Comparisons to the Greats
When you begin to think about Tiger Woods’ impact on the sport of golf, one must be able to compare him to another player within the sport right? Look at the greatest golfers to ever live: Arnold Palmer, seven major championships, 95 professional wins. Jack Nicklaus, PGA record of 18 major championships, in addition to eight more senior majors. Arnold Palmer is widely known for developing golf’s grasp outside country clubs for the first time. He has tournaments named after him, as well as the lemonade ice tea mixed beverage. Jack Nicklaus is known for his brand, his Nicklaus Design, designing over hundreds of courses across 30+ countries, and mainly his permanency within the sport winning majors after being elected in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Even in comparison to two of the greatest golfers ever, Woods still holds his own. Nicklaus, after a 1996 practice round with Woods at the Masters told the media “[Woods will have more Masters than] Arnold and I combined!” Tiger has even won the Arnold Palmer Invitation a PGA record of eight times. When it comes to golfing accolades, all three individual golfers have conquered the sport in their own way. However, there is something the other two lack in terms of impact.
The PGA before & after Tiger
Tiger brought the entire sport of golf from where it was in the early 1990’s, to what it is now. For years’, golf was a sport that mainly middle-class European-Americans participated in. The emergence of Tiger Woods incorporated an entirely new generation of players to the sport. Kids in Australia like PGA Tour player Adam Scott took notice; “He inspired all of us to play golf like he did and it was kind of at that point a transition of having a wardrobe full of Shark (Greg Norman) to Nike swooshes when I played, and every kid was buying the shirt he wore when he won the Masters or his hat or something like that,” said Scott, who was in high school when Woods won his first major at Augusta National. Tiger made worldwide non-believers of a so-called “boring” sport, exciting. Chris Riley, a current PGA player who played with Woods as an amateur and professional, stated “[Woods] “transcend ed the game” and helped lift the image of golf, which was “nerdy” when he played as a boy but now is considered a “cooler game.” The generation Tiger played in relished the fact that a multiracial golfer possessed the ability to dominate crowds with 350+ yardage drives and 35-foot birdie and par saves to win major championships. Former media director of the PGA Tour annual event at Torrey Pines in San Diego, recollected times when galleries would ignite seeing Tiger in his Sunday red; “They’d go there to watch him,” Schloss said. “They don’t know what else is going on. They’ve got their Ugg boots on, the hats on backward, they’ve got a craft beer, and they know he’s cool.” There was a saying when Michael Jordan was in the peak of his career that described his following; everyone wanted to be ‘Like Mike,’ at the peak of Tiger’s career, everyone wanted to be like Tiger, even Mike!
Examining Tiger’s cultural impact within golf starts at the history within the sport. No African-American were prohibited to compete at Augusta National until 1975, and now he owns four green jackets. Tiger turned pro and proceeded to sign a $40 million Nike endorsement contract; contracts for golfers were never this monumental. Golfers were not celebrities; they did not hang with Jon Bon Jovi and with basketball legends like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. Nike revolutionized their entire golf operations around one single player; they did not produce golf balls or clubs until Tiger’s sponsorship. “There’s nobody who had more influence in my golf game than Tiger,” said former #1 golfer in the world 24-year old Jordan Spieth. Through commercials, branding, and even video gaming, Tiger replaced the usual golfer. Tiger embodied a sports icon golf has never seen before. As strong of an influence he has had on the public, he may have even a bigger impact amongst golfers he has played with and against. Matt Kuchar who played against Tiger in the 1998 Masters stated: “It wasn’t like he was a role model or got me into the game. You had to find a way to get better somehow because he had set the bar so high.” Players who have even played decades before him have taken notice. Gary Player, who is known for his longevity, winning tournaments in three different decades has applauded Woods for highlighting full-body fitness within golf routines. “How would you not want to learn from the best player of our generation? I learned a lot from him just by watching him and watching how he did his job on the course,” says the two-time Augusta National Champion, Bubba Watson. It is no coincidence golf’s popularity heightened as Tiger’s introduction into the sport. This popularity, nonetheless, has not translated to more African-Americans golfers. Since Tiger Woods’ entrance on the PGA Tour in 96’, no more than two African-American golfers have earned their PGA Tour card. As a new generation of golfers begin to consume the realm of golf, I find myself lucky to have been directly influenced by Tiger Woods.