Over 40 days, GOLF.com is rolling out Tiger Woods’ 40 biggest moments. Our ranking started on Nov. 21 and will culminate on Dec. 30, which is Tiger’s 40th birthday. That’s 40 Tiger moments. In 40 days. Ranked. Click here to learn more about our list.
Tiger’s 40 Biggest Moments: No. 25 – Signs First Deal With Nike
By August 1996, Tiger Woods was golf’s biggest star, even though he had yet to turn professional. At Portland, Oregon’s Pumpkin Ridge, Tiger was stalking a record third consecutive U.S. Amateur win and walking every step of the way for all but one of his matches was Nike CEO Phil Knight, whose Beaverton headquarters were only 15 miles away. According to Sports Illustrated, when a reporter suggested that Woods might have the same charisma and flair for competition as Michael Jordan, who also endorses Nike products, Knight responded, “You bet your ass. Same deal.”
Woods, of course, won the title. Asked afterwards if he would turn professional, Woods replied in the close-to-the-vest style he would practice for his entire career: “I really don’t know. I’ve got to think about it.”
Twenty-four hours later, Woods was aboard Phil Knight’s private jet. On Tuesday, at the registration desk at the Greater Milwaukee Open, he checked the box marked “professional.” Then came the “Hello World” Nike spot that would run in print and air on television on Thursday, Day 1 of the GMO.
Tiger Woods’ deal with Nike was $40 million for five years. He was outfitted with shoes and clothing. It took several years for balls and clubs to enter the equation. Was there resentment among the Tour pros for that deal, Steve Stricker was asked at the time. “No doubt about it, especially with the money he’s getting,” said Stricker to The New York Times. “The No. 1 player in the world isn’t getting that kind of money. Here’s a guy who hasn’t got his tour card yet and he’s making $43 million?”
Curtis Strange, then on the Nike team, put things in perspective. “There couldn’t have been a better time for a player like him to come along,” said Strange. “Golf has never been more popular, and this is a guy who is one of the few who can really push product.”
Did Nike get their money’s worth? “The value Nike received on the first contract caused me to come to the conclusion that it would be chump change,” said Earl Woods in 2001 Tiger’s “Pops,” as usual, was right.
Check back on GOLF.com every day until Tiger’s birthday on Dec. 30 for a new moment in our [email protected] countdown.
No. 27: Winning Back-to-Back Masters
No. 30: Ugly Breakup With Steve Williams
No. 33: Relationship With Lindsey Vonn
No. 35: A Shot in the Dark at Firestone
No. 36: Television Debut at Age 2