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Tiger's victory was remarkable as it was historic for two reason: first he has -
in one "Masters" or championship popularised golf among other minority
children. Before, golf was seen as a game only for elites. More importantly he holds
golf clinics for inner-city children thus making it accessible to all who want to
learn the game.
Today the United States is filled with Tiger followers, drawn from all races, colours
During the four-day tournament, his fans, almost all Whites, cheered him on at every
hole, after every stroke and putt. When Tiger sunk his final putt on the 18th green
at Augusta on Sunday. April 13 - winning the Masters by 12 strokes - there was a
pandemonium among young and old!
Tiger, who is part black, part Chinese, part Thai and Charokee Indian, and the only
child of a retired army colonel, collected $486,000 (RM 1.2 million) for the Augusta
victory. He now earns US$12 million (RM 30 million) a year as a pro-golfer. This
amount stands out even among today's megarich sportsmen.
Tiger is only 21 and golfers, I am told don't reach their peak until their thirties.
A pro golfer's career can last until a player is well into his sixties. Time
magazine's April 21 issue named Tiger as on of America's 25 most influential men;
its rival, Newsweek, on the same date, chose Tiger as one of 100 people to
watch as America prepares to pass through the gate to the twenty first century, thus
joining the membership of the New Century Club.
Secondly, Tiger has now joined the ranks of retired General Colin Powell, Jackie-Robinson
(he broke colour bar in baseball in 1947), Muhammad Ali, and Arthur Ashe, amongst
others, as the legendary heroes and icons of Black Americans.
President Bill Clinton paid tribute Tiger saying that Robinson and Woods reflected
"the two great ingredients of a good society" - the willingness to end
discrimination and the ability rise above it. Tiger decline the invitation to meet
Clinton in New York (Clinton was watching the baseball game between the New York
Mets and Dodgers at the Shea stadium) saying he needed time "out of the limelight".
It does appear that there is no holding this black Tiger back - a child prodigy who
has been appropriately compared with a young Mozart. According to his biographers,
Tiger had a competent looking golf swing when he was 11 months old! He first broke
50 for nine holes when he was already holding exhibitions of his prowess at five.
He aspires to "be the best", which means surpassing the greats. The likes
of Nicklaus, whose record of 18 major wins until the emergence of Tiger was thought
to be insurmountable. If Tiger sustains his present form and, better yet, enhances
it, he may well be the first sportsman of any colour to be a billionaire.
Who are the other megarich athletes? The current "King" is Michael Jordan,
34, the Chicago Bulls basketball star who earns US$ 38 million (RM 96 million) a
year, L.A. Laker Shaquille o'Neal, earns US$ 23 million (RM 70 million) yearly. As
a pro, Tiger has earned more than US$1 million (RM 2.5 million) in prize money and
US$ 500,000 in appearance fees.
Arnold Palmer, the golf legend, earned US$16 million (RM 40 million) last year, tennis
great Andre Agassi (he married his long-time lover, Brooke Shields recently) earned
US$ 15.8 million (RM 39.5 million), Nicklaus US$14.3 million (RM 36 million), and
Dallas Cowboy Superstar Emmit Smith made US$ 16.5 million (RM 14.3 million) in 1996.
Tiger plans to start a Tiger Woods Foundation that will create opportunities for
youngsters to play golf, and according to Time, golf is still the most
restrictive of major American sports. Tiger is challenging golf in much the same
way that Arthur Ashe challenged tennis.
Time quoted Tiger as saying: "Golf has shied away from racism far too
long. Some clubs have brought in tokens, but nothing has really changed. I hope what
I am doing can change that."