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Reliving How Tiger Woods Won the 1997 Masters


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Perhaps crucial thing to recollect on the twenty fifth anniversary of Tiger Woods’s seismic victory on the 1997 Masters, the primary of his 15 major championships, is that nearly nobody saw it coming.

Yes, Woods, then 21, had won three PGA Tour events, and there was avid interest in his first major as an expert. But one yr earlier, as an amateur, he had missed the Masters cut. In 1995, he tied for forty first. It was accepted wisdom that grasping the intricate nuances of Augusta National Golf Club would take years. Woods, it was said repeatedly by the tour’s elders, would should wait.

“That’s how I felt,” Paul Azinger, a 14-year tour veteran in 1997 and the winner of the 1993 P.G.A. Championship, said in an interview last month. “It’s harder than it looks.”

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Azinger felt in a different way after he was paired with Woods within the second round. For the primary time, he watched Woods hit a ball with a driver. Azinger, now 62, had never seen a golf shot hang within the air for therefore long because it rocketed away from the tee.

“I can still see that white ball framed against the dark trees in the space, then the blue sky after which the green fairway — it was a bullet that looked as if it would never stop,” Azinger, now an NBC golf analyst, said.

The 4 days of the 1997 Masters would transform a profound experience for those of us fortunate to be on the grounds at Augusta National, and for 44 million individuals who watched on television. It set records and broke cultural ground, as Woods became the primary nonwhite athlete to win golf’s most tradition-bound event. It permanently reshaped almost every aspect of the sport, how it will be broadcast and who might watch, and it was the primary globally distinguished chapter within the lifetime of a young Black man with a catchy nickname who would soon grow to be one of the crucial famous and hottest people on the earth.

Although many remember vividly the moment that Woods won — the 4-foot putt and his full-body fist pump — not everyone recalls that his week began inauspiciously.

During his first nine holes on Thursday, Woods very nearly played his way out of the tournament. He shot a four-over-par 40 with 4 bogeys and no birdies. I noticed it was possible for him to win, nevertheless it seemed unlikely. It was Augusta National. It takes time. Almost every enduring, top golfer from the last 60 years — Palmer, Nicklaus, Faldo, etc. — didn’t win the tournament until his fourth try. Most won of their fifth or sixth. And so they weren’t 21, either.

But when Woods then shot 30 on the back nine — and was calm within the news conference afterward, as if he had expected it — that’s after I knew he could be contending on Sunday.

NICK FALDO (defending Masters champion, paired in the primary round with Woods) We each made a large number on the front nine; just knocking it everywhere. I had won six majors so possibly people gave me slightly slack, but for Tiger, I’m sure numerous people were probably pondering, “Well, he’s still slightly in over his head, isn’t he?”

TOM KITE (finished second) The Tiger curiosity was very high so I even have little question numerous guys in the sphere heard about that opening 40.

TOMMY BENNETT (one among many Black caddies picked by the club from the nearby Sand Hills neighborhood) Any person told me Tiger shot 40, and I said, “Doesn’t matter, man, he’s not frightened.” That child was raised to be fearless. After I caddied for him in ’95 [at the Masters] he only put three balls in his bag and told me he wouldn’t need any more. And he didn’t. I knew he’d come back.

FALDO Tiger birdied the tenth and chipped in for birdie on the twelfth hole. That shot was mainly the start of the remaining of his profession.

JEFF SLUMAN (tied for seventh) The chip from behind the twelfth green was incredibly difficult. Everybody watching was saying, “He’s got to watch out to not pitch that back into Rae’s Creek and make double bogey.” And bang! He puts it in the outlet. Are you kidding?

FALDO The crowds around us began getting greater and larger and louder and louder. He looked as if it would feed off that. It was the start of Tiger mania, right? I looked around and realized that this is de facto something to recollect.

