ugg wellies made golf cool and became a cultural icon
How Tiger Woods, in his heyday, made golf cool by transcending itplay
Tiger calls ’97 Masters win the ‘most significant’ he’s ever had (0:58)In a conversation with Scott Van Pelt, Tiger Woods explains why winning the Masters in 1997 was so crucial to his career. Then, too, there was that name Tiger and the fact he looked different than all the other golfers he was beating so regularly.
Whatever it was, Tiger Woods has been as much a cultural comet in professional golf as a victorious one. Open in 2008, Woods drew mores eyes to him and his sport than any other golfer ever. In his prime, Woods turned tournaments into must watch events, even for those who’d never teed up a golf ball.
He was compelling, a perfect blend of talent and charisma suited for a growing American diversity and the digital age. TV ratings, galleries and prize money all increased significantly. People had to watch. Woods dragged golf a sport most Americans have never played into the Land of Cool.
“Tiger embodied a kind of modern cool that golf hadn’t seen before,” said Orin Starn, a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University. AP Photo/Peter CosgroveAmong professional athletes for most of the early 2000s, Woods ranked with basketball icon Michael Jordan at the top of the Q Score, which rates popularity and marketing appeal. In 2008, Forbes ranked Woods No. 2 on its annual Celebrity 100 list, based on fame and money. Only Oprah Winfrey was higher.
Plus, he was making cultural as well as sports history. In 1997 at just 21, he stormed to a win at the Masters, shooting a record score and living up to years of hype. That it came at Augusta National, where African Americans hadn’t been allowed to play until 1975, put him in a special place. The attention just kept coming, with 13 other major victories including four straight and 79 total wins on tour. So to have this charismatic, young African American Asian American hybrid figure bursting onto the scene made huge news.”
Rick Schloss, the former longtime media director of the annual PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines in San Diego, recalled how the galleries swelled when Woods came to the tour, attracting a younger element interested in one thing: Tiger.
“They’d go there to watch him,” Schloss said. “They don’t know what else is going on. They’ve got their Ugg boots on, the hats on backwards, they’ve got a craft beer, and they know he’s cool.”
In 2001, after he won four straight majors, Americans polled by Gallup named him as the nation’s No. 1 athlete. His favorability rating was on a par with the likes of Jordan, John Glenn, Colin Powell and Pope John Paul II.
Yet Woods slipped from that perch in 2009, when his off the course life turned upside down with a personal scandal that led to divorce. He took a leave from golf for several months. He lost sponsorships. When he returned, he wasn’t the same. His smile, swing and putting stroke were diminished.
His last tour win came in 2013, and he failed to reach the weekend at his only two starts in 2017, missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January and withdrawing due to injury from a European Tour event after one round in Dubai a week later. He hasn’t played since.
Prior to that, Woods missed nearly a year and a half because of a back injury, although he did play the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial PGA Tour event that he hosts, in December.
Woods was still in high school when he made his PGA Tour debut as a 16 year old amateur at the 1992 Los Angeles Open. He missed the cut. AP Photo/Bob GalbraithIn his absence, golf’s attendance and TV ratings suffered.
Now 41, Woods has skipped three 2017 tournaments (the Genesis Open, Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational) that he typically plays each year, and his next move remains unknown. He even WD’d from a news conference prior to the Genesis Open, which is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Woods hasn’t given up hope of making what would surely be a dramatic return at next week’s Masters. Starn, for one, is looking forward to seeing Woods back inside the ropes.
Said Starn: “There’s always interest in a comeback story in America.”
TIGER’S CELEBRITY PRECEDED HIM to the PGA Tour. Amateurs). He and other celebrities from the sports and entertainment world were like magnets, attracting one another. He lived in a different, more star studded world than golf’s other top players.
Woods appeared on the sidelines at NFL and basketball games. He played golf with Jordan, Charles Barkley and Tony Romo. He hung with Mark Cuban, Michael Phelps, Jon Bon Jovi, Sting and Will Ferrell. Each year, the Tiger Jam fundraiser for his Tiger Woods Foundation in Las Vegas delivered the celebs. It all brought more attention to golf and the tournaments he played.
Chris Zimmerman, the former director of advertising for Nike and then the company’s general manager for golf, was there when Woods turned pro and signed a $40 million sponsorship deal with the company. From the outset, he said, those around Woods were intent on making him more than just the best golfer of his generation.
Nike grew its golf equipment business around Woods’ persona. The company didn’t even make clubs or balls until Woods was signed as a spokesman. Getty Images”From day one, they had interest in what Tiger could be as an athlete, but also as a brand,” said Zimmerman, now the president and CEO of business operations for the St. Louis Blues. “That’s a tall order for a 21 year old coming out of a few years at Stanford. But he had been on a path toward greatness from an early age, and certainly both his dad and the people around him, they were very clear that they believed Tiger Woods could be a great brand, much in the same way that Michael Jordan had been.”
The first Nike TV commercials in 1996 to introduce Woods to viewers were “Hello, World” and “I am Tiger Woods.” Each told stories. The first was about his commitment to golf and his road to the tour. The second, his roots and connection to a new, diverse generation. Zimmerman says the intent was never to make Tiger cool above the rest but to show his respect for the game and help Nike launch its golf equipment business.
When Woods’ style and personality meshed with his wins and the acceptance of Nike’s products, the ad campaign helped catapult him into the Jordan realm.