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Tiger Woods went on Larry King Live and predicted the future in these 9 ways

April 15, 2020

Welcome back to the Tiger Woods YouTube Project, where we’re taking a closer look at golf’s greatest star through his most iconic — and forgotten — moments caught on camera. Today’s episode comes from the airwaves of CNN, circa June 1998.

Tiger Woods once appeared on Larry King Live. He sat in as a guest for an entire hour. He took phone calls.

If you’ve spent any time observing Woods in the two decades since, those three sentences will seem difficult to imagine. But we’re talking about 1998, when things were just different. Woods had only won a single major championship. YouTube hadn’t been invented yet. Sungjae Im was two months old.

What’s particularly fascinating about Woods’ CNN appearance, though, is just how familiar things sound. How he seems to understand what he’s accomplished — and know what’s coming. Watch (and then read) on, to see how Tiger (with Larry’s help!) predicted the future.

Tiger Woods YouTube Project, Chapter 12: Tiger and King

RELATED: Chapter 11 — “What Tiger Told Oprah”

Let’s keep this simple. I’ll run through nine mini-quotes from Tiger Woods on Larry King’s CNN show and we’ll think through just how true those have become. The first one, I’ll warn you, hits the hardest.

1. “The back’s fine”

Ah, yes. The back. It appears that 22 years ago, Tiger Woods rescheduled his Larry King interview due to “a little twinge” he felt after too much cross-training. Running too many miles, too early. For much (all?) of Woods’ career, his injury descriptions have felt a bit off. Sometimes it seemed like he didn’t want to give ammo to media or an edge to competitors.

In this instance, Woods made it seem like the injury had just gone away. No big deal. “Ice and heat and a lot of stretching and it’s perfect now,” he said. At that point, he was probably right. Not to give anything away, but it wouldn’t stay “perfect” forever.

2. “They’re starting to become athletes”

Looking back from golf’s current status — where yoga is commonplace, pros are in Peloton wars and Brooks Koepka’s most important warm-up comes in the gym, it’s easy to look back and recognize that something changed in the last 20 years. Well, here you can see that happening in the moment. King asks whether golfers work out a lot, and Woods doesn’t immediately say that they do. He says they’re starting to.

As a result, he predicts a future with guys who are fit, shooting lower scores and watching what they eat while they do it. All came true.

3. “I’ve learned how to, I guess, get my privacy in different ways”

We’re just in Woods’ second year of true superstardom, and he’s clearly still adjusting. He tells King a story of being recognized on his way to a Clippers game despite being in the backseat of a car that had tinted windows. It’s crazy to imagine for a 22-year-old kid, but that was just the very beginning for Woods. As he talks to King, it’s clear that there are already parts of this fame that are less than ideal.

“Last year, right after I won the Masters was when it was just berserk. I went on vacation down in Mexico and couldn’t have fun — I left,” he says. Woods’ true predictive power here is that he would eventually “get his privacy in different ways,” by acquiring a yacht that he named Privacy. That’s one way to do it.

4. “He doesn’t know me.”

John Feinstein had just published a book, The First Coming: Tiger Woods, Master or Martyr? that Team Woods didn’t seem to be huge fans of. By this point, Woods already felt trapped by the situation he was in: People wanted to know everything about him, but he didn’t want his entire life analyzed and uncovered. In particular, he criticized Feinstein’s choice to write a Newsweek column about his pro debut without even going to Milwaukee to attend the tournament in person. If only he knew, by now, how many off-site columns would be written about him…

This attitude has softened in recent years, exemplified by Woods’ speech at the golf writers’ dinner last year, where he talked thoughtfully about how he’d been covered. But the sense of undue persecution still persists, too. Recall Woods’ announcement last year about his forthcoming autobiography:

“I’ve been in the spotlight for a long time, and because of that, there have been books and articles and TV shows about me, most filled with errors, speculative and wrong.”

Some things change. Other stay the same.

5. “I take shots for everything I do.”

There was a particularly curious exchange between Woods and President Bill Clinton after he won the 1997 Masters. Clinton invited Woods to come to a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson — but Woods declined. “It’s very interesting,” he said of the request. “I was just wondering, if it was so important, why wouldn’t he ask before?”

