A Tiger in the Woods
In 1997, when Tiger Woods won the Masters and donned the green jacket that accompanies the preeminent title, golf became thrilling to watch for an entirely new audience. The hush of the announcers, the roar of the golfing fans (yes, roar, and yes, fans), the screaming headlines in the next morning's sports pages, the discussions that surrounded the water cooler, and the unprecedented millions of dollars bestowed upon the young athlete by various corporate entities all indicated that something important had happened. On the hallowed (putting) greens of Augusta, where Woods would not have been allowed membership relatively few years earlier, history had been made. And America did not have a language with which to deal with the phenom.
Not since Lee Elder squared off against Jack Nicklaus in a suddendeath playoff at the American Golf Classic in 1968 had a black golfer gained so much televised attention. The sports press cast the feat of Woods as a breaking of a modern color line, yet no one, including Woods himself, could fully describe exactly which color line had been broken. The press conveyed his parental heritage as decidedly “mixed”— African American, Asian, and Native American. Yet overwhelmingly, people portrayed Woods as a “black athlete, ” a golfer who had accomplished something in the wake of path breakers like Elder, John Shippen, Dewey Brown, and Charlie Sifford. 1 However, he repeatedly told the press he did not consider himself to be black but, rather, tried to