Inspirational Athletes

Professionalism: Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods (Illustrator: Thomas Mesenbring Field)

To be a consistent winner at golf, it takes a very extraordinary golfer—and in this era, that golfer’s name is Tiger Woods.

And Tiger’s story is even more incredible considering that he turned pro at the young age of twenty, and within just two years he solidified himself as an elite player with an extraordinary level of maturity and professionalism.

To top it off, Tiger, being part African-American, has faced racism and discrimination along the way, but remained undaunted in his quest to become the world’s number one golfer. He helped break racial barriers in golf, which before his arrival remained one of the few remaining sports in America to openly discriminate against minorities.

Tiger’s star appeal has single-handedly made golf become more actively followed and played by people of all races and walks of life, as Tiger has transcended the sport to unprecedented levels of popularity worldwide.

Although he is usually considered African-American, Tiger Woods was actually born to a very unique and mixed heritage, with a father who is a quarter Chinese, a quarter Native American, and half African-American, and a mother who is a quarter Chinese, a quarter white, and half Thai.

In his early forties, Tiger’s father Earl began playing golf, and soon became obsessed with the sport. By the time Tiger was born on December 30, 1975, Earl was eager to expose his new son to golf. (Tiger was actually born with the name Eldrick Woods, but his father nicknamed him “Tiger.” The name stuck, prompting Tiger to legally drop the name Eldrick at age 21.)

Not long after Tiger’s birth, Earl began seating his son in a chair in their garage, so that the toddler could watch his father hit golf balls into a net. The game seemed to have a mesmerizing effect on Tiger, who would often watch for hours at a time.

Earl later sawed a golf club to a short size so that Tiger could have a club of his own—and soon the young Tiger was dragging the sawed off club around wherever he went. Then one day, a ten month old Tiger shocked his father by going over to his home’s practice area, and hitting golf balls into the net just like he had seen his father do thousands of times. Tiger’s mother Tida came to watch, and stood in amazement as her baby son, who could barely even stand, hit golf balls into the net with remarkable grace and precision.

Earl, a former soldier, soon began taking Tiger to the US Navy Golf Course near their home in Cypress, where most bystanders would initially scoff at the sight of the young Tiger on the course, and then watch in bewilderment as he swung his club so well.

At age two, Tiger displayed his prodigious golf skills on the television program The Mike Douglas Show, where he delighted audiences by putting against another golf-fanatic, comedian Bob Hope. By age three Tiger was playing half of full golf courses while hitting of the tees for each shot, and by age four he finished second place in a tournament against mostly ten and eleven year olds!

And all the while, Earl made sure he wasn’t forcing Tiger to play golf—in fact, it was Tiger who was constantly begging his father to take him to the golf course.

Delighted with his son’s interest in the sport, Earl was intent on molding him into a composed professional from a very young age. He soon began using a method of intentionally trying to distract Tiger while he was golfing, in order for the young golfer to exercise his focus and concentration. While this initially annoyed Tiger, he soon adapted and learned how to be impervious to external factors, and remain in a process-oriented state of mind.

The ever-experimenting Earl later bought Tiger audio tapes containing positive and upbeat messages with the background of soothing and relaxing sounds, in order to instill a positive and confident attitude in the young golfer.

As a youth, Tiger’s interest in golf continued to grow. He routinely spent hours per day practicing, he regularly watched golf on TV, and he frequently talked about and analyzed the sport with his father or anyone else who would listen. By age eight, he entered his first international tournament, and shocked observers with a poised and skilled first place finish against much older competition—a finish that even surpassed his father’s already lofty expectations.

Tiger continued playing in a wide variety of tournaments, many of which had significant travel expenses funded by his father. By age thirteen, he had won five Junior World Golf Championships, and was golf’s young phenom and rising star.

Tiger continued to surpass expectations as he moved on to more prestigious competitions, winning back-to-back-to-back US Junior Amateur Championships in 1991, 1992, and 1993, and then adding a US Amateur Championship in 1994. Many of these wins were thrilling last second finishes that added to creating a Tiger Woods buzz in the golf world.

