You could talk about his 15 major tournament victories or his record-tying 82 wins on the PGA Tour. You could cite how he held onto the No. 1 ranking in the world for 683 consecutive weeks — 13 years and change — and made a record 142 cuts in a row.
But if you truly want to measure Tiger Woods’ profound impact on his sport you have to go beyond the five green Masters jackets, the unprecedented Tiger Slam of winning four straight majors and the other lofty, never-to-be-equaled achievements.
You need to talk to this current generation of world-ranked golfers — the ones Tiger inspired to follow him down the fairways and greens of greatness. Their testimonials poured in from around the globe on March 9 when the 46-year-old Woods was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
“When I was in high school, golf was still kind of not really considered a cool sport to play,’’ said Dustin Johnson, winner of 24 tournaments, including the 2020 Masters in record-setting fashion. “You were kind of a dork if you played golf. But Tiger actually made it a cool sport to play. Everybody wanted to be like Tiger.”
Tiger not only made golf cool. He made it quite lucrative.
“We, as his colleagues and peers, we’ve all benefitted from him,’’ said Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion who ranks sixth on the all-time money list with $59 million. “TV paid more. Sponsors paid more. And then all of a sudden, his peers and colleagues were getting paid more because of him.”
Imitation, it’s said, is the sincerest form of flattery, and current-day players definitely have tried to mimic Tiger’s powerful swing and intrepid strategy.
“He inspired the generation of players you’re seeing today,’’ said Spanish golfer Jon Rahm, the top-ranked player in the world. “You have a lot of 20-some-year-olds and early 30-year-olds that grew up watching him and trying to copy him, and I think that’s why the level of the game is as high as it is right now.”
“He’s an inspiration for all of us, just the way he plays golf,’’ added Scottie Scheffler, a four-time tournament winner who grew up watching Tiger highlights on YouTube. “It’s pretty ridiculous. His statistics and the way he plays and swings. It’s so radically different from the rest of us, how we play golf and approach the game. It’s really hard to put into words what he’s done for us out here. He’s changed our lives.”
And taken golf’s popularity to heights never seen before.
Which is why even Tiger’s idol — Jack Nicklaus, the all-time majors’ winner with 18 — also paid homage. Following Woods’ induction, the Golden Bear posted a Facebook tribute to the golfer who was a 13-year-old phenom the first time Big Jack met him at a clinic at Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles in 1989.
“What I didn’t know until last night’s induction was that a year later his parents mortgaged their house (a second time) just so (Tiger) could play junior tournaments,’’ Nicklaus wrote. “I learned of the sacrifices his parents made, the discrimination Tiger had to face, and the passion for the game and the work ethic his father instilled in him with words like, ‘I had to be twice as good to be given half a chance.’
“Tiger grew up understanding that nothing was given, and everything you want and deserve has to be earned. Tiger, my friend, you absolutely earned a spot in the Hall of Fame and deserve to be celebrated for all you have accomplished in the game and all you have given to the game!”
Perhaps, though, the most moving tribute was delivered by Tiger’s 14-year-old daughter, Sam, who introduced her father at the induction ceremony with a poised and poignant speech that brought tears to his eyes. She alluded to the near-fatal car accident Tiger was involved in on Feb. 23, 2021 — an accident in which he suffered serious injuries to his right leg and foot that required multiple surgeries and months of painful rehab.
“We didn’t know if you’d come home with two legs or not,’’ Sam Woods said. “Now, not only are you about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but you’re standing here on your own two feet. This is why you deserve this, because you’re a fighter. You’ve defied the odds every time, being the first black and Asian golfer to win a major, being able to win your fifth Masters (in 2019) after multiple back surgeries and being able to walk just a few months after your crash.”
ANOTHER TIGER COMEBACK
The Tiger Woods story is not only of golf dominance, but of his ability to come back from adversity — some of it self-inflicted, some of it out of his control.
That the induction ceremony took place at the newly built PGA Tour headquarters, not far from the old TPC Sawgrass clubhouse, was not lost on veteran golf scribes because it was there, a dozen Februarys ago, that Tiger participated in the most uncomfortable press conference of his life.
Just three months after his infamous car crash into a fire hydrant exposed his marital infidelities, Woods stood in that clubhouse and issued an awkward, 14-minute statement, in which he apologized for his numerous affairs. “I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you,’’ he told reporters. “For all that I have done, I am so sorry.”
