For his most devoted fans, watching Tiger Woods play golf has always been the can’t-miss main attraction of any tournament—but for much of the last decade it came with a built-in side show. There was a game within the game, one centered around a seemingly simple question that proved to have a surprisingly elusive answer: Who is Tiger Tracker?
Over the years, countless golf aficionados turned would-be detectives launched amateur investigations aimed at uncovering who was behind @GCTigerTracker. Since launching in 2012, Golf Channel’s wildly popular Twitter account followed Woods wherever he played and reported on his every move and shot, dutifully chronicling his on-course birdies and real-life bogies in equal measure. Tiger Tracker was there when Woods won five times in 2013 on his way to becoming the PGA Tour Player of the Year. TT was there for Woods’s protracted bout with back pain, and it was there when Woods came down with a nasty case of the chipping yips in 2015. Tracker was there in Atlanta in 2018 when Woods won the Tour Championship at East Lake, his first victory in five years at a time when a lot of critics thought the notion of Woods winning anything ever again was little more than a faded fantasy. And of course TT was there when Woods pulled on the green jacket one more time after winning the 2019 Masters.
Over eight years, Tiger Tracker tagged along with Woods as he traveled the world, posting almost 47,000 tweets for the account’s nearly half a million followers, an eclectic list that includes countless blue-check notables ranging from Steph Curry and Mike Trout to Star Jones and, at one point, Anthony Scaramucci. TT even followed TW to the United Arab Emirates in 2017 for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic—only to almost immediately return to the airport and fly back to the states when Woods withdrew from the tournament shortly after arriving. But unlike the famous golfer who inspired the handle, the operator behind Tracker preferred to remain in the shadows. Covering Tracker’s tracks even included a detailed faux author bio for TT on Golf Channel’s official website. And thus began the great guessing game, with fans tweeting at Tiger Tracker and asking whether they’d managed to unmask the person behind the account. There was naturally also a subreddit devoted to cracking the case on Tracker’s true ID.
Like almost everyone else, I had no idea who Tiger Tracker was before reporting this story—mainly because I had no idea Tiger Tracker existed at all. It wasn’t until I randomly stumbled into a Ringer Slack channel one day a few months ago that I was clued into the account and its cult following. I’m not a golfer, and the only time I’ve ever covered the sport was when the Philadelphia Inquirer dispatched me to detail the circus surrounding Woods at the 2010 Masters following his stint in sex rehab. (I don’t remember how he played or what I wrote, but more than a decade later I can report that the pimento cheese sandwiches in the Augusta National press box were good and plentiful.) Over the years, former golfers turned on-air Golf Channel talent like Brandel Chamblee and Woods’s college teammate Notah Begay have been accused of secretly being Tiger Tracker. Similar theories have been floated about Tiger’s caddy and even Tiger himself. None of them, obviously, are Tiger Tracker.
My Ringer colleagues had their own guesses about Tracker’s identity, but on that day when I crashed their conversation, what they really wanted to know about was something more pressing: Where was Tiger Tracker? After obsessively following Tiger and tweeting about his every shot over eight years, the account had mysteriously gone dark for the first time ever in late October despite the fact that Woods was playing in the Zozo Championship in Thousand Oaks, California. The fact that Tiger Tracker wasn’t tweeting out updates per usual caught a lot of people by surprise—including whoever handles Golf Channel’s official Twitter account.
That tweet was quickly deleted, but it underscored the secrecy and behind-the-scenes uncertainty surrounding how Tiger Tracker made its particularly popular brand of social media sausage. Even some executives at Golf Channel and its parent company NBC Sports/NBC Universal didn’t seem to know why Tiger Tracker had suddenly vanished, according to TT. (Multiple executives and spokespeople for NBC Sports and Golf Channel did not respond to several interview requests for this story.)
“You can’t make this shit up,” Tiger Tracker told me with a chuckle in late November.
TT might have been laughing to keep from crying. All is not well at Golf Channel. These are tough times. In February, employees were told that the network was relocating from its longtime home in Orlando, Florida, and taking up residence in the NBC Sports complex in Stamford, Connecticut. Months later, staffers were informed that mass layoffs would restructure Golf Channel and leave hundreds of employees without jobs. When Tiger Tracker was nowhere to be found for the Zozo, some devotees speculated that TT had been unceremoniously ushered onto the unemployment line with so many others.
