Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers of all time. Since his much-anticipated debut as a professional in 1996, Woods has won 82 times on the PGA Tour and is second to Jack Nicklaus with 15 major titles. And, he’s Black.
For his fellow competitors and most golf fans, Woods’ skin color has never been a major topic of conversation. It’s insignificant because his accomplishments are viewed as that of a golfer, not a Black golfer. While Woods today is revered for his greatness on the links, he endured all sorts of racism on the golf course before becoming a household name. In one interview from those early days, a young and honest Tiger Woods opened up about the racism he faced and those areas of the country where it was most likely to happen.
Tiger Woods becomes one of the greatest golfers ever
Tiger Woods made his professional debut in August 1996. Six weeks later, the 20-year-old won his first PGA Tour event at the Las Vegas Invitational.
Six months later, Woods strolled up the 18th fairway on Sunday at Augusta in what would become his trademark red shirt to claim his first major title by a record-shattering 12 strokes.
As we all know now, those first couple of wins were just the tip of the iceberg. Woods has since gone on to earn 110 professional victories, including 82 on the PGA Tour and is tied with Sam Snead. In 2019, Tiger Woods won his 15th major title (second behind Nicklaus) and fifth green jacket, outlasting Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Xander Schauffele.
Tiger Woods endured racism early in his professional career
Tiger Woods’ 1997 Masters performance was indeed masterful. He started the final round on Sunday three shots clear of the field with his first-ever lead in a major championship, and it only got better from there. By the time Woods made the turn and headed for home, the only thing undecided was his margin of victory.
While the golf world marveled at the 21-year-old, who would become the youngest and first non-white player to win the tournament, Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 Masters winner, was interviewed about Woods during the telecast and offered up some surprising comments.
“He’s doing quite well, pretty impressive. That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”
Zoeller later apologized and said his remarks were a joke. However, several of his sponsors didn’t find them funny and dropped him. Tiger Woods and Zoeller met a month later, Woods accepted his apology, and the two moved on from the incident.
Calls out Texas and Florida for being racist states
While many considered Zoeller’s remarks racist, including his sponsors, it certainly wasn’t the first time Tiger Woods experienced that type of talk or behavior on the golf course. In fact, seven years earlier, Woods was interviewed about what it was like being a Black golfer in a predominantly white sport, and the 14-year-old didn’t hold back.
“Every time I go to a major country club, I always feel it. Can always sense it,” Woods admitted. “People are always staring at you. What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here. When I go to Texas or Florida, you always feel it. They’re saying, why are you here? You’re not supposed to be here. That’s probably because that’s where all the slavery was.”
Fast forward to a famous and very wealthy Tiger Woods. The California native has lived in a gated community in Florida for years. He owns a restaurant there as well.