The Americans always rave about how much fun Tiger Woods is in the team room at international competitions.
That, however, has never really been evident to the masses, for whom he’s invariably been all business on a golf course.
Woods might turn his golf hat back to front, crack open a beer and tell a few salty jokes to his teammates behind closed doors, but when the cameras are on him, he rarely lets his guard down.
On a humid Midwestern autumn day at the Presidents Cup, the world saw Tiger Woods as he’s never been seen before.
His 19th partner in international events, Matt Kuchar, decided to take it upon himself to peel back the curtain on the other — shall we say, “funner” — side of Woods.
Kuchar calls Woods, "Carlton", after Carlton Banks, the serious preppy Republican from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
(That, in itself, is instructional.)
“I figured this guy was the perfect Carlton,” said Kuchar with Woods standing next to him.
“Thank you very much,” responded Woods, with a smile.
Woods has a reputation as a prankster who’s better at pitching than catching when it comes to jokes.
Calling him Carlton might wear thin quickly — and lead to his infamous cold shoulder — but the goofy Kuchar isn’t one to worry about treading on tender egos.
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Kuchar said.
And so he decided that he and Woods would come up with a unique celebration whenever they made a big putt or won a hole on the opening day of the 10th Presidents Cup.
“I’m not a huge fan of bumping knuckles,” Kuchar said.
“I thought there was something a little extra, something fun to do. Baseball high-fives look like a lot of fun but look a little too complicated, so we went old school with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — a little snap-back after you slap hands.
“It’s fun. I figure he’s kind of like Carlton, and we really had a good time doing it out there.”
Not only did they have a good time doing it, they got a lot of practice.
The pair was 7 under par through 14 holes and steamrolled Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman, winning 5 and 4.
Woods, who hasn’t always been successful with a partner in international events, is again a Presidents Cup anchor for Fred Couples, whose team leads 3-1/2 to 2-1/2 going into Friday’s alternate shot foursomes format, which the US has historically dominated.
“It was awesome partnering up with the No. 1 player in the world,” Kuchar said.
“He was strong and had a really strong stretch there, six, seven, eight, and then I birdied nine and it was just really, really nice teamwork today.”
Woods seemed genuinely happy and laughed about the snap-back handshake.
“We went out there, had a great time today and put it on them,” he said.
And that vindicated Kuchar’s approach.
“I think people tend to play better when they are enjoying themselves,” Kuchar said.
And it turns out he had a partner in crime on Thursday.
Lindsey Vonn, Woods’ girlfriend, we now know has a mischievous streak.
When she heard that Davis Love III had adopted a baby squirrel — seriously, the little critter he christened Sammy wouldn’t leave his side — she asked to see it.
Love, as preposterous as this might sound, had put Sammy in his trouser pocket because he’d become a good luck charm.
(Yes, high on the list of things you will not be seeing at a Ryder Cup, along with the Spinal Tap wigs Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel wore on the first tee.)
He pulled the squirrel out as the last match was heading to the final hole and gave him to Vonn, who proceeded to attach Sammy to the neck of an unsuspecting Woods.
His reaction was priceless.
“Actually,” said Love, “He really liked the little guy.”
I caught up with Couples later and even he couldn’t really believe it all.
“Have you ever seen a squirrel just sit on someone’s lap like that?” he asked.
But he shrugged.
Freddie turned 54 on Thursday. He’s won two of these Cups captaining this way.
He doesn’t exactly have a lot of structure to his approach.
That said, this was one weird day, even for him.
“I carry a rabbit’s foot around a lot, I don’t know much about a squirrel, or a live squirrel. But it was pretty funny,” he said.
"You know, this thing is going to get tighter and tighter as we go . . ."
Sadly, neither Sammy nor Woods showed up to the US team post-round news conference.
Sammy was in a box, on his way to the Columbus zoo.
And where was Woods, who was scheduled to speak?
I decided to ask Kuchar.
“You mean Carlton?” he said, breaking into laughter. “I don’t know, probably dancing.”