The 18 Most Important Moments in Golf (End)
When the red light first went on in its Orlando studio Jan. 17, 1995, did you give Golf Channel much chance of lasting a year, let alone 18 and counting? A 24-hour network devoted to golf? What knucklehead is going to watch a taped European Tour event at 3:30 a.m.? Over time, though, we've come to appreciate something: That knucklehead is us. Evolving from its infomercial-laden self (The Perfect Club, anyone?) to a blend of tournament coverage, studio analysis and reality fare, GolfChannel has become something we didn't know we needed until we got itand now can't imagine how we ever lived without it. It has exposed us to the world's most breathtaking courses and skilled players, while legitimizing the sport with the general public. Plus, on a sleepless night, it's good to know you can turn on your TV and be that knucklehead again.
A MASTERFUL MASTERS
Early in 1997, during a conversation with Mike Holder, now the athletic director at Oklahoma State but then the school's golf coach, I asked how he thought Tiger Woods might do in the Masters. He replied without pausing for breath, "He'll win by 10 shots." I said, "You've got to be joking." Or something slightly more colorful. Coach Holder wasn't a particularly funny guy in those days, but he knew greatness when he saw it. Woods won by 12.
Although the black-and-white photo of Ben Hogan playing his approach to the 18th green at Merion GC may be the most famous single golf photo ever taken, one of the sweetest is the color snapshot of an exhausted 21-year-old Woods asleep in his bed in a rented house in Augusta, Ga., with his arms wrapped around a green jacket. It was the end of a week that ushered in an era of one man's domination of the game the likes of which hadn't been seen since Bobby Jones was the emperor. The first man of color to win a major championship did it at Jones' course in the bastion of the old South. He won, as he would so often, without bothering to look back because no one could gain on him. He won in the presence of Lee Elder, the first black man to earn an invitation to the Masters, who watched Sunday at the invitation of the tournament. He collapsed into the arms of his father, Earl, in an embrace that was profoundly personal and, at the same time, a bear hug of the entire sport.
Woods became not just the finest golfer of his time but arguably the most famous athlete in the world. If his celebrity was supposed to attract more people of color to golf, it didn't. What did happen was an explosion of purses, rights fees and financial largesse. Ultimately of greater significance, it was the opening chapter in a career of such staggering achievement the world may not see anything like it for another hundred years.
The distance of a two-piece rock with the greenside control and spin of a balata ball. That was the goal of designers seeking nirvana with the creation of the multilayer, urethane-covered golf ball. Although the Top-Flite Strata and Nike Tour Accuracy were among the first such balls to market, it was the Titleist Pro V1 that provided the tipping pointspecifically at the 2000 Invensys Classic in Las Vegas when the ball was introduced to tour pros and 47 immediately switched, including Billy Andrade, who won the event.
Although the sea change was swift, it had been two years in the making. Mark O'Meara won a pair of majors in 1998 with the solid-core Strata, and Tiger Woods switched from a wound Titleist ball to the solid-core Nike Tour Accuracya ball he had been testing for more than a yearin May 2000 in Germany at the Deutsche Bank SAP Open. After the change Woods went on an incredible tear, winning six of eight events, including runaway victories in the U.S. and British Opens. Woods' success prompted other playersand ballmakersto alter their thinking.
The Pro V1 prototype was first shown to a large number of players that September at the SEI Pennsylvania Classic, generating so much talk that Golf World likened it to "a carload of teenage girls on its way to an 'N Sync concert." After Andrade's victory in Vegas, the stampede to solid-core was on. By March 2001 nearly 90 percent of the tour was using solid-core balls, a number that became 100 percent by the end of 2002with good reason. At the close of the 2001 PGA Tour season, driving distance had jumped from 272.7 yards the previous year to 278.8 yards. Two years later, it was up to 285.9 yardsa gain of 13.2 yards in just three years. The paradigm shift also found its way to the consumer market, where golfers could now purchase tour-level balls that flew farther but didn't cut.
Having won the previous three majorsblowouts at the U.S. and British Opens and a tense playoff verdict over underdog Bob May at the PGA Championship Tiger Woods, already a trailblazer, arrived at the 2001 Masters expected to produce more golf history. It would not be a Grand Slam, a calendar-year sweep of the events that matter most, but when he held off David Duval by two strokes and Phil Mickelson by three on April 8, the "Tiger Slam" crowned Woods as the best of his era and an icon for all time. Despite all the big-moment successes that had come before and would come later, by winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive professional major title when the opportunity was there, Tiger punctuated the point that there has never been a better pressure player. In a way, everything since has been an encore.