After Tiger graduated from high school in 1994, many people speculated he would turn pro, but he instead opted to attend college and play golf for Stanford University. And as the reigning US Amateur Champion, he was also allowed to play in several professional golf tournaments while retaining his amateur status. Though Tiger did not win any of those tournaments, he did gain valuable experience.

Dealing with a demanding lifestyle of that included schoolwork, professional and amateur golf tournaments, constant hounding by the media, and even some racist threatening phone calls, Tiger remained undeterred, and managed to repeat as US Amateur Champion in 1995 and then again in 1996.

Then, with three consecutive US Junior Amateur titles followed by three consecutive US Amateur titles under his belt, Tiger felt the time had come. In a formal television broadcast, he announced his move to professional golf with two words: “Hello, World.”

Those two words would become part of the marketing blitz that sports footwear, apparel, and equipment manufacturer Nike used in their new line of Tiger Woods endorsed products, after signing an incredible $40 million endorsement deal with the new professional golfer. Tiger also added a $20 million deal with Titlist golf balls and clubs. The twenty-year-old golfer was suddenly a multi-millionaire superstar, before even playing his first hole as a pro.

In his first pro tournament, Tiger looked like a walking advertisement as he sported clothes that featured over a dozen Nike logos. However, his endorsement deals turned out to dwarf his tournament winnings, as he earned a paltry $2,544 for finishing tied for 60th place.

But Tiger made a quick and dramatic ascent from there, finishing eleventh, fifth, third, and then first in his following four tournaments. He then added an additional tournament win that year, and with two wins in just eight PGA tour events, was named PGA Rookie of the Year and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, despite joining the pro golf tour late in the season. Tiger Woods had already managed to exceed the astronomical expectations set for him in his early foray into pro golf.

But if his rookie year was successful, then his 1997 season was nothing short of legendary. After thorough preseason preparations, he won five PGA tournaments, including a victory at the prestigious Masters, where he set a new record with a score of 270. He also earned the number one official world golf ranking midway in that year, making him at age 21 by far the youngest golfer to ever achieve the position—the previous record holder being Bernhard Langer at age 29 in 1986. The PGA named Tiger Golf Player of the Year, and the Associated Press went a step further and made him their Male Athlete of the Year.

Then after going through a disappointing 1998 where he finished with one PGA tournament win and a number four ranking on the overall money list, Tiger adjusted his swing to be more simple and efficient, and also incorporated a new physical training program that helped him add twenty pounds of lean mass to his formerly slender body.

After making the changes, Tiger came roaring back with one of the most impressive two year runs in sports history, winning a whopping eight PGA tournaments in 1999, and adding nine more in 2000! Since then, he has won twenty two PGA tournaments from 2001-2005, and currently stands as the career victories leader among active PGA Tour players after completing a 2005 season that saw him once again finish first on the year’s overall money list.

And Tiger’s uniqueness, competitiveness, dominance, and charisma have also put him on a superstar level that rivals athletes such as Michael Jordan—in fact, Tiger is among the most recognizable people on earth, and is often accredited with bringing more revenue into golf than all of the other golfers combined!

Focus, concentration, poise, composure, toughness, grace, and calm in the face of adversity—these all describe Tiger Woods. He combines some of the best attributes of many of golf’s all time legends into one amazing package, and brings a comprehensive mastery that makes him a consistent winner in a sport where an athlete must beat a field of about a hundred other elite competitors to win a tournament, and where it is very easy to become frustrated when things go awry. And though like other golfers, Tiger has often had disastrous starts, he has on numerous occasions maintained his composure and poise as he turned a problem start into a stunning top finish.

“My main focus is on my game,” Tiger once said. And it is that process-aimed focus that has taken him to heights unseen in golf history, as Tiger continues to dominate the field and astonish fans with his stunning professionalism and pinpoint concentration.

Inspirational Athletes