Who is the greatest golfer of all time is a heated debate and the conversation typically revolves around two names, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Other greats such as Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Gary Player can also make legitimate claims to being in the conversation.
But this article is not about who is the greatest golfer ever to have played the game, but more about why we will probably never see another Tiger Woods.
With a history and background that is like no other golfer, Tiger Woods seemed destined for greatness at an early age. Tiger is up there with Michael Jordan as the greatest athlete of all time, and his level of play during the late 90s and 2000s cemented his position as perhaps the greatest golfer ever.
Tiger The One and Only
There’s one Tiger Woods video that every die-hard golf fan is familiar with, and that’s the clip of Tiger, aged two, appearing on the Mike Douglas Show with Bob Hope. Anyone who had the slightest idea about golf knew immediately that they had just witnessed greatness in the making.
Woods shot 48 for nine-holes at age three, and by the age of five, Tiger had already won more than a dozen trophies. Experts were stunned as it looked like Woods had the perfect golf swing, and he was still in diapers.
Tiger Woods was attempting to dominate a game that elite white men predominantly played. After capturing the US Junior Amateur Championships three years in a row, the dream of a minority player dominating the game started to look more and more likely.
Amazingly no player had ever captured more than one US Junior Amateur title, further cementing Wood’s reputation. Tiger subsequently went on to win the U.S. Amateur Championships for three years running and holds a 91% win rate for both tournaments.
By the time Tiger graduated from Stanford, he was undoubtedly the greatest amateur golfer of the modern era, and he had the record to prove it. Even if you put aside Tiger’s professional career, his amateur results alone are still enough to make him one of the best ever.
Destined for Greatness
Many golf fans might forget that although Tiger ended up winning the 97′ Masters by a whopping 12 shots, he actually shot 40 on the first nine and was floundering at four over. But we know how the story ended as Tiger dominated the final 63 holes, winning by the largest margin ever and making the Masters the highest rated T.V. event in PGA Tour history.
Tiger has since edged his way towards Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors, with Tiger now only three behind. Woods is also tied with Sam Snead on the all-time wins list with 82. Tiger has been the year’s best player ten times and remarkably held all four Majors at once, the only player ever to do so.
To top it all off, Tiger also has the lowest average score in history, averaging 68.17 and an astonishing 70.86 at Augusta National, commonly recognized as one of the most challenging courses in golf.
1996, The Best Season Of Golf
Those who love the game and follow golf religiously will never be able to forget how the game was played in the 90s. 1996, in particular, will be remembered as the year that changed the game of golf forever.
Why might you be asking? Well, to start with, Tiger made his PGA Tour debut and was immediately in contention in the four Majors with his first official start playing the Greater Milwaukee Open. 1996 is also the year my fellow countryman Greg Norman blew a significant lead and shot 78 in the final round to give Nick Faldo another Masters.
Despite his epic meltdown, The Great White Shark was still the most popular player on tour. Phil Mickelson sat atop the tournament’s wins list with four for the year. Two other notable players also dominated the 96’ season, with both Mark Brooks and Tom Lehman topping the prizemoney list.
Many experts also believed the 90s players lacked charm and appeal, such as those from the 80s like Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, and Lee Trevino. It was also the decade in which the vast majority of dominant players were from the U.S., and although there were some Europeans and Australians, they were few and far between.
Fast forward to today, and many of the best players on tour are internationals.
Nike and Tiger
Nike threw its hat into the golfing ring in 1995, launching their Nike Golf brand, which included everything from clubs and shoes to balls and clothing. Nike reportedly paid Tiger $40 million when they launched their Hello World T.V. commercial in 1995.
Apart from Michael Jordan, there’s never been another athlete who demanded so much attention from high-profile brands both in and out of the sporting arena. Young golfers like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith are undoubtedly great players and arguably the future of golf, yet they lack the X-factor of a Woods or M.J.
I highly doubt there will ever be another golfer who had the impact and changed the game the way Tiger did, and I definitely don’t see big-name brands signing golfers with the absurd numbers they offered Woods.
What About the Others?
Tiger is not the only legend of the game, with a handful of other names also worthy of being included in the conversation when it comes to the game’s best.
Take Sam Snead, who Tiger is tied with on the all-time wins list with 82 PGA victories. What about greats like Arnold Palmer or Gary Player, who dominated in their era, or even a Bobby Jones or Walter Hagan? The list of greats is exhaustive.
Then there’s Jack Nicklaus, who many consider to be the greatest golfer to play the game. The Golden Bear amassed 18 major championship victories, the most of any golfer. Although Tiger has fallen short of the major record, he did surpass Nicklaus’ 73 PGA wins.
Let’s not forget Tiger is still playing the game, so the possibility of winning three more majors is certainly not out of the question.
East Meets West
Tiger’s dad was the man behind the greatest player to have ever played. Earl Woods was a Green Beret who believed he was destined to raise a golfing prodigy.
From an early age, Earl ingrained in Tiger the importance of work ethic, confidence, routine, and, most importantly, appreciation for best procedural practices. It came across on the course; Tiger had a warlike psyche every time he teed it up.
