World-renowned golf player Tiger Woods sustained serious injuries in a near-fatal one-car accident that occurred Tuesday in the Los Angeles community of Palos Verdes. Woods, who may have been speeding or distracted, lost control of his vehicle as he was driving through a curvy, steep stretch of road that has been the scene of numerous accidents in the past.
His vehicle was extensively damaged, having rolled over several times requiring the fire department to use specialized tools to extricate him from the vehicle. Woods suffered compound fractures to his right leg as well as a fractured ankle and, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, “is lucky to be alive.”
Woods had been rehabilitating for the last several months from his latest back surgery and had hoped to compete at the Masters Tournament this April. The severe leg injuries that the 45-year-old Woods has just sustained, coupled with numerous back and leg surgeries he has endured during his career, have now placed any future athletic activities in grave doubt.
For the past 25 years, Tiger Woods has been the world’s most popular and famous golfer. His unparalleled success from modest beginnings and his ancestry (his father was African American, his mother Thai) were novelties in what was once considered to be a sport limited to the wealthy and privileged of society. He greatly expanded the interest and participation in golf among masses of ordinary people.
As is often the case with extraordinarily talented individuals in capitalist society, Woods was marketed as a commodity that enriched the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), the television networks, and the brands that employed him as an icon (particularly Nike), as well as himself, only to have the same forces exploit his personal scandals and tragedies, reviving and rehabilitating his image after each episode in a seemingly never-ending soap opera.
Woods grew up in Southern California and was taught golf by his father Earl, who had a military career that included a tour in Vietnam. Earl met Tiger’s mother Kultida when he was stationed in Thailand. He was himself a single-digit-handicap amateur golfer, and because he was a member of the military had playing privileges at military golf courses and was able to introduce Tiger to golf as soon as he could walk.
Tiger was a child prodigy and at the age of two he putted against comedian Bob Hope in a television appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. At age three, he shot a 48 over nine holes at a Navy course. At age five, he appeared in Golf Digest and on ABC’s That’s Incredible.
Before turning seven, Tiger won the Under-10 section of the Drive, Pitch, and Putt competition, held at the Navy Golf Course in Cypress, California. In 1984, at the age of eight, he won the age 9–10 boys’ event, the youngest age group available, at the Junior World Golf Championships. He went on to win the Junior World Championships six times, including four consecutive wins from 1988 to 1991.
Following an outstanding junior, college, and amateur golf career, Woods turned professional in 1996 at the age of 20. With this remarkable resume, Woods immediately signed advertising deals with Nike and Titleist that ranked at the time as the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history.
By the end of April 1997, Woods had won three PGA Tour events in addition to his first major, the 1997 Masters, which he won by 12 strokes in a record-breaking performance. He reached number one in the world rankings for the first time in June 1997, less than a year after turning pro. Throughout the first decade of this century, Woods was the dominant force in golf. He was the top-ranked golfer in the world from August 1999 to September 2004 (264 weeks) and again from June 2005 to October 2010 (281 weeks).
The next decade of Woods’s career was marked by a roller-coaster of setbacks and comebacks from personal problems and injuries. He took a self-imposed hiatus from professional golf from December 2009 to early April 2010 in an attempt to resolve marital issues with his wife that had become a public spectacle, as the press promoted and sensationalized multiple infidelities for which Woods was eventually forced to apologize. Woods soon after divorced, lost several sponsorships and fell to number 58 in the world rankings in November 2011 before ascending again to the number-one ranking between March 2013 and May 2014.
Injuries led him to undergo four back surgeries between 2014 and 2017. Many feel the power of Wood’s swing and his playing so much golf at such an early age have contributed to his chronic injuries. Woods competed in only one tournament between August 2015 and January 2018, and he dropped off the list of the world’s top 1,000 golfers.
The physical and emotional pain that Woods was enduring again became a public spectacle when in 2017 he was found passed out in his car as a result of being under the influence of pain and sleep medications.
On his return to regular competition in 2018, Woods made steady progress to the top of the game, winning his first tournament in five years at the Tour Championships in September 2018 and his first major in 11 years at the 2019 Masters.
Throughout his career, Woods has won 15 professional major golf championships, trailing only Jack Nicklaus’s 18, and 82 PGA Tour events, tied for first with Sam Snead. During his career it is estimated that he has earned more than 1 billion dollars in endorsements and golf winnings.
Besides the profound personal impact Tuesday’s automobile accident will have on Woods, immense commercial interests are also at stake. It is estimated that TV ratings of golf have declined at times by almost 50 percent when Woods is absent from the PGA Tour. What has been described as the “Tiger Effect” has resulted in significantly decreased TV viewership and golf equipment sales whenever Woods is unable to play.
In addition to the PGA and its television contracts with the networks, Woods currently has endorsement deals with eight companies, ranging from golf equipment brands to beverage makers to automakers to trading card companies.
One can hope that Woods is happy to be alive and will focus on his physical recovery rather than any quick return to competitive golf, where he has nothing to prove. But it is to be expected that commercial interests will be putting enormous pressure on him to profit from yet another “comeback” chapter for Tiger Woods.