Tiger Woods makes history at the Masters – win at the 1997 golf tournament

Tiger Woods makes history at the Masters – win at the 1997 golf tournament – Cover Story

Golf sensation Tiger Woods has become the talk of the sports world–and the talk of the world–with his history-making win at The Masters.

Woods, who is only 21 years old, recently became the youngest winner of the prestigious Masters golf tournament in Augusta, GA, and the first Black to claim a major professional golf championship.

Woods finished at 18-under-par 270 at the Masters to earn the tournament’s traditional Green Jacket and the $486,000 first-place prize.

His 12-stroke victory over Tom Kite was not only a Masters record by three strokes, but the greatest winning margin in any of the four major golf events since Tom Morris Sr. won in the 1862 British Open by 13 strokes.

Prior to the Masters, the confident 6-foot-2, 155-pound golfer who grew up playing golf in Cypress, CA, described his chances of winning the famous championship. “I always say that I don’t care what anyone says, whether it’s the media, family, friends or anybody else–I know what I want to do, and I’m going to go out there and try and do it.”

He said after his victory, “I busted my tail to get ready for this tournament. I was pretty confident in my ability, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot at Augusta. You still have to perform, and this golf course can take anybody who’s confident and humble them quickly.”

His spectacular win is bigger than sports and is a major breakthrough for Blacks. His victory recalls the spirit and pride of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in major league baseball 50 years ago to the week of Woods’ victory.

Observers also note that Woods’ victory has a similar historical impact as Jesse Owens’ win at the 1936 Olympics, Joe Louis’ beating Max Schmeling and Arthur Ashe’s being the first Black man to win the Wimbledon tennis championship in 1975.

During a news conference after his historic win, Woods credited earlier Black players such as Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford, who paved the way for him.

“I was the first one to ever win,” he said just before slipping on the tournament’s Green Jacket over a red sweater, “but I wasn’t the pioneer.”

Woods said, “Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Ted Rhodes–those are the guys who paved the way for me. I was thinking about them last night and what they’ve done for me and the game of golf.” He recalled, “Coming up 18, I said a little prayer of thanks to those guys. Those guys are the ones who did it.”

Woods noted, “(Elder) was the first one I look up to. Because of what he did, I was able to play here.”

Woods, who has been called “the new king of golf,” noted, “It was an amazing week. I’ve always dreamed of playing The Masters and winning it. And I was able to do that.”

Woods said he hopes his spectacular win will open doors and opportunities for all minority golfers. “It’s going to open up a lot of doors, a lot of opportunities, and draw a lot of people into golf who never thought of playing the game. On this stage and this kind of media, I think it’s going to do a lot for the game as far as minority golf is concerned.”

He added, “I think I understand why the big guy up in the sky has given me some of these talents, and I think the main reason is to help people.”

The new champion continued, “I’m in a very unique position where a lot of kids look up to me just because I’m around their age group. And I think if I can influence their lives in a positive way, then I believe that’s what the big guy in the sky had intended for me.”

His win is even more impressive because he won the prestigious golf championship at a predominantly White club, the Augusta National, which only has two Black members.

The club’s founder, Clifford Roberts, reportedly once commented many years ago: “As long as I live well have nothing but Black caddies and White players,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Black golf pioneer Lee Elder, who became the first Black man allowed to play in The Masters in 1975, cried tears of joy as Woods won the championship.

“It just goes to show you how long it takes sometimes to accomplish certain things,” Elder said.

Elder added, “After today, we’ll have a situation where no one will turn his head when a Black man walks to the first tee. I knew that somewhere along the line, I’d come back to witness an event like this. This is of great significance for me and my life.”

Elder also noted, “When I played here, the world wasn’t ready to accept a Black champion. (Woods) would have needed armed guards to get to the first tee if he’d have done this in my time. Today, he’ll be accepted by all of society.”

Another Black golf pioneer, Charlie Sifford, said from his home in Houston, TX, that Woods’ victory is “a wonderful thing for golf–never mind the racial thing,” he told the New York Times. He says watching Woods is like watching his grandson, and noted, “This is the kid who’s doing what I wanted to do, but never had the chance to do.”

Woods’ proud father, Earl Woods, who introduced him to golf as a child, said, “I predicted this. I told (PGA Tour Commissioner) Tim Finchman Wednesday that Tiger would win, and he looked at me like I was crazy. I knew it would happen a long time ago. For his sake and for the sake of all other young kids out there, it really feels good. I’m so proud of him. Nobody gave him anything. He went out there and brought the course to its knees.”

Woods’ father added, “His length is advantageous, and as he matures, his game will get better and better. He’s going to get longer off the tee. He’ll get more comfortable and familiar with this course each year as he plays it.”

After making the final putt, Woods walked up the 18th green and hugged his father and mother, Kultida Woods, as he cried tears of joy.

“I think more than anything I was relieved that it was over. I think every time I hug my mom and pop after a tournament, it’s over. I accomplished my goal.”

Woods told “Good Morning America” that there’s nothing better than having his parents there to share his success with him. “Being able to share it with them, those are your parents, the only two you’ll ever have….I started crying uncontrollably, and my dad did too, and my mom was crying. I still get a little weak right now just talking about it.”

His mother told reporters, “Every mother thinks her child is special, no matter what they do. Tiger first swung a club when he was only six months old.”

Woods told “Good Morning America” that his father’s support and inspiration were key in his winning the famous championship.

He remembers his father giving him some good advice during the tournament. “Dad and I had a heart to heart talk about just life in general, and the tournament,” Woods told “Good Morning America.”

“I was just leaving the room and my dad says, `Hey son, wait a minute.’ He says, `Son, one thing: tomorrow, when you go out there, it’s going to be the hardest–one of the hardest rounds of your life, but if you just be yourself, stay cool, it will be one of the most rewarding rounds of your life.’ And that meant a lot,” Woods recalled.

Woods, whose name is Eldrick, was nicknamed “Tiger” after a Vietnamese soldier who was his father’s buddy.

A child prodigy, young Tiger at age 2, competed in a putting contest with legendary entertainer Bob Hope on the Mike Douglas TV show and won. He literally picked up the game as a toddler by watching from a high chair as his father, a former Army lieutenant colonel, hit golf balls into a net in his garage. By the time he was 3, he shot 48 for 9 holes.

His many other remarkable achievements include three consecutive U.S. Golf Association junior titles; three U.S. Amateur championships; 1996 winner of the Las Vegas Invitational, Walt Disney/ Oldsmobile Classic and the 1997 winner of the Mercedes Championship.

President Clinton telephoned Woods after his Masters victory. “He said he was proud of the way I played,” Woods recalled. “He said the best shot he saw all week was the shot of me (on TV) hugging my dad.”

More than 8.3 million people tuned in to CBS-TV to witness Woods’ history-making win, which was a record viewership for the Masters.

Woods has earned some $1.8 million since he turned professional in August and will earn an estimated $40 million from his endorsement deal with Nike.

His win has naturally impressed his competitors, including six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus, who finished 29 strokes behind Woods. “He’s playing a golf course he’ll own for a long time. This young man will win many more. It’s not my turn anymore. It’s his.”

Though he has mastered the magnificent Masters, Woods is not one to rest on his laurels.

Looking ahead, the golf phenomenon says, “My goal is to always be the best. It’s a lofty goal, but if I always try, then I’ve done my best.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group