Many believed that fall from grace would be the end of Tiger’s story, but, over time, many have forgiven him, including his daughter. During her introduction, she told the audience she had inducted him into the “Dad Hall of Fame a long time ago.”
During the past dozen years, Tiger has worked hard to rehabilitate his tarnished image and a body that had worn down from the tremendous stress his mighty swings had placed on his back and knees. Three years ago, he defied the odds once more, coming back from back-fusion surgery to win the Masters. That same year also saw him tie Sam Snead on the career victory leaderboard.
Tiger intends to play competitively again, possibly as soon as this week's Masters. And who’s going to bet against him?
“Dude’s like a cat,’’ said Jesse Craig, director of business development for PWCC Marketplace, LLC. “He’s got nine lives, maybe more.”
His popularity was underscored during a recent father-son tournament. The television ratings for that exhibition, in which he teamed with his son, Charles, exceeded the ratings for last year’s British Open.
“It’s what we call the Tiger draw,’’ Craig said. “He’s an unbelievable attraction. He’s an international brand, one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet, a global legend. Few, if any athletes have ever changed sports history the way Tiger has. So even if he were never to play again, I think his legacy is secure and will only continue to grow.”
If there’s one area where perhaps Tiger has underperformed, it’s been in the collectibles market. But Craig believes that’s about to change.
“I think his stuff is way undervalued,’’ he said. “He’s a good investment. In fact, I think he’s a fantastic investment. His stuff, especially the high-end items, has the potential to really take off.”
Tiger’s most valuable card — a 2001 SP Authentic Golf Stars Autograph — sold for $369,000 at Goldin Auctions on March 6, 2021.
Craig believes that card will sell for a half-million by the end of this year, or early next year.
“In my opinion, considering what a game-changer Tiger has been, it’s really a million-dollar card,’’ he said. “You can’t tell me that the rookie card of the greatest golfer of all-time isn’t worth as much as say a Tom Brady football card that’s graded a 7.5. Yes, they are both G.O.A.T.’s in their respective sports, but, unlike Tom, Tiger is an international brand. The math doesn’t add up, and it’s been my experience that when the math doesn’t add up, time eventually fixes things. Tiger’s card will catch up.”
Of all of Tiger’s memorabilia, there is one item the golfer is still using that would make the value of his card and others seem like peanuts, according to Craig. And that would be the Titleist Scotty Cameron putter Woods used while winning 14 of his 15 majors.
Last summer, a collector paid $393,300 in a Golden Age Golf Auction for a Tiger back-up putter, believed to be one of only seven of its kind in the world. And Collectible’s fractional offering of a Cameron putter believed to have been used by Woods in several tournaments, including the 1998 U.S. Open, has risen in value by 185 percent in the past year alone, soaring to a market value of nearly $600,000 in mid-March.
“I can’t think of any equivalent,’’ Craig said, when asked about the putter used to win all those majors — the one that’s still in Tiger’s bag. “It’s not like a game-worn jersey you wore to break the home run record. It’s not like Tom Brady used the same football for all his touchdown passes. But that putter, which can easily be photo-matched, was used by Tiger for all those major victories. I think if it ever were to go on the market, you might be looking at $30 million. It would shatter all the records.”
The only piece of sports memorabilia that might be more valuable is the 6-iron Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard used to stroke two golf balls on the dusty surface of the moon in 1971. That club currently is on display at the United States Golf Museum in Bernards Township, N.J.
THE GOLF CARD MARKET
Tiger Woods is not alone when it comes to undervalued golf cards, according to Craig. Legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen also haven’t garnered the money you might expect, given their status.
“I think one of the reasons golf cards are undervalued is the base of the sports collectors is made up mostly of people who collect baseball, football and basketball cards,’’ he said. “Golf faces problems similar to tennis. Individual sports only have individual contracts. They don’t have a collective bargaining agreement coordinating the release of cards the way the major team sports do. They’re releasing stuff every year. Golf cards might be released every three or four years. So, the supply of golf cards is not in your face every year.”
That said, Craig believes Tiger’s stuff has great potential to take off in the coming years. And that could be good news for Jack, Arnie, Ben, Bobby and the Haig.
“I think the rise in Tiger’s cards will result in a rise in the values of vintage golf cards,’’ he said. “They aren’t going to reach the level of Tiger’s because he has a legendary global status they don’t, but vintage cards are going benefit, too, which means their stuff might be worth investing in, too.
— Scott Pitoniak is a nationally honored journalist and author of nearly 30 books, including several best-sellers. You can purchase his books at amazon.com.
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