For two decades, Tiger Woods has owned the conversation in the golf world. Between his on-course successes and personal life disasters, he is the most notorious golfer of all time. This is the story of his historic rise to fame and meteoric fall back to the mean.
The Name’s Eldrick
Eldrick Tont Woods was born on December 30, 1975, in Cypress, California to Earl and Kultida Woods. Once the world’s greatest golfer, Tiger’s life was quickly derailed by marital problems and a run in with the law.
Where Did Tiger Come From?
Earl called Eldrick “Tiger” from an early age but was not the first person on which he bestowed this nickname. While serving in Vietnam, Earl befriended a soldier named Vuong Dang Phong. Earl referred to him as Tiger, repurposing the name for his son in honor of his friend. It was during his service in Southeast Asia that Earl met Kultida, a native of Thailand. Earl retired from the Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Start ‘Em While They Are Young
While growing up in Orange County, Tiger was introduced to golf at the ripe age of two. Most kids his age were playing with blocks as he was working on his short game. Earl was a single-handicap golfer himself and would bring young Tiger along on his rounds. As an active military member, Earl had access to the Navy golf course in Los Alamitos, so Tiger had an extensive exposure to the game.
A Star In The Making
It did not take long for Tiger to make his first television appearance. Tiger and Earl were invited to appear on The Mike Douglas Show, a popular national daytime talk show after Douglas saw Tiger in a feature about kids at the driving range. Two-year-old Tiger had a putting contest with comedian Bob Hope, another one of the show’s guests. After putting two shots past the cup, Tiger picked one up and placed it next to the cup.
Pops Takes a Backseat
It is the dream of every child athlete to top their parents in any competition. Even family game nights can be contentious. Earl was a former college baseball player and happened to be a solid golfer himself. As a single-digit handicap, he repeatedly beat young Tiger – until he did not. Tiger first beat Earl as an 11-year-old and never looked back. He never lost another round of golf to the elder Woods.
Hit It Hard
As a thirteen-year-old, Tiger had one of his earliest experiences playing with professionals. He was paired with then 22-year-old John Daly in the 1989 Insurance Youth Golf Classic. Daly was known for his booming drives and anti-country club appearance. Tiger was beating him by two strokes after nine holes before Daly birdied three of the last four holes to beat him by one stroke. Daly would go on to win the PGA Championship just two years later.
A Non-Perfect Prodigy
In 2015, Woods revealed that he struggled with a stutter as a child. In response to a Golf Digest story on a boy with a stutter that reached out to stuttering LPGA golfer Sophie Gustafson, Tiger reached out to the boy. “I also stuttered as a child, and I would talk to my dog, and he would sit there and listen until he fell asleep. I also took a class for two years to help me, and I finally learned to stop.”
Most Likely To Succeed
Once he overcame his stuttering issue, Tiger continued to ascend his path to greatness. As a senior in high school, he was voted “most likely to succeed” by his class for the yearbook superlatives. They were not wrong. Western High School has seen a handful of other professional athletes roam its halls as students, but none as successful as Woods. He graduated in 1994 after becoming the first golfer to win three straight Junior Amateur Championships.
Why Does He Wear Red?
Throughout his career, you can always find Tiger Woods wearing the color red on the last day of tournaments. This superstition started when he was still playing in junior championships. Woods listed his reasoning on his website, “I wear red on Sundays because my mom thinks that that’s my power color, and you know you should always listen to your mom.” It is good to know that he has a bit of a sentimental side.
The Cardinal Comes A Callin’
After high school graduation, Tiger moved on to Stanford University on a golf scholarship. He was heavily recruited but chose to join the reigning NCAA Division I champs. If golf were not to work out, Tiger prepared himself for a “real job” by majoring in economics. Teammate and future PGA golfer Notah Begay III used to tease Tiger, nicknaming him Urkel in reference to the character from Family Matters. The Cardinal had no idea how good of a player he could be.
Age Is Just A Number
Tiger got off to an incredible start at Stanford, winning his first collegiate match at the 40th Annual William H Tucker Invitational. He finished the year as Stanford’s Freshman of the Year, an award given to an exemplary student-athlete across all sports. As a 19-year-old, he followed up his freshman season by playing in his first PGA Tour major, the 1995 Masters. He finished 41st and was the only amateur in the tournament to make the cut.s
We Are The Champions
Tiger did not stay long at Stanford but made the most of his time there. In addition to his school honor, Woods was voted Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year and was selected to the NCAA First Team All-American in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. In his two years at Stanford, he won a total of ten events, capping off his tenure with a national championship. At the end of his sophomore year, Tiger decided to turn pro.
