At the Masters, Low-Tech Data Still Rules

Because of all the time and effort required to fill in the details, Greller said, he lives in dread of losing his Masters book. It would be like losing a computer file that was not saved on your hard drive. “It’d be less stressful to lose my passport, absolutely,” he said.

The value of the books was driven home recently when Jeff Ghim, who is caddying here for his 21-year-old son, Doug, lost the yardage book he had painstakingly padded with notes over three months of research.

The book fell from a pocket of his long-sleeved overalls on Monday. His heart dropped, he said.

“Fifteen years my son’s dreamed of playing here,” Jeff Ghim said, “and I lose the directions.” How could he replicate three months’ worth of notes in two days?

Thankfully, he got the book back. Someone turned it into the caddie headquarters the next day, and Ghim, with book in pocket, guided his son, a Masters rookie, to low-amateur honors.


An image from a modern greens book detailing the contours of a green at Hazeltine National during the 2016 Ryder Cup there. Mark Long, the president of Tour Sherpa, provided course field guides for the event. He typically sells his greens books for $150 each.

Mark Long/Tour Sherpa

Yardage books have been around since at least the 1950s, when the future P.G.A. commissioner Deane Beman, then a junior golfer, sketched crude models for his own use. In the 1970s, the books proliferated as professional players and caddies, in search of a legal edge, turned to the course field guides compiled by pioneers like Mark Long, who has followed the high-tech path. He supplies his greens books to caddies for $150 apiece.

Carl Jackson is widely considered a priceless alternative. Known as the greens whisperer of Augusta National, Jackson worked 54 Masters, including 39 as the bag man for the two-time champion Ben Crenshaw. When Greller was about to caddie in his first Masters, in 2014, he sought out Jackson to try to absorb some of his knowledge about Augusta’s bedeviling breaks and slopes.

Every tournament week since, Greller has checked in several times with Jackson, who first caddied at the Masters as a 14-year-old in 1961. The two do not go over notes because Jackson stores all his knowledge on the pages of his mind.

Since Crenshaw regards Spieth as a protégé of sorts, Greller is never shy about using Jackson as a resource.


Rory McIlory checking his yardage book during a Masters practice round on Monday. Golfers typically keep their own books — apart from the ones their caddies assemble.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“Carl probably wants to throw his phone any time he gets a phone call from Michael, he’s probably talked to him so many times,” said Justin Thomas, Spieth’s competitor and close friend.

Greller said the best advice he had received from Jackson had nothing to with a fall line or a pin placement. It was simply: “There will be multiple times you’ll be confused. Then you trust your instincts.”

To remind himself, Greller writes a note on some pages amid all the technical jargon: “TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.”

“I haven’t seen it,” said Spieth, who, like most golfers, keeps books of his own.

John Wood, a veteran caddie who works for Matt Kuchar, spent Monday morning walking the course by himself, stopping often to take notes. By the time he was through, the pages of his yardage book resembled geometry assignments. He described the outing as a chance to “recheck stuff I’ve seen over the years.”


A caddie checking his yardage book at the 2014 Masters.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Jack Nicklaus, who counts six Masters titles among his 18 major victories, wonders why any touring pro would not want to be the master of his own game.

“To me, the game of golf is learning how to play the game and be responsible for everything you do,” he said. “That’s the fun of it. It’s fun to learn how to putt greens and how to play clubs.”

He added: “Now everything is given to the guys. That said, if it were all given to me back when I started in 1962 on the tour, I probably would have done exactly the same thing.”

Lanier was playing on golf’s minor league circuits when he started a side business making yardage books for his competitors. The side business outlasted his playing career. He uses every resource at his disposal, including Google Earth, to make his hand drawings as detailed as possible. Lanier can sketch Augusta National as if it were the back of his hand because it is practically his backyard. He grew up a couple of miles away and now lives close enough to walk to the course.

His drawings, while highly respected among golfers, are often lost on outsiders. Lanier recalled a visit he once paid to a Staples store in Florida to make copies of a book. A woman was using the copier next to him. Peering at his drawings, she asked, “Sir, excuse me, are you a medical illustrator?”

Lanier told her that, no, the illustrations she had mistaken for amoebas were greens and bunkers.

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At the Masters, Tiger Woods Is a Cautionary Tale and a Favorite

It was here at Augusta National that he became the sport’s transformative figure at 21, half his lifetime ago. From that moment in 1997 when he slipped the winner’s green jacket over his willowy frame after a staggering 12-stroke victory, Woods was the high-performance engine that drove golf forward financially, demographically and, possibly to his eventual detriment, athletically.

This week, Woods acknowledged his history of coming back too soon from surgeries.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” said Woods, who noted the pattern. He had knee surgery in December 2002 and won the first tournament he played less than two months later. He had his first back surgery in 2014 and played two competitive rounds less than two months later. He had two more back operations in the fall of 2015 and, 14 months after the second one, he returned for the event in the Bahamas that he hosts.

“We’re pushing the boundaries of our bodies and minds and, unfortunately, a lot of times we go over the edge and we break down,” Woods said. “But thank God there’s modern science to fix us and put us back together again.”

No one can know for sure whether Woods overdid his training, which began when he was 2 years old, but his vulnerability and medical odyssey over the last few years have made a case for restraint, for appreciating the longer potential career arc that differentiates golf from other professional sports like football.

After winning 79 tour titles in his first 18 years as a pro, Woods has not had a victory since August 2013. His last major title came in 2008. He has spent much of the last three and a half years struggling to make the cut or recovering from surgery.

