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COMMENTARY

In the Eye of the Tiger : A Fortune Is Not Guaranteed Woods, He Needs to Succeed on the Golf Course

September 08, 1996|RON SIRAK | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tiger Woods is 20 years old and rich beyond his wildest dreams. A powerful management agency dipped into the deep pockets of Nike to take care of that.

But Woods still must come through on the golf course and that could bring more pressure than he bargained for.

The outrageous figures being thrown around--$40 million from Nike, $3 million from Titleist, a club deal and other endorsements to come--are far from guaranteed.

The deals are loaded with incentive clauses Woods will need to meet to get the money. To justify being the richest golfer never to win a professional tournament, Woods will eventually have to win.

And to play well enough to win, Woods will have to stay focused on golf and steer away from burnout.

"The amount of pressure he's under . . . " Frank Williams, Greg Norman's manager, said with a note of disbelief in his voice. "They are putting an enormous amount of pressure on him."

Almost from the time Woods started playing golf, he set his goals high: To be the greatest golfer ever.

All the hours spent practicing, all the amateur tournaments, all the times he imagined he was in the final pairing at the Masters or U.S. Open, Woods probably never thought of being the richest golfer ever--only the best.

But the money came quicker and in greater amounts than Woods dreamed possible. The question is: Will it hurt Woods in his quest to become the greatest golfer ever?

Will companies demand time for commercials, personal appearances, meetings and other activities that will take away from time on the practice tee?

Will lucrative one-day corporate outings and the gruelling travel to tournaments in Asia, Africa and Europe that offer huge appearance fees produce a burned-out golfer who is going through the motions?

Even if Woods should lose sight of his original goal--to be the best--the one thing he must never forget is that his value depends on his performance. He's not the $40 million man yet.

"That would be the maximum figure if he meets all of his performance incentives," said Shelley Hale Young, an analyst for the firm of Hambrecht and Quist in San Francisco.

"It's contingent on a lot of bonuses. He probably will not see $40 million."

Williams, who manages Great White Shark Enterprises Inc. for Norman, is intimately familiar with player contracts. Before Norman formed his own company, he was represented by International Management Group, the agency that represents Woods.

"Everything stems from how he plays," Williams said about Woods. "The most important aspect of Tiger Woods is playing the game and playing it well.

"No one gets that kind of money without incentive clauses--top-five on the money list, a major championship in five years, those sort of things. That $40 million figure is just IMG hype."

And it is a hype that set unrealistic expectations for Woods.

Woods said as much during the Greater Milwaukee Open, where he finished far back and earned $2,544.

"You could see it in the way I played," he said about how tired and distracted the hoopla made him. "I was very sloppy."

Norman always has been one of the smartest golfers at protecting his schedule. He plays in about 15 tournaments on the PGA Tour and about another eight overseas each year. He handles his business activities deftly and never lets them interfere with his game.

Woods will play seven weeks in a row--eight counting the U.S. Amateur--as he tries to earn enough money to get his tour card and avoid going to qualifying school.

"That's a tough schedule," Williams said. "Greg likes to play two weeks on and one week off. It's just so difficult otherwise."

How soon must Woods produce on the golf course to be worth what he is being paid off it?

"If you look at the short term, Nike will get tremendous exposure out of Tiger the rest of this year," Young said. "In that sense, it is worth it already."

Williams said it is unreasonable to expect instant success from Woods.

"I don't see him winning for two years," Williams said. "That would be a nice apprenticeship for him. There is an enormous chasm between amateurs and the pros. He has to learn to grind it out when he is not playing well, to score when he is not playing well."

Perhaps then Woods will be able to become a great golfer and not just a rich one.

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