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All Is Changed
Michael Bamberger
April 21, 1997
With the powerful sweep of his swing, Tiger Woods altered the future of the Masters—and maybe of golf
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April 21, 1997

All Is Changed

With the powerful sweep of his swing, Tiger Woods altered the future of the Masters—and maybe of golf

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Last Saturday night, in the long Augusta twilight, there was one man on the practice tee and one man in the tournament. He was Tiger Woods, and he had a nine-shot lead with one round remaining. The other 45 players left in the field were playing in a different event, for a different prize. The inevitable was still a day away.

Ben Crenshaw walked out of the Augusta National clubhouse on his way to dinner, wearing a tie, carrying a blazer. Crenshaw is old school. He grew up reading about Bobby Jones and hearing about Ben Hogan and watching Jack Nicklaus. The "real" athletes at Crenshaw's high school in Austin played football and baseball. Crenshaw had golf all to himself, and he liked it that way. Now Crenshaw was feeling peculiar. "Something's changing," he said. "Something's about to pass." Maybe he was a little wistful. No content person likes change.

The next day, it happened. The old order died. Dusk on Sunday was actually dawn. In 1965 Jones said of Nicklaus, "He plays a game with which I am not familiar," but the larger truth is that Nicklaus was Jones's heir. Charlie Nicklaus raised Jack to emulate Jones, and Jones lives on through Jack, through the Masters (which Jones started) and through the Augusta National club (which he cofounded). Everything is changed now. Over four days Woods proved that Jones's course is obsolete—for him, at least, but for nobody else. The four par-5s at Augusta National are not just par-4s for Woods, they are short par-4s. When Jones was helping Alister Mackenzie design the course in the early '30s, he didn't imagine a player with Woods's length.

As for Jones's club, its position is diminished too. The core members, old rich white men in green coats, for decades were the stewards of the game, and they handled the responsibility ably, even if they were slow to invite a black man to play in their annual invitational or to join their club. Now there's a 21-year-old black man among them, with his own green coat and an honorary membership, who is suddenly the most powerful force in the game. Upon winning, Woods said that kids—black kids, white kids, city kids, suburban kids—will take up the game in numbers never before seen. If Woods says that will happen, it will. Accurate assessments are his strong suit.

The playing of the game at its most elite level will change as well. Woods's game is about generating immense club-head speed. Long, straight hitting has always been the surest way to golfing success—it was for Jones and Nicklaus, too—but it was not a requirement. Crenshaw and Larry Mize won at Augusta on touch and heart alone. But an otherworldly short game will never be as dependable as robotic repetition of full swing after full swing. Woods, Ernie Els, Greg Norman and Vijay Singh all have similar swings, upright and athletic. For now, such swings are considered exceptional. A generation from now they will be commonplace on the Tour. And on that Tour courses will need to grow by 1,000 yards if par is to remain, generally speaking, at 72.

For you, if you're a golfer, the playing of the game will be the same. Breaking 100, breaking 90, breaking 80—those age-old goals will be no easier than they were before Tiger proved his supremacy. (Though pockets of resistance remain: On Sunday night there were people—pros and spectators alike—saying that Woods's astounding triumph proves only that his game is highly suited to Augusta National.)

The transition of power went smoothly. Dan Foreman, a touring pro who missed the cut at this year's Masters but has four Tour wins to his credit, followed Woods up and down Augusta's hills on Sunday, just another spectator in the parade, traipsing after greatness. "I want to see what he's doing," Forsman said. "I want to see history. I really don't know if I can compete with him right now. But I want to try."

The current golf boom began with Nicklaus's Masters win in 1986, and now Woods's victory will test the generosity of golfers even more. Golfers want the game all to themselves, the tee times, the secret pleasures of the purely struck shot, the language they know that the guy at the watercooler does not. They can't have it all to themselves anymore. Woods will be on magazine covers and cereal boxes and TV screens for the rest of their lives. He is black and Thai and charismatic and young, and he will bring the game to people, millions of them, who have never heard of Bobby Jones or Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaus. The newly arrived are seldom treated well in this country. With Tiger's arrival, perhaps that will change.