Thursday, August 29, 1996, 25 years ago today. Hole one of the Brown Deer Park Golf Course, in Glendale (United States). First day of the Greater Milwaukee Open. The legend begins to be written with a 336-yard drive. It is the professional debut of Tiger Woods, then a 20-year-old young man who has already become a millionaire celebrity for his historic successes as an amateur, golf genius and commercial vein; today a 45-year-old myth who struggles to recover from a terrible fracture of his right leg, to go back to playing as if he were that child.
“Hello World. They say I’m not ready for you Are you ready for me? Tiger was already a star before jumping into professionalism. With that phrase ended a shocking television advertisement for Nike aired a few days earlier. On Sunday, August 25, Tiger Woods was playing his final round as a rookie. It was to conquer his third consecutive amateur US Open, a record never seen before. Two days later, he publicly announced that he was turning professional. The following day, the Wednesday before his debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open, he gave a massive press conference. “Hello, world.” “Hello world,” he said as soon as he approached the microphone. The advertising machine was already working at full capacity. In fact, Nike had bathed him in gold with a $ 40 million, five-year contract before he even struck his first pro hit. At the time, the top earning golfer from a sponsorship was Greg Norman: Reebok paid him $ 2 million per course.
Woods had four shots under par in that first round. On Sunday he made a hole in one, at par three of 14. He finished the tournament in 60th place and won $ 2,544 – in his debut in the elite, Jack Nicklaus took 33. Less than two months later, Tiger claimed his first title on the circuit, in Las Vegas. And in April of the following year, the revolution, his victory at the Augusta Masters, his first great. By then his father, Earl, a green beret who had instructed him in the game since he was two years old as if there was nothing else in the world, repeated over and over again that his son had a double mission in life, not just to be the best player of all time, but also to influence humanity like no other political or social leader. Tiger was the chosen one, the predestined.
In truth, what started today 25 years ago and certified in that glorious 1997 Masters was the greatest change that any athlete has ever caused in a sport. Tiger forever rewrote golf. At all levels: economic, advertising, physical, technical, psychological, social … He was the first black player to win the Masters. It opened up gyms to an entire generation. Increased the distances the ball flies. It skyrocketed television revenues and audiences. He managed that from his debut until today the tournament prizes have been multiplied by five … A trip to another dimension.
Jon Rahm was under two years old when Tiger made his professional debut. The Basque, today world number one, explains to EL PAÍS the weight of Woods’ legacy: “It is difficult to put it into words. Tiger put golf at such a high level … The money we play for is thanks to him. If you see the prizes that each tournament had when he started and those that are now [el Players por ejemplo repartía 3,5 millones y hoy son 15], it is unique. It is the reason why at my age, 26 years old, my children, surely, and surely also the children of their children do not have any financial problem. My family is not going to have to worry about money because I can do what I like at such a high level and win what we earn, which is incredible, thanks to Tiger, the first golfer to be recognized as an athlete globally. . The name of Tiger Woods is known in all parts of the world. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer … in some parts they will not know who they are, but Tiger Woods, like Maradona, Messi, Michael Jordan, LeBron, Phelps … Their presence in a tournament makes everything different. Even today, without playing, it has a tremendous impact. Golf is what it is today thanks to what he did years ago, and my generation has grown up trying to copy what he did ”.
The myth built an empire: 15 greats, 82 victories on the American circuit, the first athlete to exceed 1,000 million dollars in earnings. But he also fell into hell, a victim of his own greatness. The obsession with physical preparation pushed her body to push the limits. Injuries arrived. And operations. Five on the back and five on the knee. Also personal problems, a marital scandal due to his addiction to sex, dependence on pain medications, an arrest when he was driving with medication … Withdrawals. Months off.
For any mortal it would have been the end. But Tiger was saving a last (or penultimate) resurrection. In April 2019, 11 years after his previous great, he won the Augusta Masters in one of the most spectacular comebacks in the history of the sport. The whole world fell at his feet again. And he felt sorry for him again when on February 23, Woods suffered a car accident in Los Angeles that sent him back to the operating room to undergo multiple fractures in the tibia and fibula of his right leg.
Secrecy about his state of health reigns ever since. Just a few images of Tiger on crutches have emerged, and a confession last May: “This is the most painful thing I have ever suffered.” It is also known that he found Phil Mickelson’s victory in the PGA Championship at the age of 50 “inspiring.” At 45, however, today it seems like a miracle that Tiger can get back to playing golf competitively.
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