Woods would birdie the par-5 thirteenth and eagle the par-5 fifteenth — for the tournament he could be 13 under on the par 5s — then added one other birdie on the seventeenth hole. He finished at two-under-par 70, one among only seven golfers in the sphere of 86 to interrupt par that day. Woods celebrated by heading to the drive-through of the Arby’s on Washington Road just beyond the club’s ornate front gate. He had two of his Stanford college buddies within the automobile. After they wolfed down roast beef sandwiches at the home rented with Woods’s parents, Earl and Kultida, they played basketball within the driveway and table tennis within the basement.

KITE The conditions had been so hard the primary day — windy with very firm greens — you bet 70 was a very good rating. People noticed.

AZINGER I suddenly realized how many individuals were following us and the way much pressure he was already under.

LEE WESTWOOD (playing in his first Masters) It was obvious how strong he was mentally, and his age didn’t matter.

AZINGER We get to the thirteenth hole on the back nine and he’s now 4 under par for the tournament, which will not be too shabby. Then Tiger goes eagle-birdie-birdie on 13, 14 and 15.

JIM NANTZ (longtime CBS Masters host) Tiger made the putt for eagle on 13 and I checked out my watch pondering this is likely to be a historic moment. I said, “Let the record show that slightly after 5:30 on this Friday, April the eleventh, Tiger takes the lead for the very first time on the Masters.”

AZINGER Tiger was hitting a wedge or 9-iron to the greens on the back nine par 5s while some guys were hitting 3-woods there. Tiger looked like he wasn’t greater than 155 kilos and his swing was so fierce I frightened for his back even then, but my goodness, every shot had such integrity. As pros, we comprehend it after we see it.

JUSTIN LEONARD (1997 British Open champion) We were attempting to beat this guy, but I knew I couldn’t drive it as far, I didn’t hit my irons as well, I didn’t have his short game and I didn’t putt as well. You knew you were going to give you the chance to observe history, but you weren’t going to be making any history yourself.

On the midpoint of the tournament, Colin Montgomerie, a sometimes crusty Scot who at 33 had competed in 22 majors and finished in the highest 10 five times, trailed Woods by three strokes. In a packed news conference after the second round, Montgomerie said of Woods, “The pressure is mounting, and I even have so much more experience in major championships than he has.”

Before Woods’s third round on Saturday began — he was in the ultimate grouping, the prime TV spot, with Montgomerie — Butch Harmon, Woods’s coach, put his arm around his pupil and said, “Let’s go show Colin Montgomerie who you actually are.”

Woods responded, “Oh, don’t worry.”

LEONARD I might have said the identical thing as Colin. As skilled golfers you will have to try to attract on experience if you will have it, and Colin had the experience — with some success. But at the tip of the day it didn’t matter in any respect.

Woods, in a 2007 interview on the tenth anniversary of his 1997 victory, said: “Colin’s comment did motivate me. Perhaps if he had already won a significant I might need let it go, but since he had not, I figured we were pretty even going into that round.”

BERNHARD LANGER (1985 and 1993 Masters champion) I had played in Thailand with Tiger when he was an amateur and it was clear as day that this was going to be a distinct type of rookie on tour. Within the third round Saturday he shot 65, right? Seven birdies? It doesn’t sound like he was very nervous to me.

SLUMAN He wasn’t afraid of anything. The larger the stage the higher for him. I made a comment after I was in pretty good position on the leaderboard that perhaps all the blokes on tour should take up a group and offer to send him to grad school or something.

MONTGOMERIE (after he shot 74 to Woods’s bogey-free 65) All I even have to say is one transient comment today. There’s no likelihood humanly possible that Tiger goes to lose this tournament. No way.

When a reporter recalled that Greg Norman in 1996 had lost a six-stroke, final-round result in Faldo, Montgomerie snorted: “Faldo’s not lying second, for a start. And Greg Norman’s not Tiger Woods.”

As that they had because the tournament began, Woods and his college buddies went to Arby’s. Then they played basketball and table tennis.