On the contrary, Tiger’s mom Kultida instilled in her son the significance of being spiritually connected to the world around him. Kultida came from a religious background practicing Buddhism and felt the crossover to golf could significantly aid Tiger’s success. She taught Tiger there was more to life than golf and that showing self-control and pursuing happiness were life’s real treasures.
However, somewhere along the way, things obviously went drastically wrong for Tiger as the pressures of the game became too much. His very public meltdown will go down in history as the biggest fall from grace the game has ever seen.
Nevertheless, as they say, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your parents.” It’s almost an impossibility there will ever be another athlete with a parental combination like the Green Beret Earl and the philosophical Kultida Woods.
The Tiger Woods Workout
Ask anyone who was around or close to Woods back in his heyday, and they’ll tell you stories of his unparalleled work ethic. Hank Haney, who was Tiger’s long-time swing coach, reported that Tiger would run four miles at 6 am every morning, which is something many athletes do, you might be thinking; the difference was Tiger ran in combat boots.
Even Rory McIlroy is quoted as saying Tiger would constantly message him from the gym at all hours of the morning. But having undergone numerous surgeries now, even Tiger has admitted he can’t do half of what he used to and that if he had his time again, he wouldn’t have run the long distances day in day out.
Here’s a recent quote from Tiger talking about just how much work he used to put in daily.
“I would wake up, run four miles. Then hit the gym and get my lifting in. After that, I’d practice for 2 to 3 hours, then play 18 holes, come back, and practice my chipping and putting. After that, it was another four-mile run, followed by basketball or tennis. That was my daily practice. I can’t do half that now.”
Tiger’s insane daily practice routine
- A four-mile run wearing combat boots
- Weight session of heavy lifting
- Practicing for two or three hours
- Play 18 holes
- Practice chipping and putting
- Another four-mile run, followed by
- Basketball or tennis
Now I’ve coached and managed some of the best athletes in the world, and although they were incredibly hard workers and dedicated to their game, none came close to matching Tiger’s work ethic.
The 1997 Masters Performance
In 1997 Tiger changed the way the public viewed golf, which was being an elitist game played by rich white men. His win in the 1997 Masters was the first Major win by a player of multi-racial heritage.
But the 1997 Masters will also go down as one of the most incredible golfing performances and one of the most outstanding sporting performances ever. Winning by a stunning 12 shots, Tiger’s win was the largest of any Major in history. From there, Tiger Woods went on to dominate the game of golf with only Jack Nicklaus equaling his dominance.
T.V. ratings, tournament attendance, and the golfing industry as a whole experienced unprecedented levels of sales and growth during the Tiger era. People of different ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic brackets, and juniors flocked to the game in the U.S. and around the world.
Tiger’s dominant performance in the 1997 Masters was the catalyst for golf’s booming popularity from the 1990s forward.
Rebuilding a Winning Swing
What player in their right mind would fix a golf swing that isn’t broken, especially after just completing the most prominent Masters win in the modern era; Tiger Woods, that’s who.
Many experts point to another legendary golfer, Nick Faldo, who also rebuilt his swing, but it wasn’t after coming off the most dominant stretch the game had ever seen; I mean, Tiger had just won the Masters by 12 shots.
Tiger’s dominance was all made possible by the swing that he and his father had developed since the ripe age of two, when Tiger would imitate Earl’s swing using an old vacuum hose. Tiger knew his swing was good enough to break every record in the game, but he also knew it could be improved. In my opinion, this one decision to revamp his swing is what separates him from the rest.
Even at the highest levels, most athletes don’t have the foresight or boldness to completely rebuild their game. Tiger did, and it’s the single one factor that built the foundation for his success and supremacy. To me, when his competitors saw his decision to basically “start again,” it only further cemented his reputation as the greatest, and quite frankly, they probably feared him even more.
Woods turned to the well-known Butch Harmon to take on the task of improving a swing that many experts thought was already perfection. According to Harmon, Tiger had the swing to beat Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major titles, but Tiger didn’t just want to beat the record; he wanted to smash it. He’s not there yet, but as we’ve come to see over the past few years, you can never count Tiger Woods out.
Not only was Tiger better than every other golfer out there; he was considerably better, and in my opinion, his superiority over his competitors is only matched by the legendary Air Jordan.
Although Tiger has come crashing back to earth in recent years, the misfortunes and controversies can’t distract from what he’s achieved dominating golf from the junior ranks to the pros. Other talented golfers like Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler have shown glimpses of greatness, but not to the height and extent of Woods.
Among his peers, Tiger stands tall, and the vast majority of his competitors appreciate they’re playing in an era with quite possibly the greatest golfer the game has seen.
Tiger would often comment in press conferences that he was struggling and only brought his B game. Unfortunately, knowing Tiger was struggling did nothing to ease his competitor’s stress because they knew all too well that Tigers’ “B-Game” was superior to most of their A games.
The Final Hole
With so many other legends of the game, it’s tough to rank one great above the rest. Sam Snead, The Golden Bear, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player have all contributed to the game and played significant roles in growing golf’s popularity on and off the course.
Many experts believe Tiger is the best player ever to play the game; Personally, I’m not sure about that; but one thing I am confident about is there will never be another Tiger Woods.