A Good Guy
In his last year at Stanford in 1996, Tiger won the NCAA individual golf championship. They held a dinner to honor his accomplishment, but encountered one problem – Tiger never showed up. The dinner went on without the guest of honor, but Tiger could not forgive himself for missing the event. To show his appreciation, Tiger wrote 200 personal apology letters to the guests. This might have been his first big apology, but would certainly not be his last.
Smashing Amateur Records
Before he set records on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods was dominating the youth circuit as an amateur. Before turning pro in 1996, Tiger concluded his amateur career by winning 18 straight match-play tournaments. It helped cap off a run of three straight U.S. Amateur Championships, becoming the first golfer ever to do so and remains the only one. Before he stepped foot on Stanford’s campus, he had already become the youngest amateur champion ever at 15.
Sponsorships Roll In
After declaring himself as a professional, skipping out on his last two years at Stanford, Tiger quickly saw his fortune take off. He signed huge sponsorship deals with Nike and Titleist for $40 and $20 million respectively, as well as undisclosed deals with General Mills, General Motors, American Express, and Accenture. At the time, Nike had never endorsed a golfer but would turn Tiger into an advertising superstar as he became the face of the brand alongside Michael Jordan.
The Prodigy Becomes A Professional
On August 29, 1996, Tiger Woods made his professional debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open. Days earlier he had competed in his final amateur event in Portland, Oregon. While en route to Portland, Tiger turned to Earl and said, “I’m never flying coach again.” He was right. The day after winning the tournament, Tiger hopped on a corporate jet to take him to Milwaukee. Tiger finished in 60th but scored a hole-in-one on the final day.
First Professional Win
It did not take long for Tiger to get accustomed to the rigors of life as a professional. He won his first tournament after only his fifth professional start. He claimed the 1996 Las Vegas International, a five-round tournament, over Davis Love III. Even with 90 holes in the bank, the duo duked it out in a playoff hole for the title. Woods earned $297,000 for the victory and rose 146 spots in the world ranking
The Race For A Tour Card
When Tiger turned professional in 1996, receiving his PGA Tour card for 1997 was not a sure thing. Tiger only had seven opportunities to finish in the top 125 money winners so he could earn his card. For a mere mortal, seven tournaments might not have been enough time, but for Tiger, it was a piece of cake. He won two of those tournaments and finished with $790,594 in earnings, good enough for 26th on the money winners list.
The First Major: 1997 Masters
If golf fans did not know his name by now, the 1997 Masters launched the legend of Tiger Woods. At 21, he not only eclipsed Steve Ballesteros as the youngest Masters champion ever by 20 months but also registered a record 18 under par, with a winning margin of a record 12 strokes. Since he won the Amateur Championship the previous August, he became the first and only person to be the reigning Masters and Amateur champions.
Meet Frank, His Driver Cover
When Tiger was walking the fairways of Augusta, many took notice of the furry tiger head cover in his bag. Frank, as Tiger calls him, was given to him by his mother Kultilda after she saw it in a pro shop and found it appropriate. Frank was made by Daphne’s Headcovers, owned by Jane Spicer. Spicer claimed she had 10,000 orders for tiger covers after his Masters win. Frank appeared with Tiger in a Nike commercial voiced by a sassy Paul Giamatti.
Officially Number One
The records continued to pile up. In only his 42nd week on the PGA Tour, Tiger became the number one golfer in the Official World Golf Rankings. Although he was barely old enough to drink, Tiger became the youngest golfer ever to hold the top spot. Bernhard Langer previously held the record. Langer broke the record in 1986 at age 29, eight years older than Tiger was in 1997. Woods would become quite comfortable in his number one spot.
Money, Money, Money, Money
In 1997, Tiger Woods was paid like the number one golfer in the world. His successful season pushed his yearly earning to over $2 million, the first time a golfer had reached this benchmark. It would be the first of ten times he led the PGA Tour in yearly winnings. After a bit of a down year in 1998, Tiger rebounded to win eight times in 1999, earning $6.6 million. He won 52% of the possible prize money that he could that year.
