Simply put, Tiger Woods revolutionized the game of golf. He was like no one the game had ever seen, and the masses flocked to watch him play- no, change- the game of golf.
Woods was on television playing golf as a toddler, became the first man ever to win the US Junior amateur multiple times, won the US amateur at a younger age than anyone previously, and stormed onto the PGA Tour in a cyclone.
Woods’ fist-pumping, energetic, aggressive style sent PGA Tour veterans cowering in the corner, and Woods told the world he was here to stay right off the bat with a record-shattering 12-stroke victory in the 1997 Masters.
Woods, then 21, came onto the pro circuit and absolutely embarrassed the field in golf’s most prestigious tournament. Almost immediately thereafter, Augusta National, the host course, began making drastic changes in an effort to “Tiger-proof” the golf course, so such a beatdown wouldn’t happen again.
Spoiler alert: it did. Woods has won there three times since.
And did I mention that Woods is black? In a game where rich white men historically trotted around the course with blacks allowed only to caddie, Woods rocked their world by not only making it on tour, but by owning it.
That same course that implemented structural changes to prevent Tiger from winning didn’t allow black members until 1990, just six years before Tiger made it on tour. It refused women until 2012.
There will never be another player like Tiger Woods. He was so different, so revolutionary, so dominant, so intense; he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player that the world has never seen before and may never see again. Personally, there will never be another player that I idolize more or root for harder. No golfer in my lifetime has ever captured audiences more thoroughly than Eldrick Woods, and for me, none ever will.
Which is why it hurts me so much to realize that it’s all over.
Tiger Woods will not win another major championship. He’s won 14 of them, and ten years ago, it wasn’t a question of if, but rather when, Tiger would break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
Too much has changed, too much has gone down for Tiger to be the player and the man he once was, and there are six specific reasons why.
This one is obvious: Tiger isn’t getting any younger. Now 38 years old, he’s entering the end of his prime as a golfer. Can he be competitive for several more years? Of course. Jack won at Augusta when he was 46, and Phil Mickelson continues to play at a high level into his 40s.
But with that said, the list of current 40+ players winning regularly is very, very short, if it exists at all.
This is closely tied to age, and is much more detrimental to Tiger’s ability. While age is just a number, a bad back is anything but, and that is what ails Woods right now. The knee seems to be fine, but now the back is giving Tiger fits. This type of injury can linger, and derail anyone’s career.
Did Tiger Woods have the best golf swing when he arrived on tour? Maybe. Did he have the best mental game? Without a shadow of a doubt.
Woods’ advantage was between his ears, as well as between the ears of his competitors. In the early 2000s, when Tiger was plowing through the world’s best players with ease, everyone in the field believed it was Tiger Woods’ championship to win. He had a killer instinct and a will to win that was unparalleled, making him a terrifying competitor with ferocious intensity.
Now, he lacks that same confidence. I’m not sure anyone believes Tiger can win on a weekly basis anymore, and his own failures have allowed doubt to creep in. No golfer can win unless he believes he can.
When Tiger was at his best, he never missed clutch putts. Every putt that had to go in did just that, and at one point he had a streak of something like 1,000 straight putts made inside three feet.
That was before he changed putters. I can’t fault Woods for doing so- the money thrown at him for going to the Nike Method he now uses must have been ridiculous. But since switching from the Scotty Cameron putter he won 13 majors with, he hasn’t won another.
I think the Indian, and not the arrow, is at fault here, but the switch had to rattle Tiger’s confidence even further.
5. New swing
First of all, I think that Tiger’s swing is just as good now as it was when he was winning. However, it isn’t his swing.
Tiger grew up on tour taking wild lashes at the ball, playing a draw on nearly every shot. Now, he’s toned it down for more control, opting for a fade instead.
I like his new swing- it’s more fundamentally sound and will produce more consistently- for most players. But this is Tiger Woods we’re talking about- I’m not sure firing Butch Harmon and switching to Sean Foley as his swing coach was the best move for him.
6. Strength of competition
The PGA Tour has evolved since Tiger got on tour- a great example of this is the purse size, or earnings for players who make the cut in a tournament. Tiger’s first major win- the 1997 Masters- had a purse of $2.7 million, with $486,000 going to the champion.
In 2013, Adam Scott made just shy of $1.5 million for winning, with the total purse being $8 million.
Now, not all of this can be attributed to Woods, but he’s certainly had a hand in popularizing the game throughout the last 20 years. His own doing may be his undoing- as popularity and money have increased, so has his competition. The players are better, parity is at an all-time high, and anyone can win on any given week making it harder for Tiger to do so.
Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major since 2008, when he topped Rocco Mediate and the rest of the US Open field on one leg, limping around Torrey Pines in a stoic manner, determined to get it done at all costs.
Since that day, we haven’t seen that same Tiger- only glimpses of what he once was.
There have been so many moments in Tiger’s career that have left is in shock and awe, that gave us no option but to rise to our feet in amazement. From the ace at 16 in the Arizona desert to the gutty US Open win at Torrey, and everything in between (a certain Augusta chip-in comes to mind), Tiger has been nothing short of unbelievable.
Until he prowls down the 18th fairway, wearing red, tied for the lead once again, I’ll be left with no more than memories of what it was once like to watch the man they call Tiger.