YEAR OF THE TIGER
APRIL 14, 1997
On his way to winning his first Masters, 21-year-old golfer Tiger Woods shattered several Professional Golf Association (PGA) records. His play has electrified a sport best known for its stodgy players and poor fashion sense. Following a background report by Betty Ann Bowser, Jim Lehrer discusses the Tiger Woods phenomenom with sports author John Feinstein.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: From the moment the tournament started all eyes in the galleries were on 21-year-old Tiger Woods. (crowd cheering) And Woods didn't let his fans down. Yesterday he shattered all kinds of records, the youngest person ever to win the Masters, first African-American and Asian to win major golf tournament.
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His score of 270 over four rounds is the lowest in the history of the Masters tournament. And his 12 stroke-victory over the second place finisher is the greatest winning margin since 1862.
Woods tearfully embraced his father and his Asian-born mother, Tita, who had groomed him since early childhood for this moment. The winner of last year's Master's, Nick Saldo, awarded Woods with the signature green blazer. Setting records is nothing new to Woods. He won his first golf tournament at the age of eight. And at 15 he became the youngest golfer to win the U.S. Junior National Championship.
SPOKESMAN: Amateur Tiger Woods.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He then went on to become the first African-American and youngest golfer ever to win the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. He did so three years in a row. Last August, Woods decided to leave Stanford University, where he had majored in economics, to turn pro. Almost instantly he signed--Soon even non-golfers became familiar with his big smile and his legendary swing.
Woods was named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated Magazine. Newsweek called him a $60 million prodigy, and this month's GQ Magazine says promoters referred to him as sports next Messiah. But what Woods has accomplished in the record books is only part of the story. He is also credited with bringing new energy and new fans to a sport long thought of as a game for privileged white men. NIKE is using the Tiger phenomenon to market the sport to a whole new generation of youngsters from all ethnic and economic backgrounds. Last year in Denver more minority children than ever before enrolled in the city's junior golf program. Over 650 kids between the ages of nine and seventeen took part in the six-week summer course designed to introduce them to the sport and then hone their skills. They play on public courses with clubs that have been donated and cut down to size.
CHILD: It's challenging.
CHILD: It's also an individual sport, so, you know it's all based on you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Justin Tafoya started hitting golf balls when he was three. Now 11, he and his seven year old brother, Josh, want to be professional golfers when they grow up, and their role model is Tiger Woods.
JUSTIN TAFOYA, 11-year-old Golfer: I think Tiger Woods inspires me because he's a young player, and I actually want to be a little better than him.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Almost all of these young golfers said Tiger Woods proves that anybody can be successful, whether it's on the golf course or in everyday life.
TERRELL JUNIEL, 11-year-old Golfer: He's a good role model for young golfers my age, and I'm gonna--and I want to be like him, if not better.
MERRITT KANAN, 11-year-old Golfer: Anybody can accomplish a lot at a young age. Anybody can be a golfer or be whatever they want, and, you know, it doesn't have anything to do with your social background or your class.
TYLER BADEN, 11-year-old Golfer: Anyone could play like Tiger Woods or, you know, be like him or become a pro like him.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And even if everyone can't exactly play like him, Tiger Woods has certain inspired enthusiasm in golfers of all ages.
JIM LEHRER: Now more on the Tiger Woods story and to sports author and commentator John Feinstein. Among his books, A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour. John, good to see you.
JOHN FEINSTEIN, Author: Thanks, Jim. Good to be here.
JIM LEHRER: How great a golfer is Tiger Woods?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: I've been trying to think for the last 24 hours of an analogy that you could say it's like a rookie in baseball hitting 600; it's like someone running for President at 25, even though you're not eligible till you're 35, and winning with 80 percent of the vote. It's just beyond any realm that we've seen before. There really is nothing--there's nothing in golf to compare it to--winning your first major championship as a pro by 12 shots--you know, 1862 was the last time we had a margin like this. It's only 135 years.
JIM LEHRER: What is there about the way he plays golf? Now, remember, you're talking to one person in particular but maybe to a lot of other people out there who don't play golf, so what is there about the way he does it that makes it so good?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, first of all, he has a unique swing, in that he's not that big. He weighs about 160, but he generates such extraordinary club speed, with coordination, all of us can generate club speed, but he does it and hits the ball absolutely dead solid perfect almost every time. And in spite of his size he's hitting the ball fifty, sixty, seventy yards farther than the--not than an average player, the best player in the world.
JIM LEHRER: And that isn't strength in the arms--
JOHN FEINSTEIN: No.
JIM LEHRER: --or muscles or any of that.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: No. That is--that's a skill. John Daley swings harder--
JIM LEHRER: Who's John Daley?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: John Daley was the longest hitting guy on the tour. He's won two major championships. He's a troubled guy who's now in alcohol rehab. But he swings much harder than Tiger Woods, but he can't hit the ball as straight or as consistently, and he can't chip and putt, and more important than that--
JIM LEHRER: Now chip and putt--chip is what you do when you're--
JOHN FEINSTEIN: When you're around the green.
