One of the most dramatic moments in golf occurred on April 13, 1997. On that day, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, at the young age of 21, won the prestigious Masters golf tournament. Not only was Woods the youngest ever to perform the feat, Woods’ score of 270 set a record for the tournament. His victory was also seen by many as a symbolic victory over years of racism in the sport of golf, and U.S. society in general. Woods’ victory in 1997 came just two days after the fiftieth anniversary of the day American baseball players broke the colour barrier in professional baseball. Also, Woods’ victory came in a sport long recognized for racial exclusion. The Augusta National Golf Club excluded blacks from playing in the Masters tournament until 1975, and the Professional Golfers Association only removed its “Caucasians only” rule in 1961.
Woods was born in the state of Florida in 1975. He rose to fame quickly, winning the US amateur tournament from 1994-96, National Collegiate Athletic Association champion in 1996, and US Junior championship from 1991-1993. In the first year that Woods turned professional, it is estimated that over $650 million (U.S.) in extra revenue was generated in golf. Television ratings soared in the sport, and the Professional Golfers Association negotiated huge contracts with American television networks as a result of Woods’ fame.
Woods has also negotiated record-breaking private sponsorship deals with major firms such as Nike, Buick, Titleist, American Express, and many others. In fact, Woods negotiated deals in the millions even before he turned professional. Truly an international sports celebrity, Woods sees himself as someone destined not only to be a great athlete, but also a person who will have some significant social or political impact on the world. It is not clear, however, what that impact will be. But there is little question that he will be one of the, if not the, richest athletes in history. Woods is destined not just to be a multi-millionaire, but a billionaire.
Heralded by some as the first black champion in a traditionally racially secluded sport, he has also been received more cautiously by those who see the limitations of using black sports stars as role models for youth. Only a tiny fraction of African Americans have even a remote chance of becoming sports stars in any sport, especially golf. The odds, in fact, are so small that there is a much greater chance of winning a lottery.
However, by some accounts as many as 80% of African American youth aspire to make a living from playing sports. Meanwhile, 45% of African American children live below the poverty line in the U.S.
If the trajectory of Woods’ career continue on its current path, it is possible he will satisfy his father’s wishes for Tiger: “to make an impact on the world… it will be spiritual and humanitarian and will transcend the world of golf.”