TIME's 25 Most Influential Americans

  • It's a big year for influence. Half the news out of Washington is about who has been trying to buy it, how much they paid and whether they got their money's worth. There are many lessons to be drawn from that situation. One of the less obvious is that influence is not so easy to come by. Even in Washington, it's not always something you can go out and buy. Just ask the Chinese.

    Which brings us to TIME's 25 most influential people, 1997 edition. These are people who have accomplished something subtle and difficult. They have got other people to follow their lead. They don't necessarily have the maximum in raw power; instead, they are people whose styles are imitated, whose ideas are adopted and whose examples are followed. Powerful people twist your arm. Influentials just sway your thinking.

    Among this year's 25 are good influences and dubious ones, public personalities and players so private you may not have known they were pulled up to the game board, much less that one of the pieces was you. They include the writer Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose thinking is influential; the chatterbox Rosie O'Donnell, whose cheer is influential; and the rock musician Trent Reznor, whose gloom is influential. (Funny world.) One way or another, these 25 are people to look out for.

    Tiger Woods, professional golfer
    He has been likened by overheated journalists to Jesus, Mozart and Gandhi, and his father Earl Woods has said, "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity." But we are, after all, talking about a 21-year-old golfer, so think Palmer, Jordan and Ashe instead. As Arnold Palmer did some 30 years ago, Tiger Woods has electrified the sport of golf. He is, in the parlance of the gallery, "the Man." Since turning pro last August, he has won three PGA events and $1,270,944. Tournaments in which he is playing sell twice as many tickets as those in which he is not. His gallery at last week's Masters dwarfed every other golfer's. Spectators are drawn to him because of both the blood (Asian, African, American Indian) and the ice water in his veins. Like Palmer, Woods invariably goes for the pin, but Arnie never had this kid's swing: a breathtakingly sweet release that routinely drives a ball twice as many yards as Tiger has pounds (155). Amazingly, he has birdied or eagled more than 50% of the par fives he has played as a pro.

    The only other athlete in Tiger's endorsement league is Michael Jordan. Nike pays Woods $8 million a year to wear its trademark swoosh. Titleist gives Woods $4 million a year to endorse its line of golf products. Much to his credit, Woods doesn't simply take his money and play. He conducts clinics for inner-city kids, and he plans to form a Tiger Woods Foundation that will create opportunities for youngsters who would otherwise never get a chance to make par. Golf is still the most restrictive of our major sports, and Woods has already confronted that discrimination, in much the same way that Arthur Ashe challenged tennis. "Golf has shied away from [racism] for too long," says Woods. "Some clubs have brought in tokens, but nothing has really changed. I hope what I'm doing can change that." There is a long way to go — longer than 300 yds. — but if Woods spanks prejudice from golf, he will truly be the Man.

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