Billy Payne recently tweeted this photo of Tiger Woods “before the days of Shark was there.”
Woods and Payne grew up in the same area of southwest Mississippi, just 25 miles apart. The former even played golf with Payne at a local tournament when Woods was still a teenager.
Their paths crossed again when Payne’s son was tapped to play against Woods on television, an unprecedented five-ball against the then-young phenom.
Then-Mississippi’s amateur champion Payne says he’s happy to see Woods made the majors his full-time focus, perhaps the goal he set himself when he started playing golf.
“Tiger worked at it. We had to convince him. He’s a perfectionist, he likes the details of the game. We told him, ‘You got to go for it every week,’” Payne said. “He wanted to play every week and he missed a few cuts, and he started to doubt. But I said, ‘Look, if you play enough week in and week out, you’ll make the majors.’”
Payne said the reaction of the golfing community to Woods was wonderful.
“The casual golf fan that has never seen him play at all, they were all kind of happy and all smiles,” Payne said. “It was almost an injection of pride. I think golf always needed that as an industry.”
Payne said he didn’t know Woods had won 14 majors until he did — something that would shock many fans who always assumed he would win his first major at some point.
“I just thought he would break through. And if he didn’t break through that year, it would be a terrific year,” Payne said. “Now, it took him nine more to break through for 14.”