2006: Tiger's thrilling fans and inspiring children
By Gene Yasuda
Clues of his greatness came early and often. Certainly no golf toddler had appeared before on the “Mike Douglas Show,” and no boy had won three U.S. Juniors in a row. And never had a young man completed a U.S. Amateur trifecta.
Tiger Woods clearly was special. Just how special, however, no one grasped – not even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, whose organization would become Woods’ biggest beneficiary.
But Finchem remembers the moment he caught a peek of Tiger’s dawn. In 1994 when the U.S. Amateur was held at TPC at Sawgrass, Finchem followed Woods during his semifinal match. Then the tour chief boarded a flight for Akron, Ohio, to catch the conclusion of what was then the World Series of Golf. Upon entering the locker room he witnessed his players doing the unthinkable.
“They were all gathered around the television set watching Tiger playing the Amateur – on the telecast that was opposite our own event on CBS,” says Finchem, chuckling at the memory. “I thought that was rather telling.”
In the decade since Woods turned pro, he has made the unimaginable routine. Indeed, most golf enthusiasts can summarize how he has changed everything golf; the way it’s played, the way it’s perceived. With his ability to bomb and gauge, Woods has overpowered the game, adding words such as Tiger-proofing to the sport’s vernacular. Yet he’s such an influential force he could just as easily make small-ball fashionable again, thanks to his virtuoso 2-iron performance at Royal Liverpool, where he claimed yet another Claret Jug and his 11th professional major. Although Woods seems more human now than ever, grieving openly after the loss of his father, he still stuns fans when he loses because he has made them so accustomed to his winning.
More remarkable, however, is the magnitude of Tiger’s reach. Though it has become commonplace to call him a global icon, the term requires some reflection to truly understand its significance. What it means is, as the world’s most popular athlete, Woods is often recognized and admired by many of the 6 billion people who inhabit Earth. Which explains why youngsters in Britain paint their faces to look like tigers, and first generation golfers in China say Tiger is their favorite player.
Such appeal is what makes Woods a most coveted corporate spokesman. Think about the marketing simplicity he delivers: excellence personified. Any market, anywhere. No translation required. It’s no wonder the likes of Nike, American Express and Accenture combined to pay him last year a reported $85 million-plus in endorsements – and believe he’s worth every penny.
But for all his might and influence, Woods has yet to achieve one of his top priorities: To bring into the game more minorities, especially blacks, and make golf look as diverse as the rest of America. Dazzled by Tiger’s potential, too many of the game’s supporters and leaders – understandably, but unfairly – expected Tiger to cause change single-handedly. He has made progress on this front, but the task requires the help of others and even more from him.
Social activists hope Woods will marshal the resources at his disposal and step into the spotlight of a borderless stage to tackle such issues. And they urge him to advance his avocation – such as the recent opening of the Tiger Woods Learning Center, an innovative career institute for youth – that also would make him a great humanitarian.
It has become evident that Woods has the rare opportunity to be remembered for more than just how he leaves his sport, but for how he leaves the world. This is the first installment of a three-part series that examines 10 years of Tiger and the building of his legacy.