About ten or twelve years ago, I was at my local driving range hitting some golf balls on a Sunday afternoon. The driving range in Del Mar has The Golf Mart next to it. On this particular day, the driving range was packed and The Golf Mart was hopping. The guy who ran the shop told me that it was especially busy because Tiger Woods had won a golf tournament that weekend and he explained that when Tiger wins a tourney, their business increases 20-50% in the week following. Think about that for a moment – because you know that phenomenon was not unique to Del Mar.
A few years later, I was invited by Quicken Loans to play in a pro-am tourney, which is an event where amateurs like me get to play with professionals on the Wednesday before the actual pro tournament starts. This particular event was at the famous Congressional Country Club in Maryland. It was my first time playing in a pro-am, and I was a bit anxious to do well. I arrived at the clubhouse so early, I was pretty sure I was the first one there. When I got in the locker room, I discovered that I wasn’t the first person there, there was another guy who was even more excited than me. That guy turned out to be none other than Tiger Woods. After briefly saying hello to one another, I got myself ready to play and, on my way out, I mentioned to one of the country club officials that it was cool running into Tiger. This guy seemed to know a lot about Tiger Woods, because he told me that Tiger is known for always being the first guy in the clubhouse wherever he plays. At that moment I realized Tiger Woods wasn’t who he is by accident. Tiger Woods worked damn hard to be the best in the world.
I knew of Tiger Woods when he was a fifteen-year-old kid from Cypress, California. He was the local golf prodigy and as we now know that unlike most child stars, Tiger Woods panned out. In fact, his professional career was in many ways even greater than anyone had imagined it could be. By the time he was 24 years old, Tiger was already being hailed as one of the greatest golfers to ever swing a club. However, it was not just that he won, it was how he won. Tiger won the biggest tournaments by the biggest margins and he did it with flair and cockiness that had never been seen by the stodgy country club types who ruled the sport. Tiger made golf cool to millions of people, young and old, many of whom had never even played the game.
At the peak of his career, Tiger’s image came crashing down when a very public divorce and shocking revelations of his personal lifestyle hit the tabloids. Turns out Tiger had a darker side that included a lot of women and gambling – something that did not align well with the squeaky-clean image of the golf world’s elite. Tiger’s personal problems were followed by a series of unfortunate injuries, and while he still competed, it seemed clear to everyone including me that Tiger was done. At least until last month, when after fifteen years, Tiger Woods won the most prestigious tournament in all of golf, The Masters. Once again Tiger had accomplished something that nobody else had ever done. Even the great Michael Jordan called it the most impressive comeback in the history of sports. If you’re not a golf fan, trust me when I say Tiger Woods is one of the greatest athletes of the last century. Funny thing is not everyone loved the old Tiger Woods. They saw him as cocky and irreverent. Some of those same people like the new Tiger who they deem as softer and humbler. I can appreciate that, but I personally loved the old Tiger as well. It was the old Tiger that electrified the masses and whether you loved him or hated him, you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. For a brief while Tiger was bigger than the sport, and I for one was happy to see him back on top.