It was August 27, 1996 at Brown Deer Park Golf Club in Milwaukee, Wis., and Tiger Woods was on the eve of playing in his first PGA TOUR event as a professional.
He had just made his famous Hello, world introduction and read nervously from a prepared statement. He was in the middle of taking questions from reporters on site, when he was asked what would make this week a successful one in his eyes.
Scoffs and harrumphs for everyone. Who does this kid think he is, they must have wondered. This aint the amateur ranks, son. This is the gol darn PGA TOUR. You dont just turn pro and win.
They were right. Tiger didnt win that week, tying for 60th at the Greater Milwaukee Open. But he did attract a whole lot of attention, and he did make a hole-in-one, and he did earn $2,544.
Thats my money. I earned this, he said at the time.
Funny. That little bit of money seemed to mean so much to someone who had just signed for $40 million with Nike and $3 million more with Titleist.
Woods has made a lot more money since then. Hes made a lot more money for a lot of people since then.
I thank God every day for Tiger Woods, Scott Hoch once said. Hes made us rich.
This Monday will mark Tigers official 10-year anniversary as a playing professional. Hes made enough money during that time to almost get this country out of debt. And, indeed, he has made golf such a popular sport that many others have become very wealthy by association.
His overall effect, of course, has far exceeded the financial realm. Hes made a social impact. His Tiger Woods Foundation and Tiger Woods Learning Center have literally altered thousands and thousands of lives, maybe even millions, for the better. Hes attracted those unfamiliar to the game ' and not just minorities, but boys and girls, men and women of all races and all ages. Hes transformed golf into more than just a fringe game ' hes popularized it to the masses, more so than any other individual, and made it, in his own words, a cool sport to play.
At this past PGA Championship, several players, Tiger included, were asked about how he has changed the game. They all pretty much said the same thing. They talked about the money. They talked about how players are now better conditioned. They talked about the exponential increase in popularity.
These things are pretty obvious, because we as fans have seen it ourselves over the last 10 years.
We all know how forceful Tigers impact has been on the game. And we all know about his accomplishments. We know the wins and the records.
We also know about the controversies ' the joke he made to GQ magazine; skipping out on the Fred Haskins Award dinner; snubbing President Clinton; shaking up his inner-circle; playing the race card in television commercials; changing his swing ' twice; Fuzzy Zoeller.
We dont need to rehash it all right here.
But it is interesting to look back, back 10 years ago when it all began. What were they saying then, back when Woods was just a very promising ' and very rich ' 20-year-old, one with a certain prideful parent.
It was Earl Woods who said in a Sports Illustrated interview in 96 that his son would do more than any other human in history to change the course of humanity. More than (anyone) because hes more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.
How about a little humility? But Earl, even if he had a few drinks that night, wasnt just being a boastful father. While his son hasnt quite reached the level of humanity of a Jesus or a Gandhi, he has done more on and off the course than many of us could have ever imagined.
Tiger once had a sit-down interview with Curtis Strange, back when Strange was working for ABC Sports. In the interview, Woods reiterated that he expects to win every time he competes. He famously said, 'Second sucks.'
Youll learn, Tiger. You'll learn, Strange replied, almost mocking him with a laugh.
As it turns out, he gave the lesson.
Loren Roberts won the Greater Milwaukee Open in 96. After his victory, he said, I heard where a couple of guys said they were in awe of him, and I think thats taking it too far. He plays just like the rest of us. Hes a great player, but he still has to go out and beat the other 150 of us.
Looking back, its easy to laugh at such a statement. But who could have imagined what Woods would do?
Even those predicting great things for him couldnt quite grasp how truly talented this young man was.
Take Johnny Miller. At the end of the 96 season, in which Woods won two of seven events to earn his TOUR playing status, Miller was asked if Tigers early success had surprised him and what he expected of his career.
Miller responded: Its going to be a pretty awesome future. He could be the greatest player there ever was. You have to think (hes) not going to (win) 20 majors, and hes probably not going to win 60 tournaments, but he could win 50 (events) and 12 (majors).
For completely different reasons, that probably sounded as ridiculous then as it does now ' and thats not an offense to Miller. Miller was making a bold statement back then, probably one that received a bit of ridicule. Now thats he's won 50 and 12 ' at the age of 30! ' hes a lock for 60 TOUR wins and a very good bet for 20 major victories.
Woods just wanted to win once. That was his goal when he turned pro, just so he could get his TOUR card and avoid Q-school. Five tournaments into his career, he nabbed that title in Las Vegas. Two weeks later, he won again at Disney and qualified for the TOUR Championship.
Winning on TOUR means everything. It proves to yourself and to everyone else that you belong. It changes the way others view you. And that was the case for Woods.
His quick and early success showed that he was more than just potential ' he was the goods. His peers now knew this. And they could only ponder how he would shape the future of the game.
I think, obviously, he has got a tremendous career, said Nicklaus, who predicted that Woods would win 10 Masters titles ' the same number as he and Arnold Palmer combined. Im very interested in his career. Very interested to see what he does.
I firmly believe that Tiger may be pushing us, said Tom Lehman, who was Player of the Year in 96, thanks to his Open Championship and TOUR Championship victories. Nobody wants to get passed over by a new person. It may come to a point where this new person is just so talented you cant help it, its unavoidable.
Said 1996 PGA champion Mark Brooks at that year's TOUR Championship: I guess the scariest thing is somebody overheard somebody in the locker room say he hasnt even shot his A game yet. Hes played nothing short of phenomenal at this point. And if hes got an A game that he hasnt shown yet, then were probably all in trouble.
They were. They still are.
There was a debate a few years ago, back in 2001, when Woods had just completed the Tiger Slam, as to whether or not he was good for the game. Was one mans dominance over an entire sport good for the sport itself?
That question should no longer be presentable.
Ten years ago, Woods was on the cusp of it all. He was just a skinny kid back then, wearing a shirt at least one size too large. He got giddy about things like being able to get a courtesy car even though he wasnt old enough to rent one. He discussed his affection for eating anything greasy. He talked about paying for dinner with gift certificates.
How it all has changed. The little things are now routine; not amusing. His body is now his temple. Money is no longer, and will never again be an issue.
Over the last decade, Woods has had numerous ups and a few downs. Hes been a lightning rod for lavish praise and biting criticism. He seems to have as many detractors as he does fans. And there is still some jealously among his peers, but much more awe and respect.
Without question, however, he has been good for the game. And the game has, undeniably, been very good to him.
A dream come true, Woods said in describing his career a few weeks ago. I did not think that in my wildest dreams I could actually have achieved what I've achieved so far.
As you look at my overall career, it's been a fantasy.
Fantasy is imagining 10 years ago that Woods could accomplish all that he has in such a short period of time. It's not fantasy anymore; it's reality.
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