Late the following morning, Woods donned what would grow to be his trademark Sunday colours: a blood red sweater and black pants. Before he left for the course, Woods ascended the steps and entered the bedroom of his father, Earl, who had recently undergone surgery for his ailing heart.

“Son,” Earl said when he saw Tiger, “this might be going to be one among the hardest rounds you’ve ever needed to play in your life.”

The day carried a weight, and when Woods arrived on the course, a visitor found him. It was Lee Elder, the primary Black golfer to play the Masters, in 1975. Elder got a speeding ticket on the drive to Augusta. An honorary starter on the 2021 Masters seven months before he died, Elder told reporters in 1997: “Nothing was going to stop me from getting here. I made history here, and I got here here today to see more history made. After today, nobody will turn their head when a Black man walks to the primary tee.”

Henry Ashley, the headwaiter at Augusta National and one among about 20 Black club employees who lined the plantation-style clubhouse balcony to catch a glimpse of Woods on the primary tee, told The Greensboro News and Record: “Tiger’s the person, period. He’s your man; he’s my man.”

After Woods thundered a tee shot toward the primary fairway, the congregation of club employees remained on the balcony to observe him walk onto the course. As Woods disappeared over a distant hill, the staff, one after the other, turned and walked through a single thin door frame to proceed their clubhouse duties.

LANGER I don’t know all about American history. But there have been numerous scenes like that in 1997. You already know, seeing Tiger win the Masters, I feel, in effect, said, “You’ll be able to do what I’m doing.” I’m convinced it had an impact on future generations that weren’t white.

COSTANTINO ROCCA (accompanied Woods on Sunday) The mood was festive, like a celebration or an enormous party. I’m undecided the gang even knew there was slightly Italian guy fidgeting with him. The atmosphere was powerful.

KITE Because the ultimate round of the Masters has seen many historic collapses, no one was conceding Tiger the title — even when he would have needed to collapse like crazy to be caught. But there was still a wait-and-see attitude.

ROCCA I did cut his lead by a stroke after the primary seven holes when Tiger made a pair bogeys. Then he hit his tee shot on No. 8 into the trees and I assumed possibly there’s some likelihood. What if I make birdie and he makes double bogey? As an alternative, I made par and he made birdie.

KITE It was case closed.

SLUMAN From there, a coronation.

NANTZ I talked briefly to Lee [Elder]. There was emotion in his eyes. And fatigue.

ROCCA (tied for fifth) On the last nine holes, the gang was getting crazier and crazier, and at one point Tiger turned to me and asked if I used to be OK. He’s a pleasant guy, and I used to be pleased with him.

NANTZ I kept excited about how much this moment meant to so many individuals. It transcended the game, and seeing Lee Elder was a visible cue to me.

As Woods, his baggy pants flapping within the wind, sank a final putt to set 20 Masters records, including youngest winner and largest margin of victory (12 strokes), Nantz said, “There it’s, a win for the ages.”

The victory was transformative, particularly for golf, though not in every way imagined. Designers tried to “Tiger-proof” their golf courses by making them longer and harder. Woods’s crossover appeal, long predicted, swiftly materialized. Ten days later, in an indication of his cultural transcendence, Woods gave Oprah Winfrey his first post-Masters interview. He was sent up by “Saturday Night Live.”

Inspired by Woods’s trailblazing achievement, Sean Combs, the rap mogul generally known as Puff Daddy, called Hype Williams, an award-winning music and film director and producer. Their conversation about what had transpired at Augusta National became the vanity of the hip-hop video “Mo Money Mo Problems,” which also featured the rapper Mase. It was released three months after Woods won the Masters.

