At the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996, a young golf protege by the name of Tiger Woods announced himself onto the global stage with the iconic phrase “Hello World”. From that day onwards, sporting fans were spellbound by this young black man, excelling at a sport viewed by many as reserved for old, privileged white people.
4 years later, with two majors already under his belt, Woods cruised to a 15 shot victory in the US Open at Pebble Beach. The margin was totally unheard of in tournament golf. By the age of 24, Woods had already etched his name into the golfing history books, with greater things to follow.
Woods was fast becoming a global icon and multi-million dollar endorsements were signed as companies clambered to make Tiger their ambassador. The Woods brand transcended the game of golf as he became the most popular sportsman on the planet.
At the 16th hole of the 2005 Masters, Woods played perhaps the most memorable shot in the history of the game. A pulled 7-iron left him with a delicate downhill chip across the rapid Augusta greens. In the most clutch of sporting moments, Woods managed to pull off the miraculous.
He chipped the ball to the top of the crest and held his breath as it trickled down the slope towards the hole. On almost its last rotation the ball stopped, the Nike logo facing the cameras as if it were some sort of advert. The galleries were on the edge of their seats frozen in the excitement. A second elapsed although it felt like an eternity, yet eventually, the ball disappeared into the cup; “In your life have you seen anything like that” shouted commentator Verne Lundquist.
This was, without doubt, the defining moment in Woods’ illustrious career, helping him to claim his 4th green jacket and 9th major before the age of 30.
Injury trouble plagued him in the years that followed. He quite literally limped across the line in his final major victory at Torrey Pines in 2008. Yet this only seemed to add to his magnetism and sporting invincibility. Here was a man with two stress fractures in his upper knee, who needed help to physically stand, but was somehow leading the US Open.
After reclaiming his title he shared a beautiful moment with his wife and kids on the green. Here was a man with a seemingly perfect family life, all the money, adoration, and respect in the world. Yet things were not as they appeared on the surface.
In November of 2009, Woods was hospitalized following a car crash outside his home in Florida. Allegations emerged about his relationship with then wife Elin Nordegren. Over the course of the next few weeks, Tiger was accused of cheating on his wife multiple times with various women. The family became embroiled in a media storm and the couple divorced less than a year later. Tiger’s reputation had been forever tarnished.
Years of struggle both on and off the golf course would plague him. Woods made a return to form in 2013, reclaiming his world number 1 spot. However, his injury problems have continued, multiple back and knee surgeries have prevented any sustained tournament form; Woods has failed to win a major since his triumph at Torrey Pines in 2008.
Tiger reappeared in the press in May for the wrong reasons again. He was arrested on a DUI charge after falling asleep at the side of a Florida highway whilst his engine was running. It was later found that Woods was taking various prescribed medications to help him recover from his recent operation. The mugshot and dash-cam video of Woods that were later released by the police seem to showcase just how far the once mighty had fallen.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) June 19, 2017
Having said this, it seems rather unfair. People try hard to castigate Woods for things he has done in the past, things he regrets and has apologized for on multiple occasions. History will remember Woods for far more than that. It will remember him for encouraging black participation in a sport that was exclusively white. It will remember him for bringing an athletic element to golf. It will remember him for handing golfers the first million dollar paycheck, something unheard of in the early 90’s.
Most importantly it will remember Tiger Woods the golfer, perhaps the greatest the game has ever witnessed: The man who claimed 14 major titles, who dominated his sport for over a decade, and who created some of the most memorable sporting moments of all time.