Tiger Woods Becomes World’s Top-Rated Golfer Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After turning professional in 1996, Tiger Woods quickly came to dominate the sport of golf. In 1997, he won the Masters Tournament, his first major tournament as a professional, and became the youngest player up to that time to achieve the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Summary of Event

When Tiger Woods exploded onto the professional golf scene in 1996 he had already experienced notable successes in golf. He won his first golf tournament at the age of eight, and at fifteen he became the youngest golfer up to that time to win the U.S. Junior National Championship. He went on to become the first African American and the youngest golfer to win the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, a tournament he then won three years in a row. In 1996, he became the first African American to earn a PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) Tour card since Adrian Stills in 1985. African Americans;athletes Golf Sports;golf [kw]Tiger Woods Becomes World’s Top-Rated Golfer (June 15, 1997) [kw]Woods Becomes World’s Top-Rated Golfer, Tiger (June 15, 1997) [kw]Golfer, Tiger Woods Becomes World’s Top-Rated (June 15, 1997) African Americans;athletes Golf Sports;golf [g]North America;June 15, 1997: Tiger Woods Becomes World’s Top-Rated Golfer[09710] [g]United States;June 15, 1997: Tiger Woods Becomes World’s Top-Rated Golfer[09710] [c]Sports;June 15, 1997: Tiger Woods Becomes World’s Top-Rated Golfer[09710] Woods, Tiger Woods, Earl

On his way to winning his first major professional tournament, the Masters, in April, 1997, at twenty-one years of age, Woods shattered several PGA records. Masters Golf Tournament His score of 270 over four rounds was the lowest in the history of the Masters, and his twelve-stroke victory over the second-place finisher was the greatest winning margin since 1862. Not long after his Masters win, on June 15, 1997, Tiger Woods became the youngest professional golfer ever to take the number one spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Woods’s phenomenal success drew a great deal of media attention. In 1997, television coverage of the Masters included sixty-six of his sixty-nine final-round shots and earned the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) record television ratings for a Masters final. After Woods joined the PGA Tour in 1996, hundreds of millions of new dollars began to flow into the sport of professional golf, including increases in television contracts. Prize money on the PGA Tour in 1996, the year Woods turned pro, added up to a little more than $69 million. In contrast, by 2001 the total purse had escalated to $180 million. As the most recognized athlete in the world, Woods brought more people out to the tournaments and created more media coverage.

Tiger Woods.


In addition to raising the financial status of professional golf, Woods transformed the public image of the sport, taking golf’s long history as a decadent pastime for white people and turning it inside out. As Tim Finchem, Finchem, Tim commissioner of the PGA Tour, noted, Woods’s impact came not only from his skill but also from his persona and the dignified way he carried himself.

In December, 1996, several months after Woods left Stanford University to become a professional golfer, an article in Sports Illustrated quoted his father, Earl Woods, as claiming that his son was qualified through his ethnicity to do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity. According to the elder Woods, Tiger’s heritage—which includes Thai, Chinese, American Indian, and European as well as African forebears—placed him in a position to stimulate new interest in the concept of the United States as a melting pot. Building on the interest in Tiger Woods, stories about mixed-race children and racially mixed marriages proliferated in the mass media. Woods, however, was somewhat reluctant to make public statements about issues of race and ethnicity. He frowned on being referred to as African American because he felt that such categorization neglected his Asian mother. For the most part, he seemed inclined to concentrate on golf and let others speak on behalf of race relations. He did, however, always find time to devote to helping disadvantaged youth, both on and off the golf course. To that end, he and his father established the Tiger Woods Foundation in 1996.


Tiger Woods’s success and popularity had major impacts on the sport of golf, which had long stood as a potent symbol of exclusion and racial intolerance. Although golf is still overwhelmingly a sport played and watched by white people, surveys have shown that from 1996 to 2003, the number of African Americans who identified themselves as avid fans of professional golf rose 380 percent. In the same period, the percentage of African American golfers doubled. By 2003, approximately five hundred golf programs were operating in urban, inner-city areas in the United States, compared with just eighty-five such programs in 1994.

Woods attracted interest to the sport of golf in the United States and around the world, among adults and children of all ethnic groups who previously had no interest in the sport. The country-club mystique of golf began to disappear as the sport became democratized and more affordable, with an increasing proportion of new courses open to the public (in 2003, 90 percent of new golf courses built in the United States were public courses).

In addition, Woods’s example of commitment to a relentless work ethic in the gym and on the practice range brought a new level of physical fitness and dedication to the realm of professional golf. The game’s equipment revolution around the end of the twentieth century was also fueled in part by the desire among lesser players to catch up to Woods. His mile-long drives were a major contributor to an obsession with distance off the tee, which led many golf courses, including Augusta National, to redesign golf holes to allow for greater length.

Woods’s influence and success continued into the twenty-first century. In 2000, his fifteen-stroke victory at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach made Woods the first golfer since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three major tournaments in a year. In April, 2001, Woods became the first golfer to hold all four majors titles at once, although not in the same year, when he again captured the Masters title. This feat became known as the “Tiger slam.” African Americans;athletes Golf Sports;golf

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Londino, Lawrence. Tiger Woods: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. Describes the life and career of the golf prodigy. Includes information on Woods’s early life, the influence of his parents, and how he handles celebrity and the media.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Owen, David. The Chosen One: Tiger Woods and the Dilemma of Greatness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Examines Woods’s impacts on the sport of golf and on American society in general since he came to public attention as a golf phenomenon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sampson, Curt. Chasing Tiger. New York: Atria Books, 2002. Describes how Woods’s success transformed the PGA Tour and the game of professional golf.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sounes, Howard. The Wicked Game: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and the Story of Modern Golf. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Presents an interesting comparison of three golf superstars of different eras and how they affected the sport of golf in different ways.

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