And then, suddenly, Tiger Tracker was up and running again for the pandemic-rescheduled Masters in November. Fans weren’t sure what happened or what to make of it—or even that it was the real Tiger Tracker with their fingers on the account. Skeptics thought it had to be a fake Tracker and not the original article, especially because TT suggested something no one wanted to believe: that the Masters would be the account’s final tournament before shutting down again, possibly for good. In typical Tiger Tracker fashion, there were pop culture tweets during the week that included references from Bad Boys, The Fast & the Furious, and the WWE, all designed to signal that Tracker was saying goodbye. On the final day of the tournament, the morning of November 15, TT tweeted out a clip of Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting: “Once more into the breach, dear friends.”
The whole thing made for an emotional Masters. On a site that is often cynical, callous, and critical, followers overwhelmingly adored Tracker, arguably the most beloved Twitter handle in golf. Fans tweeted their heartfelt appreciation to Tiger Tracker for a job well done. Some people said they joined Twitter specifically to follow the account. There were pleas that begged Golf Channel to not shut down Tracker, while others vented their anger at Golf Channel and NBC Sports over a decision one follower called “criminal.” It seemed that even TT was having a hard time processing the reality and resorted to posting the familiar GIF from The Office with Michael Scott saying, “All I can do right now is put on a brave face.” When the Masters ended, so, it appeared, did the account. Tiger Tracker pinned a final farewell to the faithful:
It’s been a wild, fun 8-year run here, that’s taken me to places I’ve never dreamed. As I’ve said, there’s a lot of uncertainty which is likely to lead to a hiatus. Thanks for the memories, and hopefully we’ll be in touch down the road. #TTforever— Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) November 15, 2020
Tiger Tracker hasn’t tweeted since. Nor has TT posted on Instagram, where another roughly 42,000 followers have been left in suspense to wonder what happened and why.
“It was a legitimate community,” Daniel Rapaport, a Golf Digest staff writer covering Woods, told me about the loyalists who adored Tracker. “And in the past couple years you’ve seen all these other tracker accounts pop up—Rory tracker, Phil tracker, etc.—trying to replicate that type of fan engagement. But Tiger Tracker was and always will be the OG. It was just one of those fun, free things that everyone loves, and that everyone hates to see go—especially as part of some corporate reshuffling.”
With Golf Channel shifting how and where it conducts business, it seems that a series of decisions—as well as more than a little indecision—by network executives has altered the previously fun and frivolous conversation around Tiger Tracker. Now the immediate and operative question isn’t just about who Tiger Tracker is, but rather what will become of Tiger Tracker in the future—if Tracker has a future at all.
Have you seen The Princess Bride? I hope you have. It’s a Rob Reiner–directed 1987 comedy classic featuring, among others, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, and Wallace Shawn. Andre the Giant is also in it. He plays a giant. If you’ve seen it, you know all this, and if you haven’t seen it, well, it’s been more than three decades since it came out, so this next bit hardly qualifies as a spoiler. I’m building to the big Tiger Tracker reveal here. I suspect it probably won’t be as satisfying as you might hope.
Like Elwes’s Dread Pirate Roberts, Tiger Tracker is ... not one person.
It’s a role that’s been handed down, passed around, and shared by about eight different people over eight years. That might be anticlimactic, but the social media sleight of hand also served as a great source of enjoyment for the Golf Channel employees who handled the handle. All of them had other components to their jobs—writing, editing, TV—but because of the heavy time commitment required to run Tiger Tracker on location at tournaments, the task of keeping the account active had to be a group effort. Inside Golf Channel, and even among some journalists who cover golf for other media outlets, the ruse was mostly an open secret. And yet so many Tiger Tracker loyalists never figured it out, which amused the team behind the composite sketch.
“On a regular basis, guys would come up to me that I’m friends with and they’d say, ‘Who is Tiger Tracker?’ I’d go, ‘Come on, don’t you know?’” Tiger Tracker told me. Actually, make that one Tiger Tracker told me. I spoke with several people who worked on the account and agreed to keep their real names out of the story—in part to keep up the charade, in part because they feared retribution for being critical of the way they said Golf Channel executives alternately ignored and mishandled Tiger Tracker before, during, and after the company-wide layoffs. So as you read this, when you see a quote from Tracker, know that the words are coming from one of many current or former Golf Channel employees who helped create the fiction and discussed it with me.
Right. So Tiger Tracker continued: “And they go, ‘Is it Brandel?’ Come on. You think Brandel Chamblee is sitting around doing a fake Twitter handle around everything Tiger is doing? ‘Is it Notah?’ Come on. It’s not that hard. I’d drop clues to buddies of mine. ‘Don’t go around tweeting it or anything, but it’s a whole staff of people. Whoever goes to the event that week, they’re doing Tiger Tracker.’ Come on. We can manipulate it however we want to manipulate it. It was really funny.”
