Looking Back at Those Nike/Tiger Woods Ball Bouncing Commercials

It's been more than 20 years since one of the most-iconic and well-remembered golf television commercials of all-time first appeared on TV screens. I'm talking about the ball-bouncing commercial with Tiger Woods by Nike Golf. It's what we would probably call "juggling" a golf ball today — bouncing it on the clubface (sometimes the crown) of a golf club, repeatedly.

Woods made three such commercials for Nike, the first one appearing on June 16, 1999. Here are all three of them (the third one shows Tiger bloopers) back-to-back-to-back:

For golfers who came of age after these commercials appeared, it might be hard to fathom just how big a deal that first Tiger Woods ball bouncing commercial really was. Because today, on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and across social media you can find hundreds, thousands, of golfers doing the exact same thing.

Frankly, the ball bouncing trick just isn't that impressive anymore. Any golfer can do it with patience and practice. It's a staple of trick shot videos.

But at the time, in 1999, these commercials exploded into the golf world. For many golfers — remember, this is pre-YouTube — Tiger juggling his golf ball in that first Nike commercial was the first time they had ever seen anything like this.

Some people even doubted that Woods really performed the trick as it was shown: "there must have been camera tricks!" You can get a sense of this in a 1999 newspaper article that appeared in the Seattle Times; the headline was, "That Tiger Woods TV Commercial? Honest, It Really Happened That Way."

Some people just couldn't believe their eyes, apparently. The article describes the "accidental" way the commercial came about:

Woods says he really did bounce the ball continuously for about 28 seconds — in front of him, between his legs, behind his back and in front again — before popping it high in the air, then swatting it ala Ken Griffey Jr.

No trick photography or videotape splicing was necessary.

"It's real," he said. "Trust me."

The commercial happened by accident. Producers were taping another Nike commercial, the one that shows Woods on a driving range with other golfers, hitting shots in sequence.

Woods said the taping took hours. During one long wait, he decided to entertain the other golfers with his wedge-and-ball trick.

"I was basically putting on an exhibition, just trying to pass the time," Woods said. The director said, 'You know, why don't we just film this?' "

Woods was told that, for a 30-second commercial, his juggling routine needed to be 28 seconds. But during each of the first three takes, the director would interrupt with, "You've got 10 seconds." Each time, Woods said, "I'd shank it right away."

Before the fourth take, Woods told the director to wait until five seconds remained to say anything. Take No. 4 was a keeper.

Was Woods the first golfer to perform the ball-bouncing trick? Of course not, not even close. He was just the first to do so in a high-profile TV production (everything Tiger did in those days was high-profile). For as long as there have been golfers, there have been golfers trying to pull off trick shots, and golf ball juggling goes back many decades.

Tiger's ball-juggling Nike commercial just happened to come along at the perfect time, with the perfect golfer, and the perfect presentation.

See also: All of Tiger Woods' 'Golf's Not Hard' commercials for Nike

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