JIM LEHRER: You have to chip up to get onto the green, and putt is what you do when you hit the ball into the--
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Exactly right.
JIM LEHRER: --into the hole.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, sometimes putt is what you do when you don't get it into the hole. That's my problem.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: But the point is that he also has a unique mental drive. And where that comes from we don't know. A lot of people say it's his parents, his father, driving him since he was a child. I don't necessarily buy into that, because there are a lot of pushy parents in the world who want their kids to become champions and millionaires. I guarantee there are fathers and mothers out there today putting two irons in their children's hands, saying, you're going to be the next Tiger Woods. They're not going to be.
JIM LEHRER: Is there a--was there a particular coach that he had, or some element of training that he had early on that caused this to happen?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, again, his father did start him very early, as the piece mentioned. He was on the Mike Douglas show hitting golf balls when he was three years old. I mean, this is a prodigy type thing. This is like Mozart writing his first symphony when he was six, that sort of thing, and he did show unique ability right from the beginning. And his life has been channeled into being a pro. His father has devoted his life to bringing him to this point. His father hasn't worked full-time since 1988. That's what it's been all about. But, again, you have to get back to the fact that if Tiger didn't have the drive and the talent, nothing his father could do would make him what he is today.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now the effect that this has had, what happened, his winning the Masters, on the game of golf, and the significance that it happened at the Masters, at that Augusta place. Put us into the history of that.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, let's go back to the 1960's, when there were some very good black golfers on the PGA tour. The Masters is an invitational. None of them were ever invited to play in the Masters. It was only in 1972, when the rules were changed to say that if a golfer won a PGA tour event, he had to be invited to the Masters, that we had African-Americans in the Masters. Lee Elderman in 1975, which isn't that long ago, was the first African-American to compete there. As recently as 1990 there was an incident in Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Alabama, where the owner of the club three months before the PGA championship, another major tournament, was held, said that in Birmingham a black man simply wouldn't apply for membership at Shoal Creek. "That wouldn't happen in Birmingham, Alabama." And there was a firestorm around this comment which also led to the tournament being moved, and the players--this was only seven years ago--showed remarkable insensitivity back then. Payne Stewart, who was the defending champion, came into a press conference the day before the tournament started and said that "the players are joking about this in the locker room." To them, it was no big deal that a club would be that exclusionary. And that's only seven years ago.
JIM LEHRER: Is the game of golf basically exclusionary?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: It's getting to be less so. Since Shoal Creek now, for example, governing bodies of golf have insisted that to host a tournament, whether it's something like the Masters or the Kemper Open that we have here in Washington, a club must have minority membership. Now, that involves some tokenism, but it also involves some slow progress. And that's what we're talking about. We're talking about glacial progress here, not revolutionary type progress.
JIM LEHRER: Does Tiger Woods make it more revolutionary?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: He speeds it up considerably, and I thought the neatest moment yesterday was when the chairman of Augusta National, Jack Stevens, stood up and led a standing ovation for Tiger Woods during the awards ceremony. Usually during those ceremonies the members of Augusta don't get off their chairs, but I think they felt that it was the right thing to do, to say not only are you now an honorary member of our club as Masters champion, but we welcome you. And I think that was very important.
JIM LEHRER: Well, I was reading today that there's one thing that not even Tiger Woods can change, and that it's very expensive to play golf. I mean, it costs $500 for a set of golf clubs.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: You're not going to get one that cheap, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: All right. It's still--it's for the leisure class, is it not?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: It is still a big problem and it's a socioeconomic problem. All these kids can say I want to be like Tiger Woods, but it takes a lot of money not only to get started--you can give secondhand clubs to a kid and get him or her started--but then you've got to get them onto golf courses, and you've got to get them lessons, and once they show potential, you've got to travel with them. And the costs can be very prohibitive.
JIM LEHRER: Do you play golf?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Badly.
JIM LEHRER: What's the attraction?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: I think it is--there's a couple of things, camaraderie; you enjoy being out on the golf course with your friends. It's a very esthetic sport. When you're playing it, you're in a beautiful place, surrounded by trees or water, depending where you are, and it's a challenge to yourself, because only you can beat you. Someone isn't going to throw a fast ball by you; someone isn't going to ace you with a serve. Either you get it in the hole, or you don't get it in the hole. And that's the very best thing about golf and the very worst thing about golf.
JIM LEHRER: Woodrow Wilson said it was the art of taking an insignificant ball, placing it in an inaccessible hole with insufficient implements. Do you agree?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: He was 100 percent correct, especially when you have insufficient talent, which is what most of us have.
JIM LEHRER: John, thank you very much.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Jim.