2000: The Year of The Tiger
Tiger Woods wasted no time in claiming Y2K for himself. He started the year by winning his fifth and six straight tournaments, the most since Ben Hogan in 1948. His performance at Pebble Beach for the US Open broke nine tournament records, including his 15 stroke margin of victory breaking Old Tom Morris’s 138-year-old record. Sports Illustrated called it “the greatest performance in golf history.” In only his fifth professional year, he became the Tour’s career money leader.
The “Tiger Slam”
In addition to the 2000 US Open, Tiger Woods dominated at the Open Championship at St. Andrews and scratched his way to the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. He became only the second person ever to win three major tournaments in the same season. The following April, he would claim his second Masters title, becoming the only golfer ever to hold all four major championships simultaneously (although not in the same calendar year for a “true” Grand Slam).
Sportsman Of The Year
Since Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in the year of its inception, Sports Illustrated has awarded (usually) one athlete as Sportsman of the Year. Until Tiger in 2000, no other athlete had ever been named Sportsman of the Year twice. Not Michael Jordan, not Arthur Ashe, and not Jack Nicklaus. Tiger won the award in 1996 and again in 2000 for his utter dominance. He would hold this distinction solely, until Lebron James in 2016 (he firs won in 2012).
Sponsorships Over Salary
As dominant as he had been over the course of 1997-2002, Tiger’s income from golf was nowhere near the outrageous amount he made from sponsorships. At his peak, Tiger earned $100 million annually off the course. He has made $1.4 billion in total since turning professional, but only 10% of that figure is from prize money. Tiger was the highest paid athlete in the world for 11 straight years and is the highest earning athlete of all time.
Dominance Takes A Back Seat
After claiming the 2002 Masters and US Open, Tiger succumbed to the pressure of a true Grand Slam and entered his first career swoon. He failed to win a major tournament in 2003 and 2004 but did take home PGA Player of the Year in 2003. In September 2004, Vijay Singh became the world’s top-ranked golfer, ending Tiger’s record streak of 264 consecutive weeks at the top. However, swing adjustments would help push him back to the top by June 2005.
Tiger Woods: The Family Man
As his golf game faltered, Tiger began to expand his family life. In November 2003 he became engaged to Eli Nordegren. Woods was introduced to the Swedish former model by Jesper Parnevik for whom she was working as an au pair. They married on October 5, 2004, in Barbados with house band Hootie and the Blowfish (singer Darius Rucker is a close friend of Tiger’s). The couple welcomed their daughter, Sam, in 2007, and their son, Charlie, in 2009.
The Death Of His Hero
Woods returned to top form in 2005 and 2006, winning the 2005 Masters and Open Championship, in addition to his first two tournaments of 2006. However, his good vibes quickly turned to heartbreak. His father, Earl, died in May 2006, leaving Tiger without his biggest hero. He returned for the US Open after nine weeks off in which he considered walking away from golf. Tiger fought through his emotions to capture the 2006 Open Championship, which he dedicated to his father’s memory.
Fighting Through Pain
Injuries started to catch up to Tiger by 2008. He underwent his third arthroscopic surgery and missed two months of play. Tiger made his return for the 2008 US Open but visibly played through pain. Woods winced after a handful of tee shots, appearing to keep weight off his left leg for much of the tournament. Tiger beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff to secure his 14th (and most recent) major championship. He required ACL surgery after the tournament, missing the rest of the season.
A Crack In The Dam
Throughout his career, Tiger had maintained a squeaky clean image. He was a consummate winner and refrained from controversy. That would all change two days before Thanksgiving 2009. The National Enquirer broke a story alleging that Tiger had an affair with Rachel Uchitel, a nightclub promoter. They had been photographed checking into the same hotel in Australia. She reportedly told a friend, “It’s Tiger Woods! I don’t care about his wife! We’re in love!”
Thanksgiving 2009 would forever change Tiger Woods. That evening, reports began to spill out that Tiger was in a car accident. After hopping in his Cadillac Escalade, he barely made it out of the driveway before hitting a fire hydrant, tree, and his neighbor’s bushes. An ambulance came and treated Woods for cuts on his face and police gave him a ticket for reckless driving. Tiger issued a statement, referencing the ordeal as a private matter which did nothing to quell the speculation.
