He’s been known for red polos on Sunday. For ruthlessly staring down opponents as he passes them on leaderboards. And, more recently, for a nearly 12-year championship drought that followed perhaps the greatest decade of golf we’ve ever seen.
But as Tiger Woods stared out over the fairways during the first round of the Masters in mid-April, a tournament he’d eventually win, TV cameras discovered the 15-time major champion had developed a new habit: chewing gum. When viewers scoured the internet trying to figure out what was in Tiger’s mouth, they came across Golf Gum, the brainchild of Denver-based entrepreneur and GoFast! energy drink creator Troy Widgery.
Within minutes, orders and inquiries flooded the company’s website. Between the time Woods was first seen with the gum on Thursday and the following Tuesday, the number of Golf Gum sales exceeded that of the previous 18 months combined, Widgery says. A number of high-level golfers, whom Widgery can’t disclose because Golf Gum isn’t officially sponsoring them, have since specifically requested it. Don’t be shocked if you see a handful of players chewing it (or something like it) at this weekend’s U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, California.
“We’re just grateful,” Widgery says, “Because of [Tiger] people have really started paying attention to it.”
Two decades ago, Widgery had nothing to do with energy drinks or chewing gum. He was a world-class competitive skydiver training for the U.S. Skydiving Championships when the plane he and his teammates were in crashed in California, killing 16 people onboard and leaving Widgery with a broken collarbone, a broken back and hip, and bleeding so severe rescuers thought his jugular vein had been severed.
Among the 16 who died was one of Widgery’s closest friends, whom he shared a motto with: “Go Fast.”
After the 1992 accident, Widgery left skydiving and started an apparel company in Denver that took on that motto as its name. Amidst Red Bull’s boom as energy supplement, Widgery decided to shift the company into the same market. In GoFast!, he and a “guru chemist” developed an alternative to high-sugar, citric acid-laced energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar. While GoFast! struggled to keep pace with those brands, the company began research and experimentation on gum, which Widgery believes is the next frontier of energy supplement. After a decade of research, more than 700 tests, and being bought out of his original company by an investment firm, Widgery founded Apollo Brands in 2015. Energy Gum was announced in October 2016, and Golf Gum—which contains the same ingredients but is specifically marketed to golfers—came to fruition a little more than a year later.
The gum, which ranges from $4.99 for a pack of five pieces to $47 for 75 pieces, stuffs 80 milligrams of caffeine (the same as an eight-ounce Red Bull or cup of coffee) and B-vitamins into a bite-sized cube. It contains no sugar, and the outer shell, which encases a liquid center, is primarily made of xylitol, a sugar substitute that has been linked to better dental health.
But the reasoning for transitioning to gum, and the idea behind marketing the product to golfers, are the benefits of chewing, Widgery says. Recent studies connect chewing gum to short-term increases in cognitive function and improved focus, and research at Auburn University found that consuming a moderate amount of caffeine before and during a round reduced fatigue and improved players’ scores by roughly two strokes.
In the thousands of rounds Woods has played as a professional, no one could recall a memory of him chewing gum of any sort; he told reporters afterward he was trying it to curb his appetite between rounds. (Woods’ representatives weren’t able to be reached for comment about what brand of gum he was actually chewing.) Woods is by no means the first major name in golf to experiment with an in-round pick me up. Jordan Spieth chewed a piece “for no intended reason” when he won the British Open in 2017, and Phil Mickelson, who started chewing gum during tournaments in January told The New York Times that “the chewing aspect stimulates the frontal cortex,” echoing the aforementioned research.
In the months following Woods’ masterful outing, Apollo has received enough distribution inquiries—both foreign and domestic—that it hired additional sales reps to handle them. Local retailers, including convenience stores, have begun asking if they can stock it. The Apollo offices have received phone calls from so many countries, Widgery can’t keep track. Instead, he’s spending his time in testing labs and leaving the rest to his employees.
There’s no way to know whether Woods was chewing Golf Gum that weekend in April. It could’ve just as easily been a pack of Spearmint he–OK, maybe his caddie—picked up from the local convenience store. But like most stories revolving around internet and social media searches, it’s simply the perception that a few pieces of gum turned Tiger Woods back into Tiger Woods that’s driving the hysteria—and Widgery has no problem with that.
“Since the Masters,” he says, “It’s just been a whirlwind around here.”