Woods is still lean, fit and powerful, as measurements of his club-head speed attest, yet the supple 21-year-old Masters champion has given way to a brittle 42-year-old locked in battle with an undefeated opponent: time. “Is anybody in here who is in their 40s ever going to feel like they did in their 20s?” Woods asked a roomful of reporters last fall, before he began what figures to be a proud champion’s last stand.

Woods’s decision last spring to have spinal fusion surgery, which he called “a last resort” after three less complex operations, seems to have restored him, at least for the moment. “I got a second chance on life,” Woods said on his website last week. “I am a walking miracle.”

After everything Woods has put his body through, it’s reasonable to wonder if, in retrospect, he wishes he had done anything differently. But regret is not in Woods’s repertoire, as he demonstrated when I addressed that direct question to him. He answered as if he had followed the only path that was clear to him.

“As an athlete, we’re always pushing ourselves,” he said. “The best ones push themselves beyond human limits. And that’s what separates them. They go through pain; they go through different things that most people are unwilling to do.”

Woods Still Grips It and Rips It

Despite his age (42) and several back surgeries, Tiger Woods has the highest recorded club-head speed this season.

He mentioned the toughness of two Hall of Fame athletes, the basketball player Michael Jordan and the hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who told me later that he played in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals with a broken rib that he had never publicly disclosed.

“I happen to be one of those guys,” Woods said. “I pushed my body and pushed my mind to accomplish the things that I knew I could, and I was able to do it.”

‘I Can Outrun Them’

Davis Love III, the son of a teaching pro, grew up in the company of elite players. But he did a double take when he glanced out the car window on a ride from the suburban course to the team hotel in downtown Boston during the 1999 Ryder Cup. Jogging on the side of the road toward the city was a 23-year-old Woods, the youngest United States team member by four years.

At the hotel, Love said, he asked Woods: Why run? Why not rest?

“I have to run,” he recalled Woods saying. Love persisted: “Everybody in Brookline knows you’re here. Can’t you just run on a treadmill?”

Woods replied, “I can outrun them.”

In his 20s, Woods obsessively ran about 30 miles a week. His motivation, he said, was to improve his endurance, but he also found the rhythmic footfalls calming. “I just find it peaceful,” he said in a 2007 interview with Men’s Fitness.


Woods jogging with a friend in Florida in February 2010, about 19 months after he had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Sam Greenwood/Associated Press

Woods also lifted heavy weights, an activity players before him had avoided in the belief that big muscles would restrict flexibility and impede their swings. Woods made it his mission to change the perception that golfers were not real athletes.

With his collared shirts barely containing his muscles, Woods routinely clobbered courses — and the competition. His athleticism and dominance increased golf’s appeal to younger players like Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, who were proficient at multiple sports.

“Tiger’s is the last generation that went through high school and got laughed at for playing golf,” said Arron Oberholser, a Golf Channel analyst who played for San Jose State against Stanford when Woods was there.

The work that Woods put in to make golf look cool and effortless was on display even before he entered high school. The summer before his freshman year, he was at the Navy Golf Course near his Cypress, Calif., home from sunup till sundown. He would hit a bucket of balls for every club in his bag and then play the course.

As a freshman, Woods was always the first player on the practice range, which rubbed off on his older teammates, who had been more inclined to dig into a basket of fries than a bucket of range balls.

“He changed high school golf,” said Don Crosby, who coached Woods at Western in Anaheim, Calif. He added, “When the other kids saw him out on the range hitting balls, they stopped going to the snack bar.”

Woods began chiseling his body — and golf’s image — soon after he arrived at Stanford. The authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, in their new unauthorized biography “Tiger Woods,” wrote that the freshman Woods obtained his own key to the weight room from the football coach, Bill Walsh, who had guided the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles.

The key was his golden ticket, allowing him to lift whenever he wanted. Once Woods turned pro, it wasn’t long before he filled out the sweaters that once hung loosely on him.

In 2005, Luke List was an amateur playing at the United States Open in Pinehurst, N.C. One morning in the weight room of the hotel where he was staying, List stumbled upon Woods running on a treadmill.

“He was in there for an hour and a half, and he was doing some pretty impressive lifting,” List recalled, adding, “I ended up spending longer watching what he was doing than working out.”

As Woods is well aware, the game can strain bodies all by itself. He has been swinging a club since he was a toddler and competing in tournaments since he was 4 years old.

“We put a lot of shearing on our spines, a lot of rotation,” Woods said of golfers in general. “On top of that, we hit hundreds of thousands of shots and so it’s the cumulative effect. And I’ve been playing tournament golf for 38 years, so it’s a lot of shearing.”


Woods’s right pinkie is misshapen from years of gripping a club.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Brandt Snedeker, an eight-time tour winner, has noticed that after all those years of dedication to the game, Woods’s right pinkie is misshapen.

“It’s hooked like it’s meant to be on a golf club,” Snedeker said.


On the final nine of the 2013 Barclays, Woods was stalking what could have been his sixth PGA Tour victory of the year when a week of back spasms caught up with him. After hitting a shot from the 13th fairway, he fell to his knees as if struck by lightning.

Woods did not withdraw. Somehow he kept going and even birdied two of his last three holes to finish one stroke behind the winner, Adam Scott. Still ailing, Woods completed 12 competitive rounds over the next four weeks.

It was a familiar script. He had always played through injuries, sometimes in defiance of medical advice. Two weeks before the 2008 United States Open, a doctor told Woods that the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee required him to use crutches for a few weeks, stay off his feet for three more weeks and then begin physical therapy.

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