Thursday, August 29, 1996, 25 years ago today. Hole one of the Brown Deer Park Golf Course, in Glendale (United States). First day of the Greater Milwaukee Open.
The legend begins to be written with a 336-yard drive. It is the professional debut of Tiger Woods, then a 20-year-old man who has already become a millionaire celebrity due to his historical successes as an amateur, golf genius and commercial vein; today a 45-year-old legend who is struggling to recover from a terrible fracture in his right leg, to play again as if he were that child.
“Hello World. They say I’m not ready for you. Are you ready for me?” Tiger was already a star before turning pro. With that sentence ended a shocking Nike television ad aired a few days earlier. On Sunday, August 25, Tiger Woods was playing his final round as a rookie. It was to conquer his third consecutive amateur US Open, a record never seen before. Two days later, he publicly announced that he was turning professional. The following day, the Wednesday before his debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open, he gave a massive press conference. “Hello, world.” “Hello, world”, he said as soon as he approached the microphone. The publicity machine was already at full throttle. In fact, Nike had gold-plated him with a five-year, $40 million contract before he’d even teeed off as a pro. At that time,
Woods signed 4 under par in that first round. On Sunday he had a hole in one, on the par three of 14. He finished the tournament in 60th position and won $2,544—in his elite debut Jack Nicklaus took $33. Less than two months later, Tiger captured his first title on tour, in Las Vegas. And in April of the following year, the revolution, his victory in the Augusta Masters, his first big one. By then his father, Earl, a Green Beret who had taught him the game since he was two years old as if there was nothing else in the world, repeated over and over again that his son had a double mission in life, not just the to be the best player of all time, but also to influence humanity like no other political or social leader. Tiger was the chosen one, the predestined one.In truth, what started 25 years ago today and certified in that glorious 1997 Masters was the biggest change that any athlete has ever brought about in a sport. Tiger rewrote golf forever. At all levels: economic, advertising, physical, technical, psychological, social… he was the first black player to win the Masters. He opened the gyms to a whole generation. He increased the distances the ball flies. He skyrocketed television revenue and audiences. He achieved that since his debut until today the tournament prizes have multiplied by five… A trip to another dimension.
Jon Rahm had not turned two years old when Tiger made his professional debut. The Basque, today world number one, the weight of Woods’ legacy: “It is difficult to put it into words. Tiger raised golf to such a high level… The money we play for is thanks to him. If you look at the prizes he had each tournament when he started and the ones there are now [the Players, for example, distributed 3.5 million and today there are 15], it’s something unique. It is the reason why at my age, 26, my children, for sure, and surely their children’s children also do not have any financial problems.
My family won’t have to worry about money because I can do what I love at such a high level and earn what we earn, which is incredible, thanks to Tiger, the first golfer to be recognized as a global athlete. . The name of Tiger Woods is known all over the world. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer… in some parts they won’t know who they are, but Tiger Woods does, like Maradona, Messi, Michael Jordan, LeBron, Phelps… his presence in a tournament makes everything different. Even today, without playing, it has a tremendous impact. Golf is what it is today because of what he did years ago, and my generation has grown up trying to copy what he did.”The myth raised an empire: 15 majors, 82 victories on the American circuit, the first athlete to exceed 1,000 million dollars in earnings. But he too fell into hell, a victim of his own greatness. The obsession with physical preparation led his body to exceed its limits. The injuries arrived. And the operations. Five back and five knee. Also personal problems, a marital scandal due to his addiction to sex, dependence on pain medication, an arrest when he was driving medicated… Withdrawals. Months off.
Tiger, on crutches after his accident.
For any mortal it would have been the end. But Tiger saved one last (or penultimate) resurrection. In April 2019, 11 years after his previous great one, he won the Augusta Masters in one of the most spectacular comebacks in the history of the sport. The whole world surrendered again at his feet. And he returned to pity him when on February 23 Woods suffered a car accident in Los Angeles that sent him back to the operating room to be operated on for multiple fractures to the tibia and fibula in his right leg.
The secrecy about his state of health has reigned ever since. Just a few images of Tiger on crutches have emerged, and a confession last May: “This is the most painful thing I’ve ever suffered.” It is also known that he found Phil Mickelson’s victory in the PGA Championship at the age of 50 “inspiring”. At 45, however, today it seems like a miracle that Tiger can play golf competitively again.