22 years ago, August 28, 1996. Less than 72 hours after capturing his third straight U.S. Amateur title—in a third straight come-from-behind victory in the championship match—Woods held a press conference at Brown Deer Park. From behind a three-foot-tall podium adorned with the PGA TOUR logo, the 20-year-old Stanford undergrad announced he would be playing for a pay cheque that week in the Greater Milwaukee Open, competing on a sponsor’s exemption. This changed the game of golf forever, there is no second thought and statistics don’t lie.
Before Tiger entered professional golf, everyone was chasing the “Shark” Greg Norman. He had his persona and style, but where did he fail? He did not inspire people to play golf, he did not make more golfers, but he made money. Tiger, on the other hand, inspired a whole generation of golfers, which excited companies and brought endorsements. What Tiger did for golf is perhaps equivalent to or greater than what Michael Jordan did for basketball.
At the end of 1996, there were just ten golfers who had broken the $7 million mark in career earnings. Today, 218 golfers have earned at least that much in their careers, with 157 players exceeding $10 million in career earnings.
TV ratings are at an all-time high in 2018 even though Tiger last won a Major in 2008. At the Valspar Championship in March where he finished T-2, NBC delivered 6.913 million average viewers per minute (+201% year over- year) according to data released by The Nielsen Company. Coverage peaked at 8.874 million average viewers. Following the PGA Championship, CBS Sports announced that the average viewership was up a whopping 69% over Justin Thomas’s victory last year— the highest since 2009.
Before Tiger entered the professional arena, equipment innovations took place at a constant pace. Once he did, changes occurred more frequently. In 1996, the most selling driver was Callaway Big Bertha with a
253cc clubhead. Compare that to the game-changing TaylorMade M4 (2018) with a clubhead size of over 460cc. Clubmakers have therefore been forced to take charge with new products and increased competitiveness.
Endorsement deals for the golfers took a huge upward turn when Tiger became a professional golfer. Sample this: Nike never had a presence in golf; they launched ‘Nike Golf’ just for El Tigre who was, at the time, thought of as the best replacement for Michael Jordan as the most marketable— and the best—athlete in the world.
Woods inspired a whole new generation of golfers to be fit. He was as passionate about his fitness as he was about his swing. It goes without saying how many have followed in his footsteps since.
Woods’ driving distance off the tee was the talk of the town and made pros take their driving distance seriously and yes, their driving distance increased enormously. Where Tour pros averaged 265.3 yards in 1996, they have now reached a high of over 295.29 (295.79 in 2017). Currently among pros, Rory McIlroy—at 320.5 yards—holds the highest driving average.
LONGER COURSE DESIGNS
To accommodate today’s long hitters, courses have grown longer and bigger.
(Read more in the September issue of Golf Digest India. Download here.)