PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony is a TV show. There is a dedicated stage, with staffers zipping around the off-screen edges, keeping things orderly. There are commercial breaks, the silence filled with soft music and video montages. And there is a color-coded rundown of how the evening is supposed to unfold – set times for the introductions and the highlight videos and the Class of 2022 induction speeches.
Tiger Woods was supposed to take the stage at 8:34 p.m.
But he went on at 8:52.
He was slated to talk for seven minutes.
But he spoke for nearly 17, without notes or the use of a teleprompter.
One of the most guarded athletes in history, here now he was speaking from the heart.
Woods, of course, is no stranger to public speaking. He has given thousands of interviews in his legendary career. He’s needed to give countless acceptance speeches. At times, he’s been criticized for saying a lot without saying anything at all.
His speech totaled 2,235 words on Wednesday night, and what stood out as he went off the cuff – clearly prepared, but unrehearsed – was that he was most comfortable talking about his life at a foundational level.
For 17 unscripted minutes, he spoke coherently, passionately, beautifully about his parents.
About his upbringing.
About his children.
At the beginning of his speech he said that he was “going to start kind of retro,” but really, he never stopped. It was a defining theme throughout: His past, his history, his background. His memories, some 40 years later, were as vivid as ever, and he spoke not about the famous moments we’ve seen on the “Mike Douglas Show,” but rather the ones we hadn’t heard, at least not publicly, not like this.
How he’d hide in “The Ditch” at the Navy Golf Course in Cypress, California, until his dad rolled up in a cart on the third hole, ready to play with his underage son.
How because of his skin color he was denied access to some clubhouses as a junior and that he’d ask only two questions: Where was the first tee, and what was the course record.
How, when he was 14, his family took out a second mortgage to cover his AJGA travel expenses – and that when Tiger signed his first deal with Titleist, the first thing he did was pay off that loan.
“So without the sacrifices of Mom,” Woods said, getting choked up, “who took me to all those junior golf tournaments, and Dad, who’s not here, but who instilled in me this work ethic to fight for what I believe in, to chase after my dreams – that nothing’s ever going to be given to you, everything’s going to be earned.
“If you don’t go out there and put in the work, if you don’t go out and put in the effort – one, you’re not going to get the results, and two, and more importantly, you don’t deserve it. You need to earn it.
“So that defined my upbringing. That defined my career.”
And that defined his speech as he was enshrined into the Hall.
For 17 unscripted minutes, Woods made only one passing mention of his life and career this century. Nothing about the Tiger Slam. The soaring highs. The scandals. The crushing injuries. The inspiring comebacks. That was clearly a conscious choice, to focus on his outsized life at an elemental level, and it’s fun to try to guess the reasons why. (Woods didn’t speech to reporters afterward.) Perhaps it’s because, at this point in life, at 46 years old and rehabbing a serious injury, his focus is almost entirely on his family. Or maybe because when you win so many times, in so many places, all of the victories just sort of meld together, and his record speaks for itself. And it could just be impossible to recap an unparalleled 25-year career in 15 minutes.
As scripted as the show looked on paper, there wasn’t any wrap-up music, no visual cues, no producer screaming in Woods’ ear to wrap. He just … finished, more than 20 minutes later than he was scheduled.
He gingerly exited stage right, host David Feherty quickly wrapped up the proceedings, and just like that, the show was over. Waiting for Woods in the front row, with outstretched arms, were his mother and his children. His foundation, then and now.