," he said to nobody in particular. "All zis for one person."  Brown, who was the last of the interviewers, shared his bemusement.  "It's an amazing situation," said the former European Ryder Cup representative. "As Tiger turned to be interviewed by me, he had this glazed look in his eyes as if his mind was a million miles away," he said.  "Once I started asking him questions, however, I had his complete attention.  But when I had finished, the glazed look came back and he turned automatically as if expecting another interview.  Amazing."

Whatever one's views, the German sponsors loved every moment of the Woods experience, from a shoot-out on the Tuesday, to Wednesday's pro-am appearance with Franz Beckenbauer and Boris Becker and then a "Beat the Pro" television spectacular on the Thursday night. All of which were peripheral to the success of the tournament itself, with Woods being treated in the same manner, one imagined, as German royalty once were.

Last Monday in China, Woods was doing his thing once more, though with seriously diminished status in the company of current world number one, Rory McIlroy. And three years hence, the scenes at St Leon-Rot will be more different again. Still, Germans will remember the iconic figure who first stirred in them the hunger for staging golfing spectacles, 11 years ago.

- Dermot Gilleece

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