May 6, 2019
6:12 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please. Melania and I are delighted to welcome you to the White House on this beautiful spring evening. This is the Rose Garden, for those of you that don’t know, and we use it seldom. But this is one of the times we’re using it, Tiger.
Today, it is my privilege to award our nation’s highest civilian honor to one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports: Tiger Woods. Tiger, congratulations on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Applause.)
We are thankful to be joined on this occasion by our great Vice President — Mike, thank you very much; members of my Cabinet; some of our nation’s governors; and many distinguished members of the House and the Senate. Thank you all for being here.
We are also pleased to have us — with us is Tiger’s mother, Kultida; his daughter Sam and his son Charlie; his girlfriend Erica; and his caddy Joe LaCava. Where’s Joe LaCava? Stand up, Joe. He does a good job. Good job. (Applause.) Wow. Good job, Joe.
For over five decades, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has been given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to American life, history, and culture.
This evening, we are in the presence of a true legend — an extraordinary athlete who has transformed golf and achieved new levels of dominance. He’s also a great person. He’s a great guy.
Tiger introduced countless new people to the sport of golf, from every background and from every walk of life. He inspired millions of young Americans with his thrilling, wire-to-wire victories. Tiger Woods is a global symbol of American excellence, devotion, and drive.
At just six months old, Tiger watched from his highchair as his dad, a very special guy also — Earl — I got to know him — a veteran of the Vietnam War and Army Special Forces. And he was tough, Tiger, wasn’t he? But good.
MR. WOODS: Not as tough as her. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think she might be tougher. She might be tougher.
Practiced in the garage of the family home. At 18 months, Tiger was on the driving range, and he was looking good. People were saying, “Wow.” Starting at age 15, he won three successive U.S. Junior Amateur titles. And at 18, he became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur tournament. At 20, he capped off his amateur career with an unrivaled third consecutive title. So that would be six in a row. And I say that’s a record that can never be broken. That’s an incredible — stroke play, match play, everything. That will never be broken. And in 1996, he burst onto the professional stage as Rookie of the Year.
But it was in 1997, at Augusta National — Bobby Jones’s temple to the sport of golf — that the game would forever change. For four straight days at The Masters Tournament, Tiger stunned the world with his power, grace, and strategic brilliance. He shaped perfect 350-yard drives down Augusta’s rolling fairways, went flag-hunting at tucked-away pins with the heart-stopping precision like nobody has ever seen before, and he buried one clutch putt after another. On that Sunday, we saw Tiger crush the field by a record margin of 12 strokes — unheard of — with the lowest score in Masters history: 270.
At 21 years old, he became the youngest Masters Champion of all time, and the first person of African American or Asian heritage to win the storied tournament — or any of golf’s four majors. As a New York Times headline said the next day, “Woods Tears Up Augusta and Tears Down Barriers.” Incredible achievement.
After clinching the Green Jacket — (applause) — amazing. After clinching the Green Jacket, Tiger marched straight to his first coach — his dad — and embraced the man who inspired his enduring love of the game. Then Tiger turned to hug his mom, the steady presence throughout his life — that’s true — I’ve seen that; I’ve watched that — and the person who told him that red is his power color. Wow, that was a good move. (Laughter.) That was right.
In the years that followed, Tiger launched one of the single most dominant runs in the history of sports.
He holds the record for the lowest scoring average in PGA Tour history: 68.17 in 2000. And remember, he only plays in the hardest tournaments. That’s a pretty amazing thing. I wonder what would happen if you played 35 a year. Let’s try it, Tiger. Come on, that back is in good shape. (Laughter.)
He played a record 142 consecutive PGA events without missing a cut. That’s incredible. He has a PGA Tour winning percentage of 23 percent of the events he played — a figure that nearly defies comprehension. Nothing like it.
At the punishing 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the entire field shot over par, but Tiger finished 12 under — the first time in US Open history anyone beat par by double digits. He led the field by 15 strokes, setting the record for the largest margin of victory in the 150-year history of a major golf tournament. That was the most amazing day of golf I’ve ever seen. Tiger’s cumulative stroke total was 29 better than the field average.
A month later at the British Open at St. Andrews, the home of golf, Tiger finished 19 under par and 8 strokes ahead of the field. He then took the 2001 Masters, becoming the only player in the modern era to win all four major championships in a one-year period — a feat now known as the “Tiger Slam.”
Tiger’s determination and work ethic drove golf to new heights of athletic competition and popularity. The “Age of Tiger” gave us moments that will live forever in sporting lore, such as his unbelievable chip-in on the 16th hole at the Masters. The shot rolled perfectly along the slope of the green, and hung on the edge of the cup for a breathtaking three seconds before finally dropping in. We’ve seen that shot many, many times.
In the midst of this success, Tiger suffered severe injury. In 2008, he entered the U.S. Open with two leg fractures and a torn ACL. On the third day at Torrey Pines, he was one over par after the 12th hole, and it really looked like he had no chance. Then came some of the most riveting scenes in golf history. He eagled the 13th — do you remember that, Tiger, huh?
MR. WOODS: Kind of. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I thought so. He’s got a great memory, this guy. And he remembers the good stuff, which is really important — not the bad. We don’t want to — we just — what you did there was amazing. Because he chipped in for birdie on the 17th, and then eagled the 18th hole. All very vivid memories for all of us.