The deception took effort. In addition to the fake bio, there were staff discussions about how to make several people sound like one—made all the more difficult because there was sometimes a multi-decade gap in age between the youngest and oldest Tiger Tracker. Bridging that divide, especially for a handle that’s heavy on pop culture references, wasn’t easy. Tiger Tracker explained the goal was to make each handoff a smooth transition so “it’s not balloons and rainbows when it’s this person and ‘you guys are all sons of a bitch’ when it’s this person.”
“This thing, it’s a cult following,” Tracker said. “It has its own lingo. It has certain sayings. It has certain things it does when it blocks people. There are certain emojis for certain things. We’ve worked really hard to make it seamless and not being able to tell when it changes hands.”
Of course, the problem with a cult following tends to be conditioning. When TT returned for the Masters following its hiatus, longtime fans didn’t want to believe it was really “him.” Rampant speculation by media members that Tracker had been a casualty of Golf Channel layoffs only fueled the skepticism. As the Masters unfolded, TT did its job while trying to convince people it was the real deal as always.
“I’ve got people tweeting at me over and over ‘you’re not the real guy,’” Tracker said. “Well, first of all, there is no real guy. It’s a fictional character. Second, it’s all the same people who were doing it before. It was a vocal minority of people saying, ‘Hey, you’re not the real fucking guy.’ We had people saying ‘you don’t sound like him’ or ‘here’s what he would really do’ or ‘here’s how you’re supposed to use that meme.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Yo buddy, I created half of that shit.’”
In fairness to the fans, there were plenty of Golf Channel and NBC Sports executives who never really figured out who was behind the account or how it operated either.
To hear Tracker tell it, executives at the company have “always taken [the account] for granted and not taken the time to understand it.” TT thought some of the bosses misunderstood the handle’s impact on social media and the effort it required to keep it all up and running. For the most part, Tracker thought the brass just sort of overlooked the account. That had its advantages and disadvantages. It was good for the team because it kept the bosses off Tracker’s collective ass, especially when it was being more snarky and cheeky than a megacorporation that prefers an otherwise anodyne voice might have liked. It was decidedly less beneficial, though, when TT needed to come up with a plan to do its job.
That particular problem became evident in October. In the run-up to the Zozo Championship, Golf Channel’s depleted workforce was a fraction of what it had been during Tracker’s heyday. That was a big issue for TT. Running the account wasn’t so simple as firing off a few tweets and calling it a day. Employees who attended events typically shadowed Woods all day long, starting with coverage before his round, followed by roughly five hours of golf and then culminating with post-round interviews. And all that in addition to their regular jobs. It wasn’t atypical for Tracker to work 10-hour days, which sometimes meant 40-hour weekends over the course of a tournament from Thursday to Sunday.
According to Tracker, executives at the company didn’t understand why, in the wake of layoffs that gutted the Golf Channel staff, TT didn’t have the manpower to cover the Zozo Championship just as it always had. In fact, the bosses didn’t know the most basic details, like how to log into the account. They didn’t even have the password. Ultimately, Tracker skipped the October event, the first tournament TT missed that Woods played in since the handle launched eight years earlier. Fans noticed.
“I sat and watched people lose their freaking minds when Zozo was going on,” Tracker said.
The discontent over the discontinued account finally registered with the brass, who realized that they ought to get the handle tweeting again for the Masters, considering Woods was the defending champion. But here again, there was a disconnect about what that required. Tracker says Geoff Russell, a senior vice president and executive editor for Golf Channel, wondered if maybe TT’s Masters responsibilities could be outsourced to a freelance golf writer who had never worked on the account before and didn’t know its voice, which confirmed what Tracker thought—that the bosses “didn’t understand.” (Russell did not respond to several requests for comment.)
“We built up a cult of personality doing this for eight fucking years,” Tracker said. “If you hop online and don’t do it the way we do it, people are going to flesh that out pretty quickly. We were doing all our same shit [at the Masters] and people still thought it was a fraud. Imagine if you brought in some asshole who didn’t know what he was doing.”
That plan was summarily scrapped in favor of cobbling together a small coalition of former Trackers for [extreme movie cliché voice] one last job. Much of TT’s triumphant return was scripted, from the revelation that Tracker was back—announced with the Undertaker popping out of a coffin—to jokes about what happened at the Zozo Championship, right up through that last pinned goodbye.