The Truth Spills Out
Slowly, the truth about Tiger’s car accident began to come out. That Thanksgiving Eve, Elin confronted him about his infidelity, eventually losing her cool when she saw his last sent text message, “divorce.” She threw the phone at him, chipping his tooth, then pounded his chest and scratched his face. With Elin chasing him with a golf club, Tiger hopped in the car and pulled out as she smashed the rear windows. Neighbors found Tiger in the street unconscious and bloodied.
The Other Women
Two days after his accident, Woods released a statement saying, “This situation is my fault, and it’s obviously embarrassing to my family and me. I’m human, and I’m not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn’t happen again.” He would follow it up by indefinitely stepping away from golf. Over the next couple months, multiple women would admit to relationships with Woods. He would make another apology statement about his “transgressions” after a leaked voicemail of himself cutting off one affair.
Tiger’s family life was not the only thing hanging on by a thread following the incident. Sponsors began dropping him left and right in the months that followed. His first significant loss was Gatorade, which dropped him and its Tiger Focus brand drinks. AT&T, Accenture, and Gillette would follow in Gatorade’s footsteps. Even Golf Digest discontinued Tiger’s monthly column. Throughout the scandal, however, Nike stood by Tiger’s side. Chairman Phil Knight called the scandal a “minor blip” and “part of the game.”
Effect On Sponsors
Tiger’s sponsors had good reason to leave him during this debacle – they lost a ton of money. According to a study by UC Davis, his current and former sponsors lost collectively around $10 billion. The study found that the three sports-related endorsements – EA Sports, Gatorade, and Nike – averaged around a 4% drop in stock price. This totaled $6 billion in losses alone. Before the scandal, Tiger earned around $100 million in endorsements. He lost an estimated $22 million in income.
Rehabilitating Himself And His Image
At the beginning of 2010, Tiger Woods gave another public statement. This time, he revealed that he had entered a 45-day therapy program in December 2009. Reportedly, Tiger was admitted for inpatient therapy at the Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for sex addiction treatment. He admitted to thinking “normal rules didn’t apply…I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to…and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. ”
Tiger and Buddhism
One of the most interesting comments in his apology speech was a mention of returning to the teachings of Buddhism. It might have been a shock to many to find out that Tiger was raised on Buddhist principles. Tiger’s mother is a Buddhist, and he actively practiced Buddhism in his younger days. He hoped that a return to these principles could help him regain some balance in a life that had come off the rails.
The Prodigal Son Announces His Return
After four disastrous months, Tiger announced his return to golf. He planned to make his triumphant return at Augusta National for the Masters. He had never missed the Masters in his professional career and was not about to start. It had been five months since his last professional appearance, a win at the Australian Masters, the same event that first fueled rumors about his infidelities. The world anxiously awaited to see how he would do.
The Nail In The Coffin
Elin and Tiger attended couples counseling after to his return from sex addiction therapy, but could not overcome the obvious obstacles to their relationship. Their divorce was finalized in August 2010. Elin explained that she tried to forgive him and remained on the fence about a divorce until April 2010. She claims the last nail in the coffin was the reveal of a 15th mistress, their neighbor’s daughter whom Tiger first met when she was 15.
Details Of The Divorce
With his net worth pushing $750 million, Tiger protected himself from losing half thanks to a prenuptial agreement. That does not mean he got off cheap, but it did help him maintain the wealth that he had earned. Reports suggest that Elin came away with at least $100 million in their divorce. That comes to $20 million per year that they were married, making it one of the most expensive divorces ever behind famed splits such as Rupert Murdoch, Steven Spielberg, and Paul McCartney.
The Bumpy Road Back
The comeback trail was not easy for Tiger. He came out strong in his first appearance at the 2010 Masters, finishing fourth, but could not get on the winning track. He did not win a single tournament even though he finished the year ranked number two. 2011 did not start off any better. His ranking tumbled to number seven, and he fired long-time friend and caddy, Steve Williams. By August, Tiger was ranked 58th in the world.
Augusta Takes A Shot At Him
If Tiger expected to receive the same support he had in the past, he would be disappointed. Before his return at the 2010 Masters, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne took a shot at Tiger during his tournament opening address. Payne said that Tiger “disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids. His future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his effort to change.”
