By Jack Chesnutt, NBC News producer
It's 86 degrees, blinding sunshine and I'm running between tall columns of saguaro sactus and dodging low bushes armed with evil thorns. I'm carrying two videotapes of beautiful footage of Tiger Woods' first day back in competitive golf in eight months. If I don't get the tape to a satellite uplink truck soon, the fine pictures and also our news report for NBC Nightly News will not get on the air. I'm looking for a satellite uplink truck somewhere inside a large compound in the desert. The compound is near the swanky golf course where the Accenture Match Play Championship is now underway. Its hot, I'm sweating, and my leg just took a thorn-scratch.
It's at this point I should mention that everyone at NBC News and among my friends and family hooted when they heard I had the assignment to cover Tiger's return for NBC.
"Boondoggle!" was the typical observation. "Hey, I thought you had to work for a living!" Was another. Yes, I'm a golfer-- a hacker like most who have tried this evil game. Today, I'm not wearing golf shoes and a nifty golf shirt. Its a sweat-stained polo and (thankfully) low-rise hiking boots which I hope will protect my feet from thorns and... yes, that sign ahead is a warning to watch out for snakes.
Jack Chesnutt on assignment.
As a member of the media, I have a special sticker on my cell phone that allows me to make and receive calls (vibrate only) but cell service in this high desert enclave is spotty at best. Calls by a co-worker in the satellite truck to ask "Where are you" do not get through.
For a moment, I trot along a dirt road, free of threatening plants and reptiles, and I think back to the 30 minutes of the golf tournament I was able to watch. Like the rest of the golf world, I've missed seeing Tiger's uncanny skills on TV. But shortly after dawn on Tuesday, I witnessed Tiger walk out to a practice range and without so much as a practice swing, he hit a high arching shot over 100 yards which dropped, bounced about a foot and stop within two feet of the flagstick. He then did it three more times in a row, each shot falling gently within that space the size of a card table.
Now, I have a lot of respect for NFL quarterbacks. They have to dodge those 300 pound rushers. But, what Tiger does with a ball would be the equal of Peyton Manning throwing a football the length of the field into a bushel-basket-- and not knocking over the basket.
I also stood about 60 yards down the fairway when Tiger hit a drive. The sound of the ball passing overhead was a high-pitched whistle. It makes me think of a jet fighter or a missile fly-by. But, I digress... I have to find the satellite truck, or I will be fired, left to scratch a living out of the desert.
I vaguely remember hearing that the truck is "under a big crane." That helps. There are about a dozen cranes out here. But with luck I spot a large truck with two giant transmit-dishes on the roof. I've come to the right place. The tape feeds out on the satellite to be edited in our Burbank office. I bask in the cool of the air-conditioned control room for a few minutes and then it's back out into the sun to report on the last few holes of the Tiger match.
One last impression: As Tiger is about to hit a drive on one of his last holes of the day, I see fans and media folks walking along the paths. Some people even have large umbrellas to keep the sun off. It's distracting even for me. Tiger NEVER loses his focus. At a moment when the hacker golfer would be asking for a moment of peace and calm, Tiger fires another picture-perfect drive, the white dot of the ball streaking across the blue sky. The umbrellas continue to amble down the path. The ball rockets ahead to land, again, near the green. Nice. Better than nice. Awesome. A little pay-off for the hot trip through the desert to feed the tape, and I even have a little scratch-scar to brag about back home.