A daughter's memory of the 2000 PGA Championship
For two years, my father and I shared an incredible adventure together in golf. During those months we attended my first tournaments together and made memories I thought we’d continue to make for a lifetime.
My father was born in a small rural town in Kentucky, and as a boy moved to Cincinnati, Ohio with the chance to better his life. That’s all he ever wanted for me, too. And to have the opportunities he didn’t.
In 2000, the PGA Championship returned to dad’s home state of Kentucky. After years of playing, I had finally fallen in love with the game. Dad was thrilled. With the memory of attending my first professional event, the 1999 Masters Tournament, still fresh in my mind, I hopped on the internet and began scouring for tickets to the upcoming Championship. When I realized the PGA Championship was headed to Valhalla Golf Club near Louisville, Kentucky, which was just an hour and a half drive from our home in Cincinnati, I begged my parents to attend. Dad was never one to scrimp when it came to his daughter. He purchased week-long tickets for our family to attend the 2000 PGA Championship.
It was the last golf tournament I went to with my dad.
At the end of our week together at Valhalla, we wanted a prime position for the final round and that meant the 18th green. Tiger Woods was chasing history, seeking the third leg of what would later be known as the ‘Tiger Slam.’ We had no idea the thrilling finish that would await at days end, but we wanted to be there to witness it.
On Saturday morning we’d arrived much earlier than we did on Sunday and grabbed a great spot on the left side of the green to watch every group finish. The stadium seating made for perfect viewing. In the distance you could see the tee shot to the par 5, the approach shot and of course the green. After the third round, Ernie Els launched a signed golf ball into the crowd and my dad scrambled to catch it. There was nothing my dad wouldn’t do to make a moment special for his daughter.
Kentucky summers can be hot and steamy, but this one was oppressive. Temperatures soared into the 90s and the course ran out of bottled water at one point during the week. On Saturday afternoon, dad and I were stopped by a local news reporter doing a story on the hot and humid conditions and asked us for an interview. What I wouldn’t give to be able to see that footage today.
Sunday, we were running behind and knew we’d be lucky to snag a seat near the green. With our folding chairs in tow, we found a vacant grassy patch on the right side of the green. A cart path that runs between the 18th hole and the clubhouse became the cutoff point for any further spectators. We were in the very last row.
We were there to witness Tiger Woods drain an incredible putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Bob May and heard the roars as he ran pointing across the 16th green during the playoff. When they returned to the 18th hole, we looked on as darkness crept in over the course and Woods got up and down from the greenside bunker to win his third consecutive major. It was almost completely dark when Woods hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy into the air on the 18th green.
Dad didn’t live to see Woods complete the Tiger Slam in April. He died of a massive heart attack on March 17, 2001. He was 50-years old.
I don’t remember as much as I would like to about that week at Valhalla. Maybe I blocked it out, or maybe it’s just too painful. As I prepared to write this story, I pulled a cardboard box from the closet in what I like to call my ‘golf room’ where I have memorabilia from tournaments decorating all four walls. Inside the box, I keep memories of tournaments I attended with my dad and those I went to after he passed. Tucked away were our tickets from the week, newspapers touting Woods’ accomplishments and a signed pin flag, the inked signatures now blurred over time. There was also a teddy bear he snuck away to buy for me at the merchandise tent. Perhaps I kept it all because I knew that I wouldn’t have all the memories I wished I had of our time together, but at least I’d have the items to look back on that make it all real.
That week, dad borrowed the digital camera from work for me to take photos. I took dozens of pictures. As I combed through them for this story, I found plenty of images of the course and the players, but not a single image of me and my father. I took for granted he’d be there, that there would be many more years for taking photos, more time for tournaments together. I had no idea it would be the last.
That week at Valhalla fanned the flames of a passion I would pursue all my life – a career in golf. I wanted to be the one who interviewed the players after their round, the one who shared the stories of their incredible accomplishments. It became a dream that gave focus and direction to my life, perhaps at a time when I needed in most.
Twenty years after I walked the grounds of Valhalla with my father, I will cover my first PGA Championship in August. I won’t be able to see him, but I know he’ll be there with me. And beaming with pride.