The greatest of his generation, Tiger Woods took his place among the best of all time on Wednesday night when he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
He shared a life story of a passion to play and a work ethic that made him feel like he earned it, not once touching on any of his 82 victories on the PGA Tour or his 15 majors, or the eight surgeries he endured along the way.
Woods spoke of his parents taking out a second mortgage that allowed him to play the junior circuit in California, choking up when he mentioned his late father who told him he would have to earn everything he wanted.
“If you don’t go out there and put in the work, you don’t go out and put in the effort, one, you’re not going to get the results,” Woods said. “But two, and more importantly, you don’t deserve it. You need to earn it. So that defined my upbringing. That defined my career.”
He was introduced by Sam, his 14-year-old daughter who said her father preaches to her and 13-year-old brother Charlie the same message he learned from his late later.
“Train hard, fight easy.”
Woods was the headliner in an induction class that included retired PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, three-time US Women’s Open champion Susie Maxwell Berning and the late Marion Hollins, a visionary who became the first woman to develop prominent golf courses.
The show was so geared around Woods that it featured three short video presentations that were titled “GOAT,” the popular acronym for “greatest of all time.”
There was little doubt Woods belonged in the Hall of Fame.
He was on a slate of candidates two years ago, all of them introduced one at a time with a list of their accomplishments — except for Woods.
There was no need to bring up what he achieved, who he influenced and the enormous impact he had on his sport in attracting new fans, spiking television ratings and increasing prize money.
The Players Championship prize fund this week is $20 million, and that’s not lost on the players in the field. The entire purse was $3.5 million in 1997 when Woods made his debut. The winner this week gets $3.6 million.
“I think every pro out here owes a debt of gratitude to Tiger because this sport wouldn’t be where it is today without his impact,” Patrick Cantlay, who won the $15 million prize last year as FedEx Cup champion, said earlier this week.
Woods, the first player of Black and Asian heritage to win a major at the 1997 Masters when he was 21, also spoke of the discrimination he felt as a youth.
He told one story about going to a country club to play a tournament but he wasn’t allowed in the clubhouse like the other juniors because of the colour of his skin.
“So I was denied access into the clubhouses. That’s fine. Put my shoes on here in the parking lot,” he said. “I asked two questions only, that was it. Where was the first tee, and what was the course record? Not complicated.”
The room at PGA Tour headquarters, which only held about 500 people, burst into applause.
The ceremony was moved from the World Golf Village, which held previous ceremonies in Florida, to the new PGA Tour headquarters located about a mile away from where Woods first rose to fame.
Sure, there was the appearance on the Mike Douglas Show when he was a two-year-old prodigy, and the three straight US Junior Amateur titles. It was on the island green on the par-3 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass in the 1994 US Amateur when Woods first delivered the uppercut that would define his celebration.
That was the first of an unprecedented three straight US Amateur titles, and it only got better.
His record is so strong that Woods had three Hall of Fame careers in one. After four full years as a pro, he already had the career grand slam and 24 victories on the PGA Tour. The first major was the 1997 Masters, which he won by 12, one of 20 records.
When he was 30, he already had 46 wins on tour and 10 majors, including a sweep of the majors, a feat no one had ever accomplished.
Woods now has a record-tying 82 wins on the PGA Tour, along with 15 majors, three behind the gold standard set by Jack Nicklaus.
More than his wins was his influence.
Woods never wanted to be looked upon as a golfer but rather an athlete. He wasn’t the first to find the gym, but his devotion to strength and fitness created a template for others to follow.
“Tiger changed people’s perception of golf from a game to a sport,” Padraig Harrington said.
Woods’ popularity, his showmanship, was so great Finchem was able to turn that into television contracts that sent purses soaring.
Finchem also created the World Golf Championships events, and a Presidents Cup to give the burgeoning group of international players from outside Europe a chance to compete in team matches.
And Woods kept the PGA Tour strong with sponsors during the recession of 2008.
The induction brought the Hall of Fame to 164 members.