PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on April 15, 1997.
Though it’s far from a scientific sampling, the wave of Monday phone calls concerning this fellow Tiger Woods indicates his awe-inspiring performance in The Masters merits further scrutiny. Therefore, if you happen to be in the group grumbling at being sick of hearing about young Mr. Woods this would be a good place to stop reading.
Let me suggest, however, that tuning out this guy’s feats may be rather difficult for the next 20 or 30 years. Even the Pope had to share the top of the New York Times front page with Tiger on Monday. The overpowering way he won The Masters leaves him as arguably the brightest star in the sports galaxy, and it stands to reason that he is going to get brighter, better and bigger.
It is not going to stop there, either. The real and perceived social significance of Tiger’s accomplishments are certain to elevate him — both in America and abroad — to a level of recognition heretofore reached only by Muhammed Ali and Michael Jordan.
With all due respect to Jordan, there has never been a more marketable sports celebrity than Woods. Already there are 15 Tiger Woods web sites on the Internet.
Truth is, Nike got a steal with its five-year, $40 million endorsement deal with him last fall. My 16-year-old son complains often that there is not yet a Tiger Woods line of clothing available. I assume millions of kids have the same attitude.
Once the clothing line is out, the stampede to look like Tiger may dwarf the “Be Like Mike” craze. My credit cards are already simmering.
But back to those phone calls. Some were from golfing friends gushing over what they had witnessed. Some were from non-golfing friends who seldom watch the sport on TV but admitted they couldn’t tear themselves away from The Masters.
Some were individuals, black and white, whose complaints made it obvious the written word means different things to different people when race is involved.
Those callers reinforced a feeling that Woods’ biggest challenge probably isn’t going to be winning major tournaments at a pace nobody, not even Jack Nicklaus, has managed. Ultimately, his most difficult task may be walking the fine line that leaves him appealing and marketable to whites, while maintaining a level of minority commitment that is acceptable to blacks.
It’s a shame we’re still at a point in 1997 where that has to be a concern, but rest assured those in Woods’ inner circle know the score. That’s why one of the first Nike ads — the one about there still being golf course in America Tiger couldn’t play because of the color of his skin — wound up having a shorter run than intended.
It was in questionable taste and it created resentment toward Tiger. That’s not good marketing strategy.
Outside forces aside, there is everything to like about this kid. He’s gifted, he’s personable, he has a blue collar work ethic, he has the utmost respect of his peers on the PGA Tour and he has no problem at all publicly showing affection for his parents.
His solid upbringing, in fact, is probably his strongest defense against the pitfalls lying in wait for a handsome, 21-year-old multimillionaire.
What he accomplished in blowing away the world’s best golfers by 12 shots at Augusta National ranks right at the top of the greatest sports accomplishments of all time.
Factor in his age, the incredible burden of expectations on his shoulders, a golf course that historically takes several years for professionals to cope with and conditions that sent some of the world’s bet players to the sidelines early, and you have an improbable outcome worthy of every superlative that’s been written.
Those, meanwhile, who attribute Tiger’s landslide victory to his incredible length off the tee do him a disservice. Sure, he had a tremendous advantage because of his booming tee shots. But he is not that much longer than John Daly, and Daly has never come close to winning The Masters.
Nor have numerous other big hitters who were able to take advantage of the wide fairways at Augusta National. Either they couldn’t handle the greens or the pressure.
Woods won with mental strength and preparation, as much as physical strength and a delicate touch. He offset his inexperience at Augusta by spending hours in the tape library of the Golf Channel, studying highlights shows of past Masters tournaments.
Then he took what he learned bout positioning, angles and tricky breaks in the greens and executed a Masters masterpiece for the ages.
So hail to a very special champion. Oh, yes, and best wishes, Tiger, from your Uncle Sam. On this April 15, the only color he sees when he thinks of you is green.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.