Tiger Woods inspired a generation of minority golfers when he burst onto the scene as a charismatic young star who won tournaments with laser-like focus and sheer power.
Woods inspired many minority golf players as he came onto the scene, breaking the barriers of the modern golf world with his raw talent.
Today, some of the people who were among Woods’s most loyal fans are watching his downfall with sadness after his recent DUI arrest. Though they continue to play and watching golf, they see a man who appears to be broken. They also recall a man that never really embraced the part of an ethnic and racial role model.
The downturn in Woods’s storied career has not gone unnoticed amongst those same young minorities following his recent DUI. To them, Woods role model credentials are in jeopardy as this marks just another string of incidents that has happened to the golf legend in the last decade.
Debert Cook, publisher of the African American Golfer’s Digest , says that talk between other club golfers and herself have typically been aimed in disbelief at Woods downfall.
“People really have said they are disappointed in his performance, and there’s even a lot of push back upon why should we even consider this brother part of our community when he has not really been involved,” she said. “He’s one of us but he’s not one of us.”
Woods’ late father, Earl, was African-American, American Indian, and Chinese; his mother Kultida is a native of Thailand who has Chinese and Dutch ancestry.
Woods describes his ethnicity as “Cablinasian.”
The police who arrested Woods in Florida listed his race as black, something people were quick to point out on social media. “Only the Black part of Tiger Woods got arrested. The Asian part still has a clean record,” read one Twitter post.
Woods, who described himself as a “black dude” won tournaments when Vernel Bennett, now 66, president of the United Black Golfers Association first picked up a club. Bennett believes golf’s reputation is damaged in part by Woods’ mishaps. First came the sex scandals of 2009 which led to divorce and years of bad play, consistent injuries and now his DUI arrest.
“I think fewer people in general are watching the game since Tiger got out. It’s not just blacks,” Bennett said.
The National Golf Association found that of 27.1 million total U.S. golfers in 2010, only 1.4 million were black. There came a decline following the 2008 economic crash which damaged recreational activities. Also, the largest percentage of black players in the study were men in their 30s, those that grew up during the same time of Woods’ rise to glory.
Upon leaving Stanford to turn pro in 1996, Woods went on to have 79 career victories, No. 2 all-time behind Sam Snead, with 14 majors, which is No. 2 behind Jack Nicklaus.
“He was a god to people who never even paid attention to golf,” said Cook. “For a lot of people he has fallen off their hero list,”
Since Woods turned pro 21 years ago, no other African-American has won a PGA Tour event. Only a few black golfers have made an impact in college, and even many historically black colleges have filled out rosters with white players and players from overseas.
Woods’s back surgery led to him being prescribed prescription medication. Woods insisted that an unexpected reaction to the drug caused him to get behind the wheel which ultimately led to the DUI.
Woods was apologetic in his statement vowing to “do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again.”
Woods, now 41, has not won a PGA tournament since 2013 and while this recent episode damages the reputation of a once storied golf legend, there are many supporters hoping for a Cinderella story.