15-time golf major champion Tiger Woods is officially a billionaire, according to Forbes. This even after Woods turned down a reported high nine figure check to leave the PGA Tour and join the Saudi backed LIV Tour. Woods joins Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only athlete billionaires.
Woods has earned over $1.7 billion in prize money, endorsements and other forms of income during his historic career. Less than 10 percent of that comes from golf winnings; most is from sponsors, including Nike, Gatorade, Rolex, TaylorMade and others.
James and Woods reached billionaire status as active players, while Jordan didn’t become a billionaire until 2014, well after he retired.
“He hit the right time in the right sport, being an athlete with a diverse background who was approachable,” veteran sports business consultant and Columbia lecturer Joe Favorito told Forbes. “Brands love knowing they’re getting someone who is embraced not just by the traditional but also by the casual fans.”
Ever since Woods turned pro in 1996 with his famous “Hello, World” press conference he has been a box office draw.
He was named Sports Illustrated’s 1996 Sportsman of the Year and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Then in 1997 he won his first major, The Masters, in record-breaking fashion and became the tournament’s youngest winner at age 21.
The Nike marketing machine made Woods a god-like figure and his otherworldly play catapulted him to best player in the world status, and eventually greatest of all time.
Woods was the most prolific athlete endorser of all time, earning more than $100 million per year off the course. He was No. 1 on Forbes’ highest-paid athletes list for ten consecutive years through 2012.
There were many incidents that could have delayed Woods’ ascent to becoming a billionaire. There are the numerous injuries which could have ended his playing career. He won the 2008 US Open on two stress fractures and a torn ACL.
In 2009 he was in a car crash that revealed several extramarital affairs he was having. Many of his sponsors ran for the hills. Nike remained loyal and many others jumped back on to ride the wave, despite his inability to stay healthy over the past five years, his arrest for DUI and an addiction to painkillers.
In 2019, 11 years after the 2008 US Open Woods won his 15th major championship at The Masters, giving him five victories in the prestigious event.
He’s also started TGR Design, a venture to build exclusive golf courses all over the world. The first course here in the U.S. was Blue Jack National in Montgomery, Texas.
For all his riches, he hasn’t opened the game and made it more accessible for minorities as many originally hoped. The sport primarily remains the exclusive domain of country clubbers and is still a bastion of whiteness.
Woods has his foundation, which empowers underserved youth through STEM curricula, so he is giving back to communities. It just seems like he could be doing so much more.
“Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity. … He is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations.”
Those were the words of his late father Earl Woods. Extremely lofty expectations for anyone to reach. But there was always the promise of more.