It’s hard to believe Tiger Woods is only 37 years old–it feels like he’s been in the spotlight forever. That’s likely because he’s been a golf superstar since his earliest years, showing off his putting to Bob Hope on the “Mike Douglas Show” when he was just 2 years old (and displayed a beautiful driving technique to boot, in front of both Hope and Jimmy Stewart). He broke 80 before he was 10 years old; won every conceivable youth tournament, including three U.S. Junior Amateurs (a record); and he was the youngest ever U.S. Amateur winner. As an adult, Woods has won 105 tournaments, 14 of them majors–the second-highest haul in golf history, behind links legend Jack Nicklaus, 73, who finished his career with 18 majors wins in 2005.
And that’s just the golf–he’s also been married, divorced and at the center of a major public sex scandal. He’s been No. 1 in the world rankings, and as low as No. 51. Currently, he’s the richest sportsman in the world, he’s dating Lindsay Vonn, U.S. skiing phenom, and fellow golfer Sergio Garcia recently made Woods the target of racist comments. Not surprisingly, many tomes have tried tackling his life and career, so we take a look at his professional and personal trajectory through books.
Much of Tiger Woods’ success can be put down to his father, Earl Woods. It was Earl who put a golf club in Tiger’s hand in the crib; he who accompanied him on to the “Mike Douglas Show;” he who cajoled, coached and created the man. In “Training a Tiger,” Woods senior describes what it takes to be the best on and off the course, as a golfer and a person (in his later book, “Playing Through,” Earl looks back at his own life more directly).
A major talent
By the late 1990s, golf had a new superstar, unlike any other it had ever created: a multi-racial, hard-charging, super-fit athlete who could hit the ball harder, further and more perfectly than anyone who’d ever played the game. Woods’ first major victory was one of his most impressive (and not just because it was his first major as a professional)–he won the 1997 Masters at Augusta by a staggering 12 strokes over veteran Tom Kite. Tom Strege’s biography of the 20-something was perfectly timed, hitting shelves just as Tiger Woods hit No. 1.
Out in front
By 2001, Strege’s biography already needed an update, as Woods had added five more major tournament wins. Woods was so far beyond his peers that when he published “How I Play Golf,” his only instructional book, it read like a message from a different planet. Read it for the way Woods describes his own technique since, far as instruction manuals go, it is pretty much useless, because no one can or will ever play like Woods.
Who can tame the Tiger?
Woods’ emphasis on power and fitness changed golf and, in turn, many golf courses added yards, trees and bunkers in a futile attempt to “Tiger-proof” their facilities. Woods just kept on winning, as spectators and commentators wondered who could challenge him. One such player, Charles Howell III, was thought of as the “next Tiger”– Curt Sampson followed him around the PGA Tour to write “Chasing Tiger.” But Howell became merely a journeyman golfer, never coming close in the big tournaments. Another writer who went on a search–in this case for the real Tiger Woods–was Tom Callahan, though “In Search of Tiger” proved that the notoriously private world of Woods was almost impossible to penetrate.
Reaching the turn
The 2008 U.S. Open was the pinnacle of Woods’ golfing career thus far: Woods outlasted plucky Rocco Mediate in play-off after play-off, and all on a bum knee. Immediately afterwards, Woods quit the season for surgery and 18 months later his personal life imploded. Should Woods wish to remember that 2008 win, he could do worse than read John Feinstein and Mediate’s account of it in “Are You Kidding Me?” (though Feinstein admits Woods and he have a complicated relationship, to say the least).
In late 2009, Tiger Woods had a car accident near his house in Florida. In the subsequent weeks, the story of that minor accident morphed into tales of sexual intrigue, until Woods admitted that he had had several extra-marital affairs. Sponsors fled; his life fell apart; he announced to a shocked sporting world that he was withdrawing from golf for the foreseeable future (he and his wife, Elin Nordegren, divorced in 2010). Robert Lusetich chronicled the entire ugly story in “Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger’s Most Tumultuous Season.”
Back on course
Eventually, Woods returned to golf, though he was a changed man–and a changed golfer. Gone was the sense that if Tiger was in the field, he was the man to beat. He is yet to win a major tournament since that 2008 win over Mediate, though at least in 2013 he has finally gotten back to No. 1 in the world, having won a number of tournaments early in the season. Hank Haney, his coach from 2004-2010, revealed much about his time with Woods in “The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods”— including that Woods paid him a mere $50,000 a year (in 2009, the penultimate year of his involvement with Haney and the year of his sex scandal, Forbes estimated Woods to be worth $600 million). Only time will tell if Woods’ hot start to 2013 will bring him closer to what he craves most–a chance in the coming years to dethrone Nicklaus as the most decorated golfer in the history of the game.