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The Art of the Fist Pump // Tiger Woods and the rest

// Evan Harmeling //

The fist pump is an art.  And only Tiger Woods has truly mastered it.  There are two general pillars to fist pumps. First of all, the situation must warrant it. There’s no faster way to announce that you are a clown, than dropping a massive fist pump on the 5th hole on Thursday.  Act like you’ve been there before.  Second of all, for a fist pump to be great, you gotta let loose (think Brandi Chastain).  Freedom of emotion is what people identify with, and what is inspiring.  Any lingering self-image concerns, doubts, insecurities... those will all manifest themselves in celebrations, and diminish the effect it has on the viewer.. that’s why so few have been truly great. So let's get down to it.

There’s no discussion of fist pumps without starting with the OG. Tiger to win the Masters in ‘97. That fist pump made me want to be a pro golfer. It’s as simple as that. It was so great because of the build-up... the massive lead Tiger had going into Sunday, and how everyone was on the edge of their seat all day, knowing we were witnessing budding greatness. And Tiger delivered, winning and throwing a huge upper-cut fist pump on 18 to put the icing on the cake.  Obviously his golf was impressive.. but people remember THAT moment on 18.  The feeling I got watching him win and throw the fist pump was inspiring, in the truest sense of the word, and made me want to be great.  Hence the value and importance of the celebration in sports.

Tiger is far and away the best in history.  It really helped that he was in contention so often, and his knack for making the big putt in the big moment is unlike any other.  In the modern era, I think about Speith, Rory, and JT.  DJ and Koepka give the, “I’m too cool for school attitude” in big moments, and therefore have been a dud in terms of fist pumps.  Speith’s 2-year run when he was unstoppable was almost Tiger-like in terms of making huge putts at huge times. His fist pumps sucked though. Rory’s are downright awful in my opinion... he goes mostly for the low flex and it doesn’t do anything for me.  JT is the most Tiger-like in terms of attitude on the course, but in terms of celebrations, his most noteworthy was his Presidents Cup “I love me some me!” after he made the putt in foursomes while he was paired with Tiger.

Before we get started on my top 10, I feel like the hat tip has completely gone by the wayside. In its prime, a gentlemanly salute to the crowd, and a show of respect. I’d say I feel that for about 5% of hat tips nowadays. Phil’s seem genuine, but most of the others almost feel like a f@#k you to the crowd, just like the half-assed, two finger half-wave, that’s coupled with a smug smile saying arrogantly... ya I’m really good, you better be applauding, thanks. 

In reality, I think a lot of players just want to acknowledge the crowd after they’ve done something great, without getting themselves too wrapped up in the excitement... which could negatively affect them for the next shot.  They want to stay even keeled.  But us as golfers must remember that we are entertainers.  The celebration is important to the viewer, and the entertainment value.  That’s WHY non-golf fans watched when Tiger was in contention. The propensity for the big-time shot at the big-time moment, and the intensity and freedom with which he let loose in celebration. 

Without further ado.. and that Masters moment aside… here is my top 10.

Not top 10: Tiger’s chip in on 16 at Augusta.  This was the most suspenseful shot in history, using the slope and the ball trickling down.. the fact that it suspended on the lip for about three seconds before it fell added even more drama.  Coming down the stretch at the ’05 Masters in a dogfight with Chris DiMarco. And then the whiff on the high 5 with Stevie… the realization they screwed it up.. and about 3 follow up high 5s to make up for it, before and after getting the ball out of the hole. 

Honorable mention: Jack at Augusta, the putter raise on his down-hill putt on 17.  I’m a big fan of the putter raise and this fit perfectly for Jack.  He is often described as “willing” the ball in the hole, and that is apparent here as he walked this one in.  Everything is amplified at Augusta and although I didn’t watch this one live, it’s easy to see this was legendary. 

Honorable mention: Tom Watson ’82 US Open at Pebble on 17 after chipping in.  This is an iconic celebration.  I know, it's not a true fist pump.  The scene was epic though, 17 at Pebble.. dueling it out with Jack for the US Open.  I always remembered a lengthy run around the entire green, and after rewatching, I realized it was fairly short and a tiny bit anti-climatic compared to my memory.  I don’t care though, I love Pebble.  This makes honorable mention.

10: Tiger at the Memorial.  Two legendary chip-ins with great fist pumps.  First in 2012, from behind the green on 16 en route to his victory (LFG Founder Matt Every with a tidy t-6 that week). Great fist pump, especially considering this was the comeback year after his scandal, and there was a lot of f@#k you energy coming from Tiger around this time.  The other was the ’99 Memorial.  Tiger flubs the first chip from behind the green.  Then chips it in.  This was perhaps Tiger’s most electric fist pump when you talk about the fist pump itself.  This is the one I always emulate if I chip in or drop of bomb and I want to make some noise.  It’s a very up-tempo backpedal/shuffle with a couple upper-cuts that would bust through a brick wall.  Everyone went nuts.. no idea how Vijay hit that next shot.  Tiger wins by 2.

