Tiger Woods exploded onto the national stage in 1997, when, as a 21-year old, he won golf’s most prestigious event, the Masters. Not only did Tiger win the tournament, he shattered records along the way, making the world’s best golfers look like amateurs. Within a year of becoming a professional golfer, Tiger had attained the sport’s number one ranking.
Consistent Winning Produces Momentum
Early in 2001, Tiger captured his second Masters title to complete an unprecedented feat: winning all four of golf’s major championships consecutively. Golf’s popularity soared as its youthful star dominated event after event. People who had never before been interested in golf tuned in to see Tiger. Inspired by him, kids dragged their parents to the local golf course so that they could learn the game. Recreational golfers around the world patterned their swing after Tiger’s while practicing on the driving range.
Advertisers flocked to Tiger’s side to take advantage of his gathering momentum. He inked multi-million dollar deals to wear the Nike logo, hit Titlelist golf balls, and endorse everything from General Motors to American Express. Forbes described Tiger as “a marketer’s dream.” Virtually every product he pitched seemed to turn into gold. Thanks to his sizeable sponsorship deals, in September 2009, Fortune estimated that Tiger had become sports’ first billionaire athlete.
Character Defects Halt Momentum
Tiger-mania came crashing to a halt in December 2009 after Woods had a bizarre traffic accident in his driveway. The incident initiated a cascade of rumors about Tiger’s marital infidelity, which he later admitted. As news coverage intensified, more incriminating tidbits surfaced, and the scandal gained steam.
As this article is being written, a shamed Tiger remains in seclusion. By all accounts his marriage is in shambles. Accenture and AT&T have already cut ties with him, while other advertisers such as Gillette and Tag Heuer have distanced themselves from Tiger by pulling his ads. As for golf, Woods has taken an indefinite leave of absence, and it remains to be seen if he will recover his on-the-course greatness.
Lessons Learned from Tiger’s Tumble
1) Momentum can be a leader’s best friend or a leader’s worst enemy.
In his early days as a professional, Tiger Woods’ hard work and talent earned him a flood of victories. As the wins mounted, Tiger’s momentum took off. His confidence intimidated opponents, his personality attracted business deals, and every move he made seemed to draw the praise of an enraptured media.
Revelations of Tiger’s sordid behavior have generated a mountain of negative momentum, which will be difficult for him to overcome. The tide of public opinion is now squarely against him. Whereas people used to cheer Tiger on to success, many will now root for him to fail. The influence he once had has been dealt a serious blow, and it will be an uphill struggle for him to regain it.
2) Momentum can reverse direction in an instant.
Momentum can be a fickle friend, changing sides at any moment. One day Tiger was being coronated as the athlete of the decade by the Associated Press. Then, seemingly overnight, his name was being dragged through the mud on every conceivable news outlet.
3) Winning generates momentum, but character sustains it.
Tiger’s story is a cautionary tale about character. All of the momentum you build through decades of hard work and dedication can be erased if you do not craft the character to support it. Character is forged daily through the decisions we make. It comes from within and cannot be purchased. Be diligent about working on your character so that you become a person worth following and someone worthy of harnessing the momentum of success.