I just want to say “Thanks, Tiger!” Thanks for showing us how close a human can come to playing perfect golf. For the first time, I think it is pretty much over for Tiger. Every other time since the epic U.S. Open win in 2008 on one leg, I always thought he would come back and dominate like the old Tiger. But last week when he walked off at Torrey Pines, it seemed different. You see, this was Torrey Pines and Tiger has owned Torrey Pines, winning there an amazing eight times, including that incredible 2008 US Open.
Golfers my age have had the pleasure of seeing both Jack Nicklaus and Tiger in their prime. Jack won more majors (18 to 14) and Tiger won more tournaments (79 to 73), so you can argue all day about who is the greatest golfer of all time. I will say this, though, in my opinion, Tiger at his best was better than Jack at his best. In fact, Tiger at his best was easily the most dominant player ever.
The impact Tiger has had on golf is in some ways even more amazing than his 15-stroke victory in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Earlier that year, I watched Tiger come from seven strokes behind after 11 holes in the Final Round of the AT&T Pro-Am, also at Pebble Beach. Due to bad weather, the final round was played on Monday, which meant (with the smaller crowd) you actually could watch Tiger play. I was standing about 30 yards from him on both 15 and 16 when he hit what one golf writer called the greatest back-to-back approach shots in the history of golf. He holed a 97-yard sand wedge for an eagle-2 on 15, and then knocked it one inch from the hole on 16 for a kick-in birdie. He went on to birdie 18 to complete the unlikely comeback and give us a sample of what we would see at Pebble in June.
Tiger’s impact on prize money is unmistakable. When Tiger hit his first shot as a professional, Greg Norman was the career money leader with more than $10 million in official earnings. Today, Norman sits 93rd on the career money list with $14.4 million. The list, of course, is topped by Tiger with almost $110 Million, but there are eight golfers with more than $40 million, 17 with more than $30 Million, and 47 with more than $20 Million. I once heard Lee Trevino say that every golfer who cashed a check on the PGA Tour should thank Arnold Palmer for making the PGA Tour what it was then. It seems that every golfer who has cashed a REALLY BIG CHECK on the PGA Tour since 1997 should join me in saying, “Thanks, Tiger!!”
Stephen L. Butler, Ed.D., is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy. He is a frequent contributor to the Academy’s Sports Talk Program, and has played golf in 29 states and two foreign countries. He can be reached at sbutler.ussa.edu.