In the final round on the 72nd hole, his ball was buried in very thick rough, 101 yards from the pin, and he had to get it up-and-down to keep his U.S. Open hopes alive. After hitting a 60-degree wedge to within 15 feet, Tiger willed the putt in to force a playoff. That was a great playoff — with Rocco. He fought through the pain and won the dramatic 19-hole playoff on Monday.
Unfortunately, two days later, Tiger announced that he would be unable to compete the rest of the season due to his injuries. In the years that followed, Tiger endured knee surgery and four excruciating back surgeries — I know that you remember, too — that’s not good, but it ended up good — including a spinal fusion in 2017. He fell from number one in the world rankings to 1,199th. I don’t believe that. Even if he had one leg, I don’t believe that. (Laughter.) That’s got to be the best bet anybody ever made.
Tiger’s injuries were so profound that for two years he could barely swing a club. As Tiger said, “There was a point in time I didn’t know if I’d ever do this again” — if he’d ever play again.
But Tiger fought through the terrible pain, and he fought all the way back to the summit of golf. Last year, we saw a sign of what was to come when he won the Tour Championship. People forget that, but he won the Tour Championship last year. Then just weeks ago, the world turned in to the 2019 Masters, and that was something special. What happened next was one of the most incredible comebacks that golf, or any sport, has ever seen.
On Saturday, Tiger shot six birdies for a score of 67, sending him into the final round, tied for second place, and just two strokes behind the leader. And they were looking; they were watching. They were saying, “Oh no, here we go again.” (Laughter.)
In gusting winds on Sunday, still behind by two strokes on the 12th, Tiger called upon his wisdom and experience to play for par, while other players shot and unfortunately they found the water. There was a lot of water they found. He birdied the par 5 on the 15th to take the lead for the first time in the 2019 Masters. Then on the 16th, he shaped a perfect draw, and the patrons roared — like they could only, frankly, at Augusta — as the ball rolled to within feet of the hole.
Tiger was back on top and won his first major in 11 years. And that was some major — with record-setting television. (Applause.) I don’t know if you know about that, Tiger. Record-setting ratings.
Just as he did after sinking his final putt on the 18th hole all the way back in 1997, he went straight to his loved ones and embraced his kids, who were too young to remember the last time he won a major.
As of today, Tiger has 81 PGA Tour victories — one behind the all-time record. Going to catch that soon. He has won the second-most major championships. He holds the record for most weeks at number one in the world, more than twice as long as anyone else. That’s an amazing number.
In addition to his incredible playing career, Tiger is a successful entrepreneur — to put it mildly — and devoted philanthropist; that’s how I originally met Tiger. His TGR Foundation supports junior golf programs around the country. His Learning Lab has helped over 165,000 students pursue their dreams in STEM fields.
Tiger, we are inspired by everything you have become and attained. The job you have done is incredible: your spectacular achievements on the golf course, your triumph over physical adversity, and your relentless will to win, win, win. These qualities embody the American spirit of pushing boundaries, defying limits, and always striving for greatness. That’s what he does.
Congratulations again on your amazing comeback and your amazing life, and for giving sports fans everywhere a lifetime of memories. We can’t wait to see what’s next, Tiger. It’s going to be good, we know that. It’s going to be good because there are no winners like you.
And now I’d like to ask the military aide to come forward and read the citation for Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, Presidential Medal of Freedom. Thank you. (Applause.)
MILITARY AIDE: Eldrick “Tiger” Woods is one of the greatest golfers of all time. He is second all-time in both professional victories with 81, and major championships with 15 — including five Masters, three U.S. Opens, three Open Championships, and four PGA Championships.
With a record-setting performance in 1997, he became the youngest person and first African American to win the Masters. And in 2019, he became the tournament’s second-oldest champion.
Off the course, Tiger established the TGR Foundation, which has empowered students to classroom and career success for more than 20 years.
The United States is now proud to honor Tiger Woods, whose tenacity, willpower, and unyielding drive inspire us all. (Applause.)
(The Medal of Freedom is presented.) (Applause.)
MR. WOODS: Thank you, Mr. President, Mrs. Trump. (Applause.) Thank you all. Thank you.
I just want to say this has been an unbelievable experience. And to have the support that I’ve had for all these years — and everyone here has seen and been with me for — some of you for my entire life, and some of you for more than half my life. You’ve seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. And I would not be in this position without all of your help.
In ’97, yes, I won the Masters. And I was there to — I ended up hugging my dad and my mom. My dad is no longer here, but my mom is here. I love you, Mom. Thank you. (Applause.) And Sam and Charlie, for all your love and support. I love you guys so much. Erica, thank you.
I mean, everyone has meant — you guys have meant so much to me in my life. And I’ve battled — I’ve tried to — I’ve tried to hang in there and I’ve tried to come back and play — play the great game of golf again. I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to do it again. And I’ve found a game that has allowed me to do this.
And the amazing Masters experience that I just had a few weeks ago certainly is probably the highlight of what I’ve — what I’ve accomplished so far in my life on the golf course. To have had that type of experience and to be able to come out on top and win. Joey, thank you. All the great reads, too. (Laughter.)
I just want to say thank you, again. This is an honor. I know that I’m the fourth golfer to have received this award: the late Arnold Palmer, the great Jack Nicklaus, and Charlie Sifford, who is — I always called him “Grandpa,” because he was like the grandpa I never had. And I ended up becoming so close with him that I ended up naming my son, Charlie, after him. And so to have been chosen as the next golfer after Charlie is truly remarkable.
So, thank you, again. And thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
6:29 P.M. EDT