Twenty years ago today, Aug. 29, 1996, Tiger Woods, 20 at the time, made his professional debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open. It was a memorable week, notwithstanding his tying for 60th, and occasionally an amusing week. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. En route via a commercial airline from home in Orange County, Calif., to Portland, Ore., for his final amateur event, Woods turned to his father and said, “I’m never flying coach again.” Indeed, the day after his U.S. Amateur victory, he had a corporate jet standing by to take him to Milwaukee. Suffice it to say, he was right.
2. In Milwaukee, Woods paid for dinner one night with a gift certificate he had received upon his arrival. A day later, when Woods and his instructor Butch Harmon were driving to Brown Deer Park Golf Course in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale, Butch asked him whether he had his checkbook, so he could pay the $100 entry fee. “Butch, I don’t have one-hundred dollars,” he said, despite having already signed a $40 million contract with Nike. Harmon floated him a loan. Later, Woods said, “I haven’t seen a penny yet. I haven’t seen any check in the mail yet. I’m still broke.”
3. Nike sent Woods several bags stuffed with shirts and pants. At his locker at Brown Deer Park, he found four new Titleist golf gloves and three dozen Titleist Tour balata balls. He was giddy. “He was like a 10-year-old dropped into the middle of Toys ‘R’ Us,” Harmon said.
4. Woods’ agency, IMG, initially planned for Tiger to announce he was turning pro at Niketown in Chicago. That idea was scrapped. Instead, he released a statement on that Tuesday that he was turning pro, then held his “Hello World” news conference on Wednesday. Among the media outlets on hand were People and Newsweek magazines and the television show “Extra,” a strong indication that a new higher-profile era in golf had begun.
5. The Woods family — Tiger, father Earl and mother Kultida — was sporting 27 Nike swooshes on its clothing and shoes on Wednesday, though Kultida vowed not to give up the Reeboks that she had been wearing the week before. “They pay Tiger, they don’t pay me,” she said.