THOUSAND OAKS, CA — The first time Tiger Woods met Nelson Mandela was in 1998 over lunch at the South African hero’s home.
Woods, in the country for a tournament in Sun City and a year removed from becoming the first African American to win the Masters, and his father Earl waited in a room and looked around. Woods then turned to his father and said, “Dad, do you feel that?”
What they felt was a “different energy,” Woods would later say. Then he heard something behind him. It was Mandela folding a piece of paper.
Mandela passed away on Thursday. He was 95.
“It’s a sad day for many people around the world,” Woods said of the anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. “He certainly had an impact on my life and certainly my father. He invited us to his home, and it was one of the inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life.”
Many in golf echoed similar sentiments.
“We share the world’s mourning of Nelson Mandela’s death,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. “We had the honor and privilege of meeting Mr. Mandela during The Presidents Cup in 2003 when he attended the opening ceremony and graciously made himself available to meet individually with the players.
“It was a memorable week and his mere presence helped elevate the stature of the event. We truly feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet such a great man.”
Woods played in The Presidents Cup that year at the Links Course at Fancourt Hotel, saying then that he never gave it a second thought. He told the Associated Press at the time that he surely would have gotten a phone call from Mandela had he not.
South African Gary Player, who was captain of that International team and hosted the Nelson Mandela Invitational from 2000 to 2006, also mourned the loss of Mandela on Thursday.
“Condolences to all on the passing of our beloved Father of the South African Nation, Nelson Mandela,” Player tweeted. “Nelson Mandela’s courage, forgiveness, love & hope inspired people around the world. He made me want to be a better man. Madiba we loved you. Rest in Peace.”
Several other players also took to Twitter to share their thoughts, including Woods, who tweeted, “Pop & I felt your aura went we met, I feel it today & I will feel it forever. You have done so much for humanity. You will always be in my heart Mr. Mandela.”
Said Greg Norman: “My thoughts & prayers go out to Pres Nelson Mandela’s family on his passing today. One of the greatest humans I ever had privilege to meet.”
Added Ian Poulter: “Just heard that Nelson Mandela has passed away. Really sad news. Madiba May you rest in peace. What an inspirational man.”
Woods, who was informed of Mandela’s passing before he finished the opening round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, found it hard to imagine that Mandela could emerge from 27 years of imprisonment without any hatred.
“I don’t think any of us probably here could have survived that and come out as humble and as dignified as he did,” Woods said. “To lead an entire nation and to basically love the world when he came out, I think that’s a testament to his will and his spirit and who he was.
“That time frame when he came out (of prison), the country could have fallen apart. It could have gone a lot of different ways, and he led it to where it’s at now, and the world is going to miss him.”