"We try to be very protective of Tiger's image," Steinberg says. Hired in 1998 to replace the agent Woods fired, reportedly for his abrasiveness and for signing too many endorsement deals, Steinberg gets credit for re- making Tiger's image. Job one for Steinberg was protecting Tiger's value as an endorser - picking and choosing the right sponsors, and the right number of them, so that Woods wouldn't oversaturate the market with his presence - and making Tiger seem more accessible, friendlier, less prickly.
It was right after a big slump on the course. Tiger was getting a reputation as a temperamental athlete, brushing off fans and fellow players alike. "It seemed that Tiger wasn't very accessible, that he was on an island by himself, Steinberg told Golf Digest. "We both agreed that wasn't good for his image or for him as a person. My thinking was ... 'We want people to know the 23-year-old in you.'"
So Tiger let an impromptu moment with the crew filming a Nike Golf commercial become the commercial itself: the hacky-sack with a golf ball (see An Ad Is Born, page 72). He started talking to fans more. He sought advice from the master of smooth himself, Michael Jordan, and tried to imitate the legendary cool with which the basketball star handled even the most controversial situations. You can see that effort in the way Tiger handled the Casey Martin case, a former Nike exec told Newsweek. Tiger trod the middle ground between supporting Martin, his college roommate, who'd sued the Tour for the right to use a golf cart, and supporting the PGA itself.