VEDRA PONTE BEACH, FLORIDA – Gary Woodland was a standout on the baseball field and the basketball court as a kid growing up in Kansas’ plains.
He also held his own on the golf field. While his proud community of Topeka knew what he could accomplish with a baseball and a basketball back in the mid-1990s, few knew what he could do with a golf ball.
“Golf wasn’t my thing. And I did it all by myself,” Woodland explained.
Then, at the 1997 Masters, Tiger Woods erupted onto the screen.
Woodland, who has won four PGA Tour titles, including the 2019 U.S. Open, said, “I was going to be 13 and it was the first golf tournament I ever paid attention to.” “I bought the VHS tape, and I’ve watched it 400 times.”
“It was a watershed moment for me.” Tiger brought a new level of cool to the game. He was fast, he was dynamic, and he could hit the golf ball a long way. I didn’t have to hide when playing golf. But, all of a sudden, I didn’t have to limit myself to being a basketball or baseball player. I could picture myself as a golfer. That was enjoyable.
“And Tiger was the one who did it.”
He went above and above. When Woods was two years old, the mixed-race boy from a middle-class family waddled onto the stage of The Mike Douglas Show and dazzled Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and the host by putting golf balls into a net, the public got their first look of him.
He became the needle that moved all things golf less than 20 years later and was must-watch TV. Woods led the Tour’s money list in 1997 with little over $2 million; the winner of this week’s Players Championship will take home $3.6 million. The number of people watching television increased dramatically. The energy on Madison Avenue was palpable. Think of the swoosh when you think of the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe. The game’s calling became power. Minorities began to believe they had a chance to participate in the game.
Since then, young people all across the world have tried to emulate him, while his peers have followed him into the gym.
Woods didn’t only make his mark on the old stately game; he completely transformed it. His induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Wednesday night at PGA Tour headquarters, where he’ll be greeted by his 14-year-old daughter, Sam, will be a testament to his talent both inside and outside the gallery lines.
Billy Horschel, a six-time Tour winner and 2014 FedEx Cup champion, stated, “He’s done everything for the game.” “There isn’t a single component of the game that he hasn’t influenced in some way.”
Woods’ accomplishments on courses around the world will be well recounted on his plaque, however there will be insufficient room. There are 82 PGA Tour titles, 15 major championships, a record 142 consecutive cuts, a record 683 weeks – 13 years – at the top of the official world rankings, and a record 11 PGA Tour Player of the Year Awards.
He won the US Open by 15 strokes in 2000, the Masters by 12 strokes in 1997, the Open Championship by 8 strokes in 2000, and the PGA Championship by 5 strokes in 2006. He became the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam when he won the 2000 Open on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, the Home of Golf, at the age of 24.
He won the 2001 Masters less than a year later, becoming the first player in professional golf history to win four majors in a row. It’s most commonly referred to as the Tiger Slam.
He also won the 2008 U.S. Open despite a broken leg and won his fifth Masters in 2019 after spinal fusion surgery (his fifth back surgery, to go along with five surgeries on his left knee).
And Woods will tell you that the best times he’s ever had on the golf course since turning pro occurred the past two years, when he competed in the PNC Championship with his 13-year-old son, Charlie.
Off the course, his lauded work can be seen at the TGR Learning Lab, located at 1 Tiger Woods Way in Anaheim, California, a brick-and-mortar behemoth of educational opportunity constructed by his foundation, which has raised millions of dollars for a variety of charities over the years. The Learning Lab, which opened in 2006, is the cornerstone of his mission to offer a safe environment for children to study, explore, and grow.
If you ask those youngsters, they’ll offer you a variety of reasons why he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
As the years have passed and the injuries have taken their toll, a new Woods has arisen as the game’s elder statesman. For the most part, the once intense player who kept to himself and kept his thoughts close to his chest has broadened his audience and been more open with his counsel and assistance.
Many young players, notably Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, have taken to him. When he was a playing captain for the USA’s Presidents Cup victory in 2019, the players were ecstatic and pleased to play for him.
For the first time, the world’s top five players are all under 30 years old.
Woods is still recovering from a near-fatal one-car accident in the Los Angeles region in February 2021. If he returns to the PGA Tour, it will be on a part-time basis. We were fortunate to witness Woods at his peak. We’d be lucky if he showed up again.
Certainly, his peers hope so.
“He came out on top.” It was simply a different game. And what he’s done for the Tour is undeniable,” said Brandt Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion and nine-time Tour winner. “Without him, the Tour would not be where it is now.”
“He’s been an incredible sports legend, and having him in golf has been critical to the sport’s growth.” He owes a big debt of gratitude to every player on the Tour.”