But Woods’ attitude that he would face criticism for anything he did was an interesting one. On the one hand, it could have been freeing, because he knew he wasn’t going to please everyone so it wasn’t worth trying. We’ve heard Rory McIlroy talk about that idea in recent years. On the other hand, feeling like people are generally out to get you probably leads to suspicion, skepticism, distrust. It’s no wonder Woods is a bit wary of new people.

Woods and Clinton had certainly made peace by 2006, when Clinton appeared at the ribbon-cutting of Woods' new Learning Center.
Woods and Clinton had certainly made peace by 2006, when Clinton appeared at the ribbon-cutting of Woods' new Learning Center.
Getty Images

6. “Yeah, I forgive. But I don’t forget.”

Imagine being Fuzzy Zoeller and watching this clip — and having your heart sink like a rock. You’ll recall that after Woods’ Masters win, Zoeller said something particularly dumb about Woods serving fried chicken and collard greens at the Champions dinner.

Woods said Zoeller is a particularly popular guy on Tour, but that didn’t excuse the fact that he’d intentionally made a racist remark. “He’s a very funny guy,” Woods said. “But sometimes you can cross the line with funniness. And it can pop up, and it can bite you.”

In many ways, Zoeller never recovered from that sound bite.

7. “I’ve never broken a club.”

This is a remarkable thing about Woods. We’ve seen plenty of top pros snap clubs over the years. Sergio Garcia. Henrik Stenson. Patrick Reed. Thomas Pieters has snapped some half-dozen on camera. Rory McIlroy hurled his 3-iron into a lake. But Woods, who has caught the most grief of any golfer ever for his hot temper, has never broken a club.

As he explained to King, it’s hard to have the jubilation and excitement he expressed with good shots without a corresponding emotional response to his poor shots.

“You can’t have one without the other,” he said.

There was at least one broken club, come to think of it. It came at the 2007 Masters, where Woods finished T2. But it came out of determination and boldness rather than anger as he risked injury only to snap his iron shaft against a tree on his followthrough.

8. “I’d like to get the Grand Slam one day.”

Now, this feels like a foregone conclusion. It is a foregone conclusion, I guess, because Woods has now won three career Grand Slams. Three! He’s won five Masters, four PGA Championships, three U.S. Opens and three Open Championships. But at this point, Woods had won just a single Masters, albeit by 12 shots. Confidence was never the issue.

9. “I proved to them that I could play out there.”

It’s interesting hearing Woods talking about the battle to be accepted on Tour. Not just because of lingering racial tensions (see Zoeller, Fuzzy) but because he was the new kid making tons of money before he’d even earned his card.

“At first it was a little bit of jealousy, no doubt about that, because I was getting a lot of hype, and some of my endorsement deals were reported in public, and obviously people were gonna read em, and know about ‘em,” Woods said.

“So yeah there was a little jealousy because I haven’t proved myself out there. I hadn’t hit a shot yet and I got what I got. Plus, they didn’t know me as a person. They saw this kid come out here playing. But I proved to them that I could play the game, I won I think my 5th or 6th start, in Vegas, and I won two weeks later in Disney, so I won two times, got to the Tour Championship, so I proved to them that I could play out there with them.”

He’s done okay since then, too.

For more Tiger Woods YouTube Project:

CHAPTER 1: What Tiger’s first-ever TV appearance taught us

CHAPTER 2: Here’s the first time we ever saw Tiger play golf  

CHAPTER 3: Was this Tiger’s most revealing interview ever? 

CHAPTER 4: What’s it like when Tiger comes to your hometown? 

CHAPTER 5: Here’s what Earl “trash-talking” Tiger looked like

CHAPTER 6: What was it like to play on Tiger’s high school team?

CHAPTER 7: 10 obscure facts about Tiger Woods, high school senior

CHAPTER 8: Tiger’s first trip to Butler Cabin

CHAPTER 9: “You’ll learn”

CHAPTER 10: Tiger’s first Nike campaign

CHAPTER 11: Tiger sits down with Oprah

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