Tracker said the initial idea, at least from the executive level, was to give the handle a fond farewell at the Masters and then shut it down once and for all. But considering all the attention TT got at the Masters, Tracker believes the company might now be reconsidering what to do. It’d be hard to blame Golf Channel for rethinking the situation. The PGA Tour is technically a sports league, but eyeballs and ratings are hugely dependent on individuals rather than teams. Even now, as Woods is approaching his 45th birthday, he remains the biggest brand in golf—win, lose, or withdraw. Maybe Golf Channel and NBC Sports didn’t fully grasp Tracker’s popularity, but you’d be hard pressed to find an executive at any company who wouldn’t want to keep half a million customers on the hook.
So what happens when Woods hits the course next and TT is MIA? Tiger Woods’s Hero World Challenge, initially set for early December, was canceled. Beginning Thursday, Woods is scheduled to play in an unofficial PGA Tour father-son event in Orlando with his 11-year-old, Charlie. These days, people aren’t just interested in Tiger, they’re eager for more information about his kid too. After that, Woods’s next official start will most likely be the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in late January. As always, there’s plenty of Woods-related news swirling—and yet no one appears to be in much of a hurry to decide whether Tracker will cover any of it.
“It’s very much still a clusterfuck,” Tracker said about the handle’s fate remaining in limbo. “They sort of want it but they don’t want to be responsible for it. And nobody wants to do the work. These are people who, at the executive level, never fully appreciated it in the first place and were never fully aware of how it works, how much time went into it, never allowed us to monetize it. ”
It seems no one with decision-making power knows what to do with Tiger Tracker now—which is fitting because they didn’t know what to do with it for much of its existence.
There was a time not that long ago when things were not nearly so grim at Golf Channel. In fact, the network was thriving—so much so that there was money for a year-end retreat. In 2012, a host of company executives and employees gathered at the Mission Inn Resort & Club on the shores of Lake Harris, less than an hour outside Orlando. There were meetings, dinners, and drinks—and enough time to play golf at El Campéon, a course that bills itself as “one of the South’s oldest.”
Tiger Tracker was in its infancy then. Having been created less than a year earlier, it hadn’t yet accumulated 100,000 followers. As a way to juice the account’s popularity, Tracker came up with an idea that figured to benefit the handle, the TV network, and the website. The plan called for printing hundreds of T-shirts stamped with “@GCTigerTracker” and “Golf Channel” on the front, with “I’m the real Tiger Tracker” on the back. Then those shirts would be distributed at tournaments to fans following Tiger on the course. The concept seemed like a winner, especially on Thursdays and Fridays when Golf Channel carried a tournament broadcast in real time. The network would be able to show a gallery packed with people wearing Tiger Tracker/Golf Channel merch. It represented a massive opportunity for (nearly) free advertising. For whatever reason, the bosses passed.
“It was almost like they were scared of what happens when this thing gets too big?” Tracker said. “They just never quite understood how to maximize the potential growth of it.”
That pattern continued over the years, with executives failing or declining to monetize the account or build on its success. An idea to have a silhouetted (and potentially sponsored) Tiger Tracker appear on the network never gained traction. Neither did other suggestions about getting a corporate sponsor already associated with Tiger Woods to put some money behind Tiger Tracker too. Invariably corporate lawyers would get involved and say they couldn’t make money off Tiger’s likeness—even on ideas that didn’t feature his image. Not being a lawyer, Tracker wasn’t sure how much of that was legally prudent and how much was merely “an easy excuse” for how to deal with TT’s suggestions. (After speaking with several attorneys, the general consensus seemed to be that there’s a lot of gray area with publicity/name/image/likeness rights—but none of them were surprised that the NBC Sports legal team played it safe, especially considering how famously litigious Woods has been with matters concerning his brand.)
Either way, the message was received and eventually Tracker stopped trying to loop in executives on various grand plans. And now, if there are any grand plans at all, it will be some of those same executives hatching them without looping in the people who created and sustained Tracker in the first place. “It’s been brutal,” Tracker said about watching friends and colleagues not only lose their jobs but also their creative ownership of something that a lot of people came to love—no one more than the Trackers themselves.
There are Trackers who have considered whether it’s time to move on. In their estimation, the handle had a great run and they noted the potential poetry to ending it at the Masters. That was a minority opinion, though. Most of them have left the company by now, but the possibility that Tracker might stay dead and buried—or, worse, get rebooted as a zombie account by someone or several someones who never had anything to do with it—is almost too much to contemplate. One by one the Trackers have been “peeled off” in what one called a “bitter, nasty, ugly, brutal way for something so special to come to a crashing halt.” After an eight-year love affair, I asked Tiger Tracker what came next. “Sadly,” Tracker said, “it’s a nasty divorce.”