Tiger Woods showcased an uncanny maturity, when he won his first major, the 1997 Masters, at only 21 years old, in a record breaking performance.
He was the first black man to achieve greatness in the Augusta National club in Georgia: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white and caddies will be black,” the club’s co-founder Clifford Roberts had once infamously said.
According to Sir Nick Faldo, three times Masters winner, Woods managed to change the face of Golf.
“Tiger helped so many parts of golf, he got people to sit up and take notice. He brought a lot of attention to it and a lot of clever people.”
“And that’s why it’s moved on to where we are which is pretty amazing, the game of golf now,” he added.
Tiger’s influence can be seen in many areas. For example, the people who dominate golf today, such as Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy possess the same athleticism that Woods first brought to the game. Similarly, because of Tiger’s lucrative deals with television and other sponsorship contracts, everybody in the industry is now earning way more than before.
Remembering the year 1997, Faldo, as a defending champion back then remembers the following:
“It was the start of a monumental week.”
“Media attention was off the charts, we’d never known or seen anything like that. He had already been able to orchestrate that he was different.”
“That particular week it was constant media questioning. You were very lucky to get through one question about you before they wanted to start talking about Tiger.”
“Everybody wanted to know about him.”
The Masters of 1997 brought Woods the first of his four Green Jackets. Throughout his career, he also won 14 major titles, the last one coming at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
The year 2009 was not Tiger’s greatest, since the scandal of his extra-marital affairs came to light.
Woods’ relationship with the media changed over the course of years. If in his early years as a pro golfer he showed a youthful engagement, later on he became a reclusive, wary figure.
He says there are pros and cons for being one of the world’s most famous sportsmen. On one hand he says:
“I get to travel all around the world.”
“I get to play golf every day, and doing the things I like to do. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
While on the other, he misses being “average Joe”:
“What do I miss most? I guess playing a practice round in peace,” he said.
“Going out to dinner and people are bugging you. People want an autograph when you have food in your mouth.”
“Where I was raised, that was very rude to bug someone while they eat. In our society now, it is different.”
Now Woods is 41 years old and is facing quite serious health problems, due to multiple back surgeries. As Faldo puts it: “It would be an unbelievable achievement if he could rebuild.”
But one should remember that from his very first days as a professional golfer, Woods found ways to defy the odds.