It wasn’t that long ago that Tiger Woods was the world’s most marketable athlete, annually ranking at or near the top of the list of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
But for all of Woods’ endorsement deals and commercials, there is one commercial that stands above them all – The famous juggling-golf-ball commercial for Nike, which first aired in 1999.
The commercial is simply Woods juggling a golf ball with a wedge for 28 seconds, fast, slow, between his legs, behind his back, and he finishes by hitting the ball out of mid-air down the range.
But the iconic commercial almost never happened, and even after the idea was born, it might have still failed if not for Tiger’s fierce competitive fire.
On the day the commercial was shot, Woods was actually at a driving range filming a different commercial for Nike, Chris Zimmerman of Nike told NBC’s “Dateline” in 2000. In that commercial, a bunch of hack golfers suddenly become awesome on the driving range just by being in the presence of Woods. Once he leaves, they suddenly revert back to their lack of golf ability.
Zimmerman goes on to explain that it was during a lunch break while filming that commercial that Woods was killing time by juggling a golf ball.
It was actually Doug Liman, the director of the commercial, who noticed Woods juggling the golf ball. Liman, who is better known as the director of big Hollywood films such as “Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity,” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” saw what Woods was doing and had an idea.
While giving a talk to a conference in 2008, Liman explained how he came up with the idea, as recounted by Greg Sandoval of CNet.
Liman noticed Woods bouncing a ball on the edge of a club during breaks from shooting. Liman grabbed a shoulder-held camera and, away from the crew, asked Woods to bounce the balls while being filmed.
There was no trick videography or computer animation used to make the commercial. In fact, Woods actually failed on his first three attempts, according to Zimmerman. Here are the outtakes for the first three attempts, aired on “Dateline.”
That was when Liman started to get frustrated and actually accused Woods of choking.
“I told him, ‘I can’t believe that of all people you are choking under pressure,'” Liman told the audience in 2008.
Now here is where we see both the talent and the competitiveness of Woods shine through.
Woods glared and then bounced the ball while transferring the club through his legs behind his back and finished by smacking the ball in mid air. The shot, which became a classic, was natural, unrehearsed, and driven by imagination rather than millions of studio dollars, Liman said.
What is even more amazing is the timing. Woods needed to complete his juggling trick in exactly 28 seconds in order for it to fit into a commercial. Woods winds up and smacks the ball out of mid-air at exactly 28 seconds, and he did that on just his fourth take.
That is something that only Tiger Woods could do.
Of course, a good Woods story must include an awkward high-five, and this one does not fail.
Here is the full commercial.
This post first appeared on BI in 2015.