HYPE WILLIAMS Puff was very excited concerning the idea of Tiger Woods and adamant about starting a video with him as a Tiger Woods character. With Mase and Puff, we had the chance to allow them to embellish on Tiger Woods and the massive moment that the game was having in 1997. That’s what it represented. Coincidentally, I just shot Tom Brady’s campaign for his golf line. Tom also happens to be a really serious golfer, and he was heavily influenced by “Mo Money Mo Problems.” He told me he wanted that energy of the unique video for his campaign, a ’90s energy that Tiger got here to exemplify.

DUSTIN JOHNSON (then 12) After I was growing up, in highschool you were type of a dork for those who played golf. But Tiger actually made it a cool sport to play.

Joe Beditz, the president of the National Golf Foundation, saw the impact, including a 22 percent increase in recreational golf participation and a 50 percent jump within the variety of nonwhite golfers from when Woods turned pro in 1996 to 2001.

JOE BEDITZ Tiger’s biggest impact, by far, was on golf’s public awareness. He became ubiquitous: TV ads, magazine covers, interviews and tv appearances. The ultra-elevated public awareness was the headspring from which all of golf’s blessings flowed — more fans, more golfers, more courses, more equipment sales.

In the identical five-year period starting in 1996, PGA Tour prize money mushroomed by 172 percent, television rankings for the Masters jumped by 58 percent and network cameras tried to capture every shot struck by Woods at any tournament.

NANTZ The concept was to never lose track of Tiger during the complete body of a three-hour broadcast. It was a latest era for golf because a golfer was now possibly probably the most famous athlete on the earth.

The pervasive belief within the wake of Woods’s 1997 Masters victory was that it will be a catalyst for diversifying skilled golf, which had a well-deserved popularity for exclusionary tactics and biases. The PGA Tour had a Caucasian-only clause until 1961. Elder was not welcomed to the Masters until 14 years later. Woods’s 1997 Masters breakthrough and exploding fame were expected to bring sweeping change. But 25 years later, there aren’t any greater than a handful of Black golfers on the PGA Tour.

JARIAH BEARD (one among dozens of Black caddies at Augusta National from 1955 to 1983) We had more Black pros within the Sixties than we do now. Within the Nineteen Eighties, one other Black golfer, Calvin Peete, won 12 PGA Tour events. He won the Players Championship and was near the highest of the cash rankings list almost every yr. Tiger got here along 10 years later, but what number of have followed him?

EDWARD WANAMBWA (an editor for African American Golfer’s Digest and a former caddie for Elder) It was a bit naïve to think there was going to be this sudden influx of African American golfers. Why didn’t the floodgates open? Because elite golf will not be an affordable endeavor — the equipment, the travel, the entry fees to tournaments, it’s expensive. There are well-meaning initiatives to introduce the sport to junior golfers, however the mechanisms for attending to the tour weren’t there.

BEARD (81, still lives in Augusta) Tiger’s win really helped young white golfers greater than Black golfers. The young white golfers made Tiger their hero and emulated his swing, his workout habits, his aggressiveness. All of them became higher due to Tiger.

GARY WOODLAND (2019 U.S. Open champion) I’ve watched Tiger win that first Masters on an old VHS tape possibly 400 million times.

JOEL DAHMEN (sixth yr on the PGA Tour) I’ve watched too persistently to count. At the very least 40. Each time it comes on, I don’t care if Tiger is on the primary hole in that final round, I even have to observe the entire thing.

WANAMBWA That’s the thing, it was still great to observe a brother — someone who looks like us — slip on the green jacket at Augusta National. It was a win for all of the Black caddies and all of the Black golfers who never got to play there. That supersedes all the remaining.

Woods skipped Arby’s after Sunday’s final round. As is tradition, the Augusta National membership feted the Masters champion and his family at a ceremonial dinner because the sun was setting on the grounds. When Woods got back to his rental house, a celebration ensued for the tenants and invited guests with no shortage of adult beverages.

Sooner or later late within the night, Woods slipped away from the gathering. Later, Earl Woods went on the lookout for the Masters champion. He peeked into his son’s bedroom and located him asleep on the bed, his arms hugging his green jacket.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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