Caitlin Clark’s WNBA haters could learn valuable Tiger Woods lesson

No fellow player ever intentionally body-checked Tiger Woods off of a tee box or a green and called him a “bitch’’ during his rookie year on the PGA Tour.

But when Woods burst onto the golf scene with his first major championship victory in 1997 at age 22 with more publicity than anyone in the sport had ever seen, his presence was met with a similar — albeit more passive — jealousy among some of his peers as we’ve seen directed of late toward Caitlin Clark.

If I had a dime for the number of times in Woods’ early years on tour when I got a sarcastic eye roll when approaching players to talk about Woods or felt a vibe of annoyance when they were constantly asked about him, I’d be able to afford a membership at Augusta National.

At the time, the human-nature element of the players’ reaction was understandable to a degree, given the overwhelming attention Woods attracted because of the otherworldly things he was able to do on the golf course — things his peers couldn’t do.

Caitlin Clark USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con
Caitlin Clark, right, drives against Seattle Storm forward Nneka Ogwumike during the first half on May 30, 2024. AP

There was a feeling, too, among his fellow players that Woods was going to take money out of their pockets, food from their plates.

At the time, those who’d gotten drawn into the petty jealousy of it all came to realize that the exact opposite would become the case.

Woods, in the end, would line his fellow players’ pockets with more money than they ever imagined making.

Even though he won more than any of his peers and for a stretch of dominance made it almost impossible for anyone else to win major championships (hello, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, David Duval et al), Woods didn’t take food off their plates, he put lobster and A-5 wagyu beef on them.

He also paved the way for private jet travel to tournaments instead of Seat 23D on Southwest Airlines.

Tiger Woods smiles after finishing his round of golf with golfers Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley at the 18th green late Friday at the 2024 PGA Championship second round at Valhalla Golf Course. Matt Stone/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

That was a result of the added money Woods’ greatness and popularity brought to the PGA Tour in the form of raised tournament purses, more sponsors and massive increases in TV revenue.

There isn’t a PGA Tour player on the planet who shouldn’t thank Woods for what he did to the sport by making it so much more popular and, in turn, lucrative.

Woods’ impact on golf is an extreme example, but it’s an illustration of at least some of the impact Clark has a chance to make on the WNBA and women’s basketball — and has begun to already.

Just look at the attendance figures of WNBA games and check out how many fans are going to the games in which Clark plays versus how many attend the games she’s not.

Perhaps Chennedy Carter, the Chicago Sky player who delivered that ridiculous hip check to Clark and appeared to call her “bitch’’ in the process, should take note.

So, too, should Angel Reese, Clark’s former college rival and fellow WNBA rookie who embarrassed herself the other day with her “what-about-me” rant in response to the notion that Clark has attracted more attention to women’s basketball than anyone in this era.

“I know I’ll go down in history,” Reese said Monday. “I’ll look back in 20 years and be like: ‘Yeah, the reason why we’re watching women’s basketball is not just because of one person [Clark], it’s because of me too,’ and I want you to realize that.’’

Reese, a terrifically talented player, may well become the best player in the women’s game, but it’s Clark who, for the past year, has drawn more eyeballs to the sport than it’s ever had on it.

And it appears it’ll be Clark who has the chance, like Woods once did, to be the tide that rises all boats.

Caitlin Clark reacts after scoring against the Seattle Storm. AP
Fans watch Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark warm up for the team’s WNBA basketball game against the New York Liberty on Thursday, May 16, 2024. AP

There are many women who’ve brought the sport to the place it was before Clark joined the WNBA — Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Tina Charles, Sheryl Swoopes and Sue Bird among them.

But Clark is in a position to bring it to another level. If she does, it may take some time, but even the pettiest and most jealous among the petty and jealous will realize that Clark isn’t a threat to them but a ticket to a better life for them.

“I ain’t answering no Caitlin Clark questions,’’ Carter barked derisively when asked by reporters why she tried to KO the most important player in her own sport.

Angel Reese in action for the Chicago Sky on May 25, 2024 Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Chennedy Carter with the Dream in 2021. AP

If Carter stays around long enough to benefit financially from what Clark has a chance to bring to women’s basketball, she might actually find herself being the one to voluntarily bring up Clark in conversation so she can thank her publicly.

Same way the Woods haters from back in the day came to appreciate everything he did for the sport — and their bank accounts and quality of life.

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