Tiger Woods' historic Masters win still felt across golf world 20 years later

Joe Steranka, the former chief executive officer of the century-old PGA of America, says that in early 1997, the organization worried about what the next generation of golfers would bring since the Baby Boomer class of Nicklaus, Watson et al was on the cusp of retirement.

“There was a lot of discussion about how we could make golf cool,” says Steranka, who was then a broadcast executive for PGA of America. “And then along comes this great phenom from Stanford. He became one of those few, one-name iconic figures in entertainment, like Madonna or Sting.”

Yes, if you dropped just the name “Tiger” anywhere around the globe the last 20 years, chances are people would know who you were talking about, the golfer who currently has 14 major titles, and who was the 21-year-old wunderkind making history in April 1997 at the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Woods took the equivalent of a sledgehammer to the rest of the field and won his first major with an 18-under par final score. After that ’97 win, Tiger Woods inspired millions of young men and women, particularly African-Americans, to pick up a golf club; TV ratings and tournament purses soared; Woods sparked a major spike in the development of golf courses; and, in Steranka’s words, Woods made golf cool.

But the name Tiger also invokes memories of headlines and images from a spectacular fall in 2009 due to his infidelity scandal. Woods’ 2009 Thanksgiving Day car crash laid bare a sordid underbelly of the golfer’s personal life and the fallout was severe across his global brand. More recently, Tiger has come to symbolize an aging, injury-riddled athlete. He announced last week that he would not play in this week’s Masters, and the mere mention of his name in golf circles now elicits debate about whether or not he will ever compete at an elite level again, much less chase and pass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

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