This year, the crowd and the 14 million television viewers watching on the final day of the Masters witnessed the rise of the next generation of golfers. Of the Top Five finishers, three of the golfers were 25 years old or younger including the eventual Champion Jordan Spieth, who is 21. This Masters victory not only signifies his arrival but it announces the arrival of a younger generation. This rise can be attributed to Tiger Woods.
Regardless if he reaches the all-time majors record or not, Tiger Woods will go down as one of the greatest golfers of all time. More importantly, he will be the most influential figure in the history of the sport. The legends like Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, and Arnold Palmer will all take a back seat to him on being the most influential person in golf history.
Who is a golfer that inspired a younger generation to play at a higher level? Have you ever thought about it? An argument could be made that Tiger Woods is the one and only golfer who exceeded at this.
Jack Nicklaus or any other golfers did not have the same effect on golf as Tiger did when he first entered the 1997 Masters. The reason was because Tiger Woods was so young when he won his first. If you go back into golf history, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and other major winners were competing and winning Major tournaments were winning in their twenties but they were not dominating the field. Aside from Nicklaus, it was uncommon for an amateur or even a young pro in his twenties to win one of the four major tournaments, let alone dominant. This is what made Tiger special.
He broke the mold. As a 21-year old golfer, Woods won the 1997 Masters while setting the tournament record. All of these old-time records were set by men in their thirties or forties. In fact, that was the case for most of the tournaments. Golf before Tiger Woods was generally an older profession. Woods' victory was so rare and unheard of that it inspired younger golfers to put forth the effort and work ethic to become as good as Woods.
This Nike commercial that aired before the Masters illustrates how every current young golfer felt when watching Tiger Woods play. The young golfer in the commercial evolved into Rory McIlroy. McIlroy symbolizes a lot of golfers of this generation. As Tiger began his torrid 1999-2009 golf years, this younger generation watched and continued to work hard to one day reach that level.
Almost 18 years after Woods' first Masters win, look at the amount of young golfers playing professionally and winning major tournaments in their twenties. McIlroy has four major wins. The recent Masters winner Spieth is only 21. Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at 27 years old. Keagan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship at 25 years old. The list goes on and on about the young, talented golfers.
Woods understands the influence he had on the younger generation of golfers like McIlroy. However, he does not realize that he has affected more golfers than just McIlroy. This younger generation grew up watching and wanting to play like Woods in a similar way to how Woods wanted to be like Nicklaus when Woods was younger. The only difference is Woods had a much larger affect because of his success at young age.
"Golf used to treated as a leisurely pastime," Woods said in the interview. "Now it is considered a sport."
This change within golf is directly related to Tiger Woods. The way Woods was winning tournaments especially when he was in his twenties was astounding. He won 8 majors before turning 30 years old. He was beating the field by numerous strokes. As Woods was doing this, these younger golfers like McIlroy and Spieth would practice and play with the intention of one day playing better than Tiger Woods when they reached 21 years old.
Nicklaus certainly was a terrific golfer in his twenties but much of his accolades came in his thirties. Woods was different. He received immediate attention by being the youngest major winner and dominating the tournament field.
People commented on how Woods would change the game for black golfers and would lead the charge in the influx of black golfers. It has not happened yet, but if the real trend was how Woods changed the perception of golf. Woods not only proved he was a rare talent like Nicklaus. He also proved any hard working young golfer could make the PGA Tour and be a dominant player. It is this drive that has elevated the play of the new young generation of golfers, and it is this drive that has made golf more than just a "leisurely pastime."