His Biggest Regret
One would think that Tiger would be full of regret for his adulterous ways. He is, however, among all of his sins, none of them place at the top of his biggest regrets in life. Woods told a stunned Charlie Rose that it was not spending another year at Stanford before turning professional that he regrets most. A strange choice for a guy that won the Masters not long afterward. He believes everything he went through, although difficult, has been good for him.
Back To Number One
It took some time, but Tiger finally got his groove back. In March 2012, he won his first tournament in two and a half years. Major championships continued to elude him, but Woods became a winning golfer again. He won five PGA tournaments, bringing him within three of Sam Snead’s record. After a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger reclaimed his top spot on the Official World Golf Rankings, dethroning Rory McIlroy and remaining there for the rest of the season.
Mending Fences With The Ex
In 2013, Tiger started dating Olympic skiing gold medalist Lindsey Vonn. In a strange turn of events, she helped repair his relationship with Elin. Vonn became close with Tiger’s children, and Elin appreciated how she “keeps (Tiger) in line.” They found that they had a lot in common and became friends. Lindsey and Tiger would even go on double dates with Elin and her then-boyfriend Chris Cline, certainly a 180 from the events of Thanksgiving 2009.
The Injury Bug
2014 began a new era for Tiger – the injury era. His knee problems from years past still plagued him, but a bad back wrecked his season. He announced that he would miss the Masters for the first time since 1994 to receive a microdiscectomy for a herniated disc. He would return but was clearly hampered by pain. Tiger’s 2015 was no better, missing the cut at multiple majors, and returning to the hospital for a second microdiscectomy. Woods would not compete in the 2015-2016 season.
Tiger Woods Design
While injuries had taken Tiger out of competition, Woods began diligently working on a new project – golf course design. He had initially attempted to start the business in the late 2000s, but the 2008 financial crisis set back much of the planned construction. He opened his first course in Mexico in 2014, and his first US course in 2015. His next course, the Trump World Golf Club Dubai is set to open in 2018 in partnership with President Donald Trump and Hussain Sajwani, a Dubai property developer.
The End Of The Athletic Power Couple
Things with Lindsey Vonn seemed to be going well for both of them, but after three years together, they surprisingly broke up in May 2015. Vonn described to E!, “It was essentially being in a fish bowl. Everybody’s looking at you and judging you and commenting on what they think is right or wrong and it was hard.” They claim to still be friends, even amidst rumors that the relationship ended due to Tiger’s infidelity with another golfer’s ex-wife.
Tiger Is Addicted To Video Games
Up until his scandal, Tiger was the face of Electronic Arts’ golf video game series. Tiger Woods PGA Tour became Rory McIlroy PGA Golf in 2015, but that has not stopped Tiger from indulging in video games. In fact, Tiger is obsessed with Call of Duty. In 2016, Tiger, as a guest on The Late Show, told Stephen Colbert that he plays eight hours of video games a day, with one 30 minute lunch break.
The Return To Rock Bottom
On May 29, 2017, Tiger reached arguably his lowest point. Woods was arrested for DUI. He was found asleep at the wheel with his car running stopped in a traffic lane. A breathalyzer indicated that he had no alcohol in his system and he has stated that the incident occurred from an adverse reaction to prescription pills, most likely pain medicine for his back. Whatever the case may be, it has been long fall for golf’s prodigal son.
As speculation subsided, details of Tiger’s DUI began to leak out. When he was found at the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz, the car was damaged on the driver’s side, and both driver’s side tires were flat. In his police report, Woods mentioned taking Xanx, Vicodin, and two anti-inflammatory drugs, one of which has been off the market since 2004. He made a public statement apologizing for the event and informing the public that alcohol was not involved while thanking the Jupiter (FL.) Police for their “professionalism.”
Struggle For Recovery
Under two weeks after his arrest, Tiger Woods checked himself into a rehab center for an addiction to prescription pain killers. At the time of his arrest, he was described as “very dopey” and struggled to speak or walk. He agreed to begin a 28-day treatment program in an effort to retain joint custody of his children, Sam and Charlie. It is rumored that his custody agreement states that he could lose custody if he is “caught up in a scandal.”