After Eugene Bak was presented with the Knights Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland on April 20th, his two sons celebrated with him by taking him on a spring golf tour. The festivities started with a day at Firestone Country Club on Sunday and then moved on Monday to Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, the site of the 2007 U.S. Open Championship. The event at Oakmont was sponsored by American Express and was set up to provide avid golfers with an opportunity to preview the 18 holes that contain more than 300 bunkers before the professionals arrive for the U.S. Open in June. After an enjoyable round, the group of 80 golfers settled in for a lunch. During the lunch, a presentation was made by American Express and a number of celebrities were introduced. First was Robin Roberts from Good Morning America and then Mike Tirico from ESPN and Monday Night Football. Finally the President of American Express announced we were to experience a very special treat, and in walked Tiger Woods. The very special treat was that Tiger was about to play a practice round at Oakmont and the 80 golfers attending the event were to walk the course with him.
We all embarked onto the first hole where Tiger displayed a completely different side of him. Normally, all business, he portrayed a light hearted side, cracking jokes and interacting with the small gallery. He started off with a 350 yard drive with a follow up comment “That will work” Each hole was a mini-clinic, as Tiger explained his strategy from tee to green and how he intended to hit the next shot. It was amazing to see Tiger hit within five feet of his intended target on almost every hole.
When we reached Oakmont’s famous row of church-pew bunkers between the third and fourth fairways, someone asked if he would demonstrate how to hit a shot out of them. He refused. “Why bring negativity into your thoughts,” he said, adding he only practiced from places he intended to play. Gene asked Tiger “How do you deal with the noise and distraction of the fans” to which Tiger responded “What noise.”
On the 484-yard final hole, into the wind, he hit his approach with a five-wood: “This is my senior club,” he said. “When you turn 30 you get a five-wood, when you turn 40 you get at seven-wood, when you turn 50 you get a nine-wood.” Gene has taken this advice and is in search of an eleven-wood.
The evening culminated with an awards dinner, where Gene Bak received yet another award, second place in the net score competition. Gene accepted his glass cup trophy and of course made sure his sons felt the humility of having the old guy beat them.
Although the Tiger appearance was icing on the celebratory cake, the opportunity to unite the Bak boys, who only get together about once per year, was the true gift to Gene.