At the Farmers Insurance Open at the Torrey Pines golf course in San Diego on Sunday, news of the 41-year-old basketball star’s tragic death was broken to Woods, 44, after he completed his round of the tournament.
The decision to hold off on telling Woods until afterward was made by his caddie, Joe LaCava, who felt it was “better off” to delay the emotional news.
“I didn’t think he’d be to the point where he couldn’t play golf, but I figured I’d wait to the end,” LaCava told the New York Post. “It was too much of distraction. I waited until we got into the tunnel on 18 to tell him because I didn’t want the cameras on him and see the shock on his face.”
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning that also killed seven other people. Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa, 37, and their other daughters Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
Reporters caught the moment Woods was informed of the tragedy on camera, with the golf pro initially reacting with a disbelieving “excuse me?“
Speaking with reporters after his round, Woods grappled with the news, explaining that he didn’t understand at the time why spectators were shouting “Do it for Mamba” on the back nine, referring to Bryant’s fan nickname.
“I didn’t understand why people in the gallery were saying, ‘Do it for Mamba.’ Now I understand,” Woods told CBS Sports. “It’s a shocker to everyone. I’m unbelievably sad, and it’s one of the more tragic days. The reality is setting in because I was just told about five minutes ago.”
Woods added: “Life is very fragile, as we all know. You can be gone at any given time and we have to appreciate the moments that we have. I just can’t imagine what his family’s going through right now.”
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Woods shared his admiration of the late Los Angeles Lakers standout, shouting out Bryant’s competitive nature and unmatched talents.
“[I’ll remember] the fire. He burned so competitively hot,” he said, according to CBS Sports. “The desire to win. He brought it each and every night on both ends of the floor. Not too many guys can say that throughout NBA history.”
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of losing my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie,” O’Neal, 47, wrote on Instagram. “I love you brother and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW !”