Hard Choices

Sports Agent Mark Steinberg on Tiger Woods's Comeback


Sports Agent Mark Steinberg on Tiger Woods's Comeback

Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

America loves comeback stories. Nike’s (NKE) running an ad about Tiger’s return to the top spot [tag line: “Winning takes care of everything”]. It’s unfortunate that the ad was taken out of context. For three-plus years people have asked, “How do you get back to No. 1? What does it take?” It’s very simple: winning. That’s the only context that it was meant in whatsoever.

There were a lot of doubters out there. When Tiger looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m now healthy. I can practice,” I knew it was going to be a scary scene. His health is finally at the level that it was years and years ago.

We’re not going to do three more deals in the next two months just because he’s No. 1 in the world and we want to strike while the iron is hot. That’s a fairly archaic way to approach a business as sophisticated as his. Tiger and I have gotten to the point where he has the proper balance in his life. He needs to continue to be a wonderful father. He needs to continue to be a dominant golfer. He needs time to practice. He already has a lot of sponsors. We’re looking for maybe one more large global deal.

People dwell too much on the past. I want to talk about the future. I don’t get bothered that some sponsors dropped out. There are sponsorships that last forever, and there are those that don’t. Nike has been great. Many people ask, “How’s it going to work, with Rory McIlroy and Tiger under the Nike Golf brand?” They know how to manage multiple superstars at one time. They’ve done a lot for Tiger’s brand. They’ve helped shape his career off the golf course.

I’ve been doing this for 21 years. I don’t know if I’m a good agent or a great agent or a legendary agent. I try to not let anything be about me. It’s about my clients. I kind of stay behind the scenes.

Tiger’s as mentally tough as anybody I’ve been around. That’s what the great ones have. Michael Jordan willed himself to a 37-point game in the NBA Finals when he could barely stand up because of the flu. I’ve seen Roger Federer play five-set matches in which he was not going to let himself lose. It was hard for both of us when Tiger was going through these brutal injuries. He just couldn’t get the knee healthy; he couldn’t get the Achilles healthy. Everybody establishes a new norm as they go through life. He’s focused on the future. There’s good, there’s great, and then there’s legendary. — As told to Diane Brady 


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