9: I’m a big fan of the Hal Sutton “Be the right club… Be the right club TODAY!” And then the triumphant upwards tomahawk.  The 2000 Players at Sawgrass, playoff with Tiger in his absolute prime.  Obviously the call makes the whole scene, but then the fist pump, showcasing his mammoth forearms, was just perfect.  I love the Strata hat he’s wearing, the announcer saying he's gotta be aiming it 50 feet right… meanwhile 50 feet right is off the green..  Hal Sutton wasn’t aiming in the rough, a legendary ball-striker and holder of the 9th best fist pump in history. 

8: Tiger’s cha-ching pump on his “knee-knocking” 3-4 footer to force the playoff with Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship. This was an awesome and emphatic fist pump.  The fact that it forced a playoff at the PGA... it goes down as perhaps the all-time great fist pump for a short putt.  The downhill trickiness gave validity to the intensity of this fist pump, and it's one that is iced in my memory.

7: Tiger at the ’09 Bay Hill.  To win on 18.  After coming back from his broken leg at the ’08 US Open.  The fact that he buried this 20 footer to win by 1 is so legit, practically in the darkness.  Tiger’s fist pumps were so electric, this one had his patented backpedal first.  There’s something about the 18th at Bay Hill that brings out the best in Tiger…

6: Tiger at the ’08 Bay Hill. To win over Bart Bryant.  I’m a fairly avid golf fan and its crazy that I don’t recognize that name.  Makes you wonder how many other names I would have known a lot better, how many careers would’ve been extended on tour for an extra few years, had Tiger not ripped the hearts out of pretty much everyone for about a 15 year stretch on Tour.  But back to the celebration, one of my all-time favorites, dropping the bomb of a putt… backpedaling quickly then slamming his hat into the ground.  Hadn’t made a putt all week, and then drips this one in from about 25 feet. This putt was to win his FIFTH straight Tour event at the time.

5: Justin Leonard at Brookline running around 17 like a chicken with his head cut off. The ’99 Ryder Cup at The Country Club was epic.  Crenshaw the night before saying “I’m a big believer in fate... I got a good feeling about this one.” And the crazy comeback the US Team had was so dramatic and fun to watch.  Growing up around Boston myself, it was electric to have that nearby at such an incredible course.  Leonard’s putt was the exclamation point to ice it for the Americans.  Dropping an absolute bomb to win the Ryder Cup, and then throwing two hands in the air and running around felt completely appropriate to illustrate the emotion everyone was feeling.  I’m pretty sure he ran over and gave a huge hug to the walking scorer, the first guy he could get to...  Epic stuff out of Leonard. Sorry about your line Jose.

4: 2000 PGA Championship Playoff with Bob May.  Tiger running in his birdie putt and pointing to it and then charging off the green fist pumping.  He started walking (running) this ball in when it was about 10 feet out, and then pointing to his ball as it caught the low lip at perfect pace.  Pretty lucky this ball actually went in, or he’d look like a clown running after his ball, its not like this thing went in dead center. Tiger was so locked in though, there was never a doubt.  He commanded this ball to drop, that was the kind of power he possessed in 2000.  He also gets originality points for this celebration. 

3: Payne Stewart at Pinehurst was one of the all-time greats without a doubt. The way he dove into that fist pump was such a release, especially considering how stoic he was throughout that final round.  It makes me think of a press conference I watched of Payne Stewart where he said “I never learned how to win until I learned to control my breathing.”  He was controlling it all day, and then absolutely let go into that fist pump.  His whole look was amazing too.  He wore the “plus fours” and the “scally cap” to perfection, and he is a true legend. 

2: Better than most.

1: Same hole, 17 at Sawgrass in the finals of the ’94 US Am. Tiger came back from 6 down against Trip Kuehne... and after it looked like his tee shot was in the water on 17, the ball grabbed hard and hung up to give him a look at birdie.  No one had seen a fist pump like this to this point in golf history.  The speed at which he moved around the green and the intensity of the fist pump was nothing short of electric.  Let's face it, golf is boring to watch for the most part.  Even for the most ardent of fans.  You get to see some of the most immaculate courses in the world, and watch some great golf shots.  For the majority of the broadcast, however, it’s not edge-of-your-seat material.  This fist pump changed things.  All of a sudden, people who weren’t golfers, who didn’t really care what was happening in the tournament, had something exciting to watch... What is Tiger going to do today?  Granted most of these people didn’t pick up on this until the ’97 Masters, but this is where it started. It’s the whole package in terms of appeal.  Consistent winning, consistent flare for the dramatic, and a massive fist pump for an exclamation point. 

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