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The Scarlet & Black

Rueter’s Digest: The Importance of Tiger’s Resurgence


When the Masters golf championships begin on April 5, the odds-on favorite to win the tournament will be the same man as it was some twenty-years ago. The difference is that in 1998, Tiger Woods, who many consider to be the greatest golfer in history, was an ascending star. In 2018, he is a fallen icon.

Woods turned pro in 1996 at the age of 20 after only two years playing collegiately at Stanford, and from the minute he stepped onto the greens he took the golfing world by storm. Not only did he win his first Masters tournament in 1997 — by 12 strokes no less — and hold the title of “top ranked golfer in the world” for a combined 545 weeks between August 1999 and October 2010.

Woods also inked lucrative endorsement deals with Titleist, American Express, General Mills, Gillette and Nike among others. In fact, at the time he signed his 5-year, 105-million-dollar deal with Nike it was the largest contract ever signed by a professional athlete.

However, as is often the case with transcendent talents, the only man capable of stopping Woods’s dominance was himself.

In late 2009, The National Enquirer revealed Woods’s many extramarital affairs, culminating in a very messy and very public divorce from his first wife and a constant tabloid presence in his life thereafter. For the next seven years Woods was plagued by nagging injuries, including a bad back and hip, as well as trouble with the mechanics of his swing. Such maladies, combined with his hectic personal life, left many in the golf world wondering if they would ever see Woods at the top of his game again.

But hope may be on the horizon for Woods. In March 2018, Woods had two “Top 10” finishes, including a dazzling second place finish at the Valspar Championship that included a low round of 67. When accounting for the fact that Woods didn’t have more than two “Top 10” finishes combined in the last five years, it is fair to say that this is the closest he has come to reaching the same heights as he did early in his career.

While to newer golf fans Woods may be more myth than man, it is important to remember just how much of an impact he had on not just the golfing world, but the sports world in general. At the peak of his power, Woods was one of the most dominant athletes in any sport at any time. What was particularly unique to Woods, though, is that he was a dominant Black athlete in a sacred white space.

Golf in the United States is one of the most expensive sports to play, and probably the most difficult and expensive sport to find space for.

While no laws exist today explicitly banning minority groups and women from participating in golf, the unwritten rules were clear. Golf was a white man’s game, and this order was only further affirmed by economic discrimination and an affordable housing crisis which cemented golf’s status as a game of business rather than pleasure.

But Woods was different. Born to a Black father and a Taiwanese mother, Woods didn’t look the part of a golf superstar, but he sure as heck played like it. Though Woods was never particularly socially active or political — much like his friend Michael Jordan — he didn’t have to be: he was that good.

Though it sets a crappy precedent to have to couch notions of achievements in terms of gender or race, it cannot be overlooked how important it is to present minority icons in majority-white sports. Woods wasn’t “good at golf for a Black man,” he was good, period. This notion, despite his many record setting achievements, may be Woods’s most important contribution to the game of golf, whether he chooses to acknowledge it or not.

In light of his recent performances, it shouldn’t be too surprising if, when the 18th tee flag flutters in the April winds of Augusta, Woods is on the verge of making history. Regardless though, we must remember that he wasn’t only good at the game, he was good for it as well.

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