What made Tiger Woods so famous?
The American turns 40 on December 30 and 20 years of professionalism in 2016. A look back at two decades that changed golf
The PGA Tour tournaments offered between 1 and 1.5 million dollars in prize money in 1996, with peaks at 2.5 million for the Grand Slam events. Totally different radiography in 2005: base tournaments at 5 million dollars, and the Majors between 6 and 7.5 million. Sole reason for this inflation: Tiger Woods, who boosted the endowments on his own. And to which Phil Mickelson paid tribute: “I won my first tournament in 1991, the sum allocated to the winner was 180,000 dollars. Today, that’s what the winner gets each week. Tiger is the origin of all this. It was he who brought the sponsors, the raises, and we all benefited from it.
Nike first offered him 50 million dollars over five years, in 1996. Before revising the proposal to 100 million, to benefit from total exclusivity. Huge sums at the time, but not a concern for the comma firm, which saw its turnover jump from 35 to 200 million dollars in 1998. A year when the impact of Tiger Woods was already measured to 650 million dollars, between the sales of equipment, the additional green fees, the entries on the tournaments and the increase in the tariffs of the advertising spots. An amount that only increased over the next ten years.
There are two kinds of golf on TV: the one with Tiger Woods, and the one without the former world number one. The ratings studies carried out at the end of 2000 were conclusive: the tournaments where Woods was involved had benefited from 40% higher audiences. A figure that rose to 113% when he was in the top 5 of the ranking. In August 2007, Woods won the USPGA, but could not defend his title the following year (injury) and viewership dropped by 55% on Sunday, as one of the most exceptional battles in history unfolded. of golf between Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia. Last August, Woods lined up for the Wyndham Championship, the sexiest event of the year, and found himself in the lead after three rounds of competition. On Sunday, the listening rates are higher than any other tournament (except Majors) since May 2013. Conclusion: Woods has always attracted a non-specialist audience on the small screen, fascinated by his aura alone. Audience who will stop watching golf on TV as soon as it is no longer competitive.
Tiger Woods did not invent physical preparation in golf. The pioneer in this field remains the South African Gary Player, nine Majors between 1959 and 1978, who at 80 still fits in the outfits he wore at twenty. But from a slender, supple body in 1997, Woods transformed into a Robocop of the fairways three years later. Some deduced that it was necessary to build as much muscle as possible to perform, and everyone started to lift cast iron to do like the Master. The unanimity is much less obvious today, when we see the damage that excessive physical training could have produced on his body. With this definitive opinion from Brandel Chamblee, the Golf Channel’s featured columnist: “Physical labor killed it. He preferred to give up flexibility and speed for pure strength.
Preparing the routes
Tournament organizers took fright at the end of the last century. Woods had just won the 1997 Masters at -18 with a twelve-stroke lead, then the US Open 2000 being the only one to go below par (-12 against +3 to his seconds), then the British Open with the mark the lowest in the history of the Majors (-19, beaten only last August by Jason Day with -20 at the USPGA). Suddenly, they decided to harden the course to the extreme to better protect them from scratches. By creating this neologism: “Tigerproof”, “Tiger proof”. Which made his father laugh at the time: “You want to penalize Tiger? Easy, I’ll give you the recipe: you remove the rough, you bring the tees forward, you slow down the greens, in short you try to make your course as easy as possible. Like that, everyone will have a chance to beat him…” Since 1997, the tracks have become harder and harder, with sometimes excessive preparation, especially at the US Open. For a long time, it was mainly his opponents who were embarrassed.
The racial question
Tiger Woods was the victim of outright racism as a child and then in his early days in golf. Several private clubs still refused to welcome players of color, and some players thought they could afford over-the-top comments with Tiger (Fuzzy Zoller in the famous ‘fried chicken’ case in 1997). Woods has always refused to take a public position on the subject, however, for two reasons. First, he never considered himself African-American, defining himself one day as “cablinasian”, a mixture of Caucasian (white), black, Indian and Asian, in reference to the multiple origins of his parents. And also: he has always seen himself as the consecration of the American dream, where everything is possible regardless of origins. It was his way of better breaking down barriers. And it worked.
The career of its competitors
What if Tiger Woods didn’t exist? Probably this: Phil Mickelson would have won the 2002 US Open, to become the fifth player in history to win each of the four Majors at least once. He would also have reached the first place in the world, a position he never managed to occupy. Ernie Els, announced as the chosen one after his two victories at the US Open in 1994 and 1997, would no doubt have become one and would have won the US Open and the British in 2000 (second each time). Colin Montgomerie would have won a Major. Finally, perhaps, because he lost so many alone in the play-off… Sergio Garcia would have won the USPGA 1999, at 19 years old. A first Major who would have called many others, while sixteen years later, he is still awaiting consecration.
The attitude on the course
Woods was not the first to get agitated on a course during the hot moments of the competitions. There have always been demonstrations with more or less successful aesthetics. The most famous ? Tom Watson jogging on the 17th green at Pebble Beach after limping his chip to take the 1982 US Open. Chi Chi Rodriguez and his sword-like putter to celebrate his vital putts. Or Mr. Lu, a Taiwanese who threw his hat over the hole after having investigated a long putt, for fear that the ball would come out. But no one has generalized the “fist pump” like Tiger, with a warrior body language to better establish his intimidation. At the very beginning, some said: it can’t be done. They were wrong: not only was it done, but it is the norm today. Everything is allowed now
Holding the caddies
It’s a simple exhibition that takes place in the summer of 1999, a televised match-play against his friend David Duval. It’s hot, far too hot, and the caddies of the two players decide to do their job in shorts. The event is not on the PGA Tour calendar, but an official still wants to get involved: he requires caddies to respect the dress code, i.e. wearing pants as for players. Refusal from Steve Williams, who suddenly finds himself threatened with life ban by the official in question. So far not involved in the conversation, Tiger Woods raises an ear and says: “Do this and I’ll play in Europe next year.” Steve Williams stayed in shorts. And soon after, caddies were allowed to lighten their outfits at all tournaments.
What hasn’t changed and probably won’t change
The bar of eighteen Grand Slam victories by Jack Nicklaus, we fear it. This record has always been promised to him, but Woods has stopped at fourteen since June 2008. The immense American columnist Dan Jenkins had warned in the early 2000s: “There are only two things that can prevent him from beating Nicklaus: injuries and a bad marriage.” Dark premonition, because Woods has unfortunately experienced both. Today, Tiger’s body cracks all over. He can hold on a bit longer and beat Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories. We dare to believe that he will win another Masters, in Augusta with his spare game. But winning five Majors after forty years? In his condition? Young people are exceptional and he no longer intimidates them. No, this is no longer possible. Even if we very much hope to be wrong on this one.