20 years ago, Tiger Woods burst on a scene with a recordbreaking perofrmance that ignited a career that changed the face of golf.
On Sunday, April 9, Sergio Garcia broke one of golf’s longest-standing jinxes. Over a near two-decade long professional career, the talented 37-year-old from Spain had never won a title, at the four most prestigious tournaments around the world, also known as the majors — the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club, the US Open, The Open Championship in Britain, and the PGA Championship.
Garcia had come close in 73 prior attempts, and it was - fittingly- at Augusta that he was able to shed the unwanted tag of “the most talented golfer to have never won a major”, beating Olympic champion Justin Rose of England in a playoff.
For Garcia, it came as a relief, For the rest of the golfing world, it was vindication of a supremely talented individual finally getting his due.
But this is not the story of Sergio Garcia. It is instead, the tale of a golfer at the other end of the scale, who matched talent, tenacity and temperament to win a major in his very first professional attempt, and how he got there. Twenty years ago, Tiger Woods burst on the scene with a record-breaking performance that ignited a career that was not just supreme in its individual trajectory, but also one that changed the face of golf for good and all.
Woods brought power and a hitherto non-existent intimidation to the course. For a sport that prides itself on tradition and gentility, his ‘take no prisoners’ attitude was a huge culture shock. He also went on to develop such an aura that the opposition largely felt it was fighting for second place, or third or worse still because Tiger Woods was on the course.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Tiger’s first major - at Augusta National in 1997 - Sir Nick Faldo, himself a two-time winner of the Masters and defending champion that year, told the BBC, “Media attention was off the charts, we’d never known or seen anything like that. He had already been able to orchestrate that he was different.
“That particular week it was constant media questioning. You were very lucky to get through one question about you before they wanted to start talking about Tiger. Everybody wanted to know about him.
“Tiger helped so many parts of golf, he got people to sit up and take notice. He brought a lot of attention to it and a lot of clever people. “And that’s why it’s moved on to where we are which is pretty amazing, the game of golf now.
“It was the start of a monumental week.” It was, more like, the start of a monumental career.
Men like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus had all left their imprint on the game, raising its profile and reach in their own ways. No one though had quite the same impact as Woods did.
In Unprecedented, Woods explores not just that epochal first Masters win, but also the process that brought him there. The book jags back and forth between the build-up and four days of play at Augusta National in April 1997 and his early years. where his parents - Earl and Kultida - played differing but equally pivotal roles in the growth of Woods the person, and Tiger the golfer.
On the first day at Augusta in 1997, Woods made a poor start playing alongside Faldo, bogeying four of his first nine holes to reach the turn at an unexpected four over par 40. He had the low amateur score the previous year, had played more than a few practice rounds alongside greats like Palmer, Nicklaus, Mark O’Meara, Nick Price, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, yet was in danger of throwing it all away on the very first day.
Let Tiger take up the tale. “After my front nine, I needed to find what Mom called the “quiet spot”. It came automatically in that green-to-tee walk. It had become so much a part of me. I did feel cold-blooded, as my dad put it. I could have come apart, but instead I felt in control. The walk was only a few yards, but I accomplished a lot in it. I was ready to play the back nine. I felt centered in a way I hadn’t before. I felt tranquil inside. Thinking much later about how much I changed my mental state in that short walk, I thanked Mom and Pop.”
The rest, as they say, is history. While large parts of Unprecedented are technical and will appeal more to golfers than lay readers, there are many sections that tell the human story, of a coloured golfer playing against the odds, Woods’s evolution from gawky pre-teen to power-hitting sensation, a sometimes fragile individual into a ruthless adversary.
More than anything else, the book is a foray into the mind of a golfer who was to redefine the parameters of his chosen sport, not just in terms of physicality and success, but also the very way much of the world now looks at the sport. It is Tiger Woods unplugged.