AUGUSTA, Ga. — The beaming, white-toothed smile that spread across his face told you everything you need to know about the way Tiger Woods feels about Frank.
Oh, you don’t know Frank?
Frank is the handsome stuffed Tiger who spends his life protecting his boss’s golf clubs, the one who seemingly has a new future adorning his buddy’s clothing, the onetime star of commercials who made a debut appearance on the chest of his owner’s black golf shirt during an annual Masters meeting with reporters Tuesday.
When Woods was asked about the mysterious logo that lit up social media the moment he sat down behind a microphone, he talked as if we should all know the answer already.
“Oh, that’s Frank.”
Thus came the natural reply: “It’s what?”
“Frank,” Woods said, grinning from ear to ear. “My head cover.”
Something tells me if you haven’t met Frank yet, you probably will soon. A guy of Woods’s marketing stature doesn’t do anything by accident, and as much as he drew attention for the throwback mock turtleneck he plans to wear this week, it’s the appearance of Frank that is surely going to sell a lot more swoosh clothing in days to come.
But it is the story behind Frank that will touch your heart more than it does your pocketbook, one that goes back to the earliest days of the Tiger phenomenon, when a mom in search of a signature look for her son encountered a mother-daughter business team that was perfect for the job, a fledgling puppet-making venture on the cusp of being the most popular specialized head-cover maker of the golfing stars.
Born was a relationship that has only grown since, rising alongside a signature customer rising to global prominence, surviving as the original designer died too soon, thriving as a heartbroken daughter picked up the pieces and carried on, all done with a tiger, and a Tiger, who never changed.
“The tiger, that’s really, really personal to me,” said Jane Spicer, the CEO of Phoenix-based Daphne’s Headcovers, the company that makes Frank. “Daphne is my mom and was my mentor. I lost her a long time ago. She designed the tiger right when Tiger started to carry it.
“All our designs I change and morph over the years. But I’ve never touched that one. That remains extra personal.
“Sometimes I think, ‘Hey look, mom, look what we’re doing, look how far it’s come, we have the most famous headcover in the world of golf.’ I think of her. And Tiger has been so gracious and kind and warm about carrying our tiger, as has his mom.”
Tiger is not alone as a PGA fan of Daphne’s products, and Frank (the name is from Woods, not Spicer) won’t be alone this week at the Masters, where he’d love nothing more than to help his boss to a fifth Masters green jacket and a 15th career major title. One look at the bag of two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson (who uses a stuffed version of himself), 2016 champ Danny Willett (he carries a pug), or world No. 2 Dustin Johnson (whose black lab is named for his own labradoodle Charlie), and you can see Spicer’s work on display.
The gentility of Masters week is a big part of the event’s charm, welcomed for the atmosphere of respect it helps create on the course, among both golfers and patrons. But as welcome as it is to stifle rude or outlandish behavior, a little individuality is good for the soul.
Something as simple as a headcover allows player to show a little personality — from Ernie Els’s lion (the same animal John Daly preferred) to Keegan Bradley’s golden retriever, from Padraig Harrington’s ladybug to Branden Grace’s rhino, they are all welcome descendants of the original (Craig Stadler’s walrus) and the most popular (Tiger’s tiger).
“I like them,” deadpanned Johnson, not known for his oratorical enthusiasm. “They make very nice head covers. She’s made me a couple of them and I like them.”
There are good reasons. The only product of its kind that is backed by a lifetime guarantee, the covers, made from garment-grade fabric, are available at pro shops all over the country (and in more than 75 other countries). They protect clubs from the elements in addition to making them easy to pick out at the bag drop. They can be personalized or chosen from among 175-plus designs on the website.
Much like the puppets that preceded them, they are almost too cute for words.
“I was selling puppets on the street at arts and crafts shows, and someone suggested to my mom that we make golf covers,” Spicer said. “At first we thought it was silly, but she bribed me, said if you make and sell enough of these, I’ll buy you a car. I was 16. I wanted a car.
“I turned some of the puppets into headcovers, some of our own designs, and let me tell you, ignorance is bliss. All I wanted was the car. I had loads of enthusiasm and no experience.
“I just went out talking and selling and selling. I got kicked out of golf stores, read the riot act for doing all the wrong things — no appointment, no business cards. I just kept going back.”
And she got the car. “A 1973 Volkswagen bug, bright red.”
These days, she is more known for orange and black, the colors that stripe a tiger named Frank, the one animal among many she’ll be on the lookout for as all of her office televisions and computers track the Masters for the next four days. He’s pretty special.
“They were members at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, and that’s where Mrs. Woods got it initially; she saw it on display and bought it,” Spicer recalled. “We were friends with the staff, and they would call in and say, ‘Hey, we need more of this, there’s a young golfer using it.’ ”
As his popularity soared, so did the headcover’s. One time, the course called only to encounter a prickly employee who insisted there was nothing in stock. This was after Tiger had won his first Masters, and there were no tigers on the shelves.
“I don’t care if her name is Mrs. Woods,” the employee bellowed into the phone. “We don’t have any tigers!”
Spicer, horrified, grabbed the phone (then still attached to a long, spiraled cord), sliding along the floor and rushed the words into the receiver. “Hello, hello, hello — we have them, we’ll get them!”
“She usually orders about six at a time, time to embroider them,” Spicer said. “Whenever she needs them, we have them. In my office in the back, I keep a personal stash. I will never be out of them for him.”
And she’ll always be grateful for all of them.
“If you see the guys carrying my headcovers, throw your arms around them and say thank you from me,” she said.Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.