When Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour title, he was introduced with, “Ladies and gentlemen, how about a special round of applause for the wealthiest college dropout in America!”
Woods, who had turned pro just two months earlier, swiftly answered, “I think Bill Gates has me on that one.”
Gates left Harvard his freshman year. He was also the wealthiest man in America. Woods knew it, had that line ready in his golf bag, cutting loose as if wielding his TaylorMade M5 driver.
That was Oct. 6, 1996. The 20-year-old Woods had left Stanford after his sophomore year, signed a couple of whopper endorsement deals with Nike and American Express, and — in just his fifth tournament — earned his first pro victory. He topped Davis Love III in a playoff to win the Las Vegas Invitational at TPC Summerlin.
Las Vegas author Jack Sheehan, who interviewed every LVI champion from the 18th green beginning in 1990, asked Woods that afternoon, “Tiger, this is just your fifth tournament as a pro and here you are a winner. Are you surprised it happened this quickly?”
Woods, playing the event on a sponsor’s exemption, answered, “Jack, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’m surprised it took this long!”
Six months later, Woods won his first Masters title. Sunday, he won his fifth.
Sheehan was more than a casual observer — and not just for his historic chat with Woods after his first victory. Sheehan has authored more than 20 books, five about golf, including “Blurred Lies” and “Embedded Balls” with golf great and noted storyteller Peter Jacobsen.
Sheehan said he considers Woods’ comeback triumph at the Masters among the greatest feats in the sport, rivaled only by Ben Hogan’s U.S. Open championship in 1950 just 16 months after he had been badly injured in an auto accident.
Sheehan, also an avid golfer and a member of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame, said he believes Woods can win another major title — starting with the upcoming U.S. Open on June 10 at Pebble Beach. Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open title there by a record 15 strokes.
As the writer and links devotee says, “I would not bet against that guy.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found atreviewjournal.com/podcasts.Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1on Instagram.