“I want to be like Mike” were the words that I would tell myself when I would shoot jump shots in my backyard after school while growing up. Those words were lyrics to a popular Gatorade advertisement in the 1990s showcasing that every kid aspired to be like NBA superstar Michael Jordan.
However, when Jordan retired in 1998, who was going to be the next role model for children? Many kids turned to Mark McGwire from baseball, Terrell Davis from football or Dominik Hašek in hockey, but I looked to a sport I had never followed before for my idol to worship.
When Tiger Woods became the youngest tournament champion at the Masters in April 1997, it sparked an interest in golf that had never been there before. I had barely even considered golf as a sport before Woods came on the scene, but in the late ‘90s I was glued to every British Open, U.S. Open and Ryder Cup that Woods participated in.
I urged my dad to buy me clubs and would ask my uncles to take me to the driving range. I even read the book by Tiger’s dad, Earl, Training a Tiger: A Father’s Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life. It was “Tiger-mania,” and there was a change in not only the crowds that were at these PGA tour events but also at public golf courses and country clubs.
Woods has endured many trials and tribulations since his meteoric rise and utter domination of the sport in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. However, after his win at last weekend’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, he took the No. 1 ranking in the world for the first time since Oct. 24, 2010.
In my opinion, golf is much better off when Woods is at the top of the leaderboard and with the sharp rise in ratings when Tiger is winning, it seems like the rest of the nation agrees with me.
When Woods won the same tournament last year, he boosted ratings 138 percent higher than in 2011. On the flipside of that, when he was sidelined with a knee injury in 2008, ratings fell by 47 percent when compared to when he was healthy the previous year.
Whether or not the national audience approves of Woods’ controversial past, it seems that there is much more of an interest in the events when Woods is competitive.
Interest in Woods does not just come from the fans but also those at the executive level. According to Forbes, sports executives were polled on who they were most interested in seeing on television and Woods had 53 percent of the vote and Rory McIlroy came in with second with 15 percent; 17 percent said they were not interested in golf.
Woods coming back to claim the No. 1 ranking is a great comeback story and will continue to be a compelling one as he tries to capture the greatness that he once had.
He also is in pursuit of golf history as he strives for Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career major championships. Woods has won 14 majors so far in his career, but has yet to win one since the U.S. Open in 2008. Nicklaus believes that Woods will break his record.
Capturing a record like Nicklaus’ will make it undeniable to consider Woods as the greatest of all time (if he hasn’t been considered already).
With the Masters on April 11 and Woods winning his last two tournaments, fans will be anticipating a great performance in the tournament that had thrust him into the national spotlight 16 years ago.
If Woods can capture his first major in almost five years, it could mean great things for the sport because it will push him one step closer to that prestigious record and serve as the “official” return of golf’s biggest star.