Woods, Eldrick “Tiger” 1975
Eldrick “Tiger” Woods 1975–
Tiger Woods is a great athlete, and well on the road to becoming a hero. Before the age of 20, he’d already attracted thousands of worshippers. For example, Sports Illustrated, the American bible of sports coverage rarely reserves ten pages to profile a college kid. But the magazine fairly gushed with reverence over the young golfer in March of 1995, exclaiming, “Only 19, amateur sensation Tiger Woods has the golf world shaking its head in awe.” Likewise, Newsweek heralded Woods’s prodigious talent, declaring in bold print: “He can hit like [Greg] Norman, putt like [Jack] Nicklaus, and think like a Stanford freshman. He’s already the best 19-year-old American golfer ever.” According to the Cincinnati Post, on August 27, 1996, he sent a message to the tour officials at the Greater Woods that read, “This is to confirm that, as of now, I am professional golfer.” Reasoned The Source, Woods turned pro, “because there were no challenges left for him at the amateur level….”
Writers had ample reason to employ so many superlatives. At the age of 15, Woods had become not only the first black man to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, but also its youngest victor. He was also the first male to win three U.S. Junior titles—1991, 1992, 1993— and had enjoyed a few casual rounds with professional golfers Sam Snead, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, and John Daly. Woods’s amateur title also qualified him for a trio of prestigious professional events—the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British Open. Perhaps more importantly, the Stanford freshman captured the latter championship by staging the greatest comeback in a game in the 99-year history of the tournament. It was a dazzling performance that suggested Woods was a champion of the highest order.
Tom Watson, a tried and true legend himself, called Woods “the most important young golfer in the last 50 years.” Another golfing great, Bryon Nelson, told Newsweek that compared to the youthful games of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson, Woods stood alone. “I’ve seen ’em all,” he said, adding, “This fellow has no weakness.” Coach Butch Harmon, who tutored Greg Norman and later Woods, declared, “He handles pressure like a 30-year-old. And his creativity is amazing. Some of the shots I’ve seen him hit remind me of Norman and Arnold Palmer.”
Despite the outpouring of professional praise, Woods did not abandon his college studies to join the pro tour following his historic win. The New York Times stated that Woods played golf with the “steadfast persistence of a man many years his senior,” and the same could be said of his life off the greens. Woods was committed to his studies at Stanford, determined to maintain a 3.0 grade point average and become the top collegiate golfer in the country. Never mind that millions in endorsements and prize money was essentially his for the asking. Woods, and his parents, weren’t yet ready to cash in on his talent. “Money can’t buy us,” Tiger’s mother, Kultida (Tida), a native of Thailand, told Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated. “What [does] he need money for? If you turn him pro, you take his youth away from him.”
Born Eldrick Woods, December 30, 1975, in Cypress, CA; son of Earl D. (a U.S. Army officer) and KultIda “Tida” (a U.S. Army secretary) Woods. Education: Attended Stanford University, 1994.
Career: Appeared on television’s Mike Douglas Show with Bob Hope, 1978; hit first hole in one, 1981; broke score of 70 (18 holes), 1987; U.S. Golf Association, National Junior Amateur Champion, 1991-94; Insurance Youth Golf Classic Champion, 1992; youngest player to compete in PGA tournament, the 1992 Los Angeles Open (16 years and two months); Jerry Pate Intercollegiate Golf Tournament, 1994; U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, 1994; youngest player to compete in the Masters, 1995; turned professional, August 27, 1996; exempted from the 1997 Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour Qualifying Tournament, October, 1996; won Las Vegas Invitational, 1996; won Masters, 1997, 2001; won Buick Invitational, 1999; won PGA Championship, 1999, 2000; won U.S. Open, 2000; won British Open, 2000, won Memorial Tournament, 1999, 2000, 2001.
Awards: American Jr. Golf Association, Player of the Year, 1991-92; Rolex, First Team All American, 1991-92; Golfweek/Titleist, Jr. Golfer of the Year, 1991; PGA Player of the Year, 2000.
Addresses: Home—Florida. Agent—Hughes Norton. Office —PGA, PO Box 109601,100 Avenue Of Champions, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, 33418-3665.
According to Woods, his youth was a normal one. “I did the same things every kid did,” he told Newsweek. “I studied and went to the mall. I was addicted to TV wrestling, rap music, and The Simpsons. I got into trouble and got out of it. I loved my parents and obeyed what they told me. The only difference is I can sometimes hit a little ball into a hole in less strokes than some other people.” But that was hardly the only difference. Typical childhoods, after all, are not launched on the golf course: Woods was introduced to the game at nine months. By the age of three, he’d already scored 50 for nine holes and outputted Bob Hope on the Mike Douglas Show. Still, if observers needed further proof that Woods was a child prodigy, they got it when he hit a hole-in-one at the age of six and broke 80 by the age of eight.
His extraordinary success, in part, stemmed from early psychological training, including a series of subliminal tapes that Woods began listening to at the age of six. The messages intended to shape an unshakable confidence with declarations like: “I focus and give it my all!,” “My will moves mountain!,” “I believe in me!,” and “I will my own destiny!” As Reilly of Sports Illustrated reported, “From the beginning, the boy understood what the tape was for, and he liked it. He would pop in the tape while swinging in front of the mirror or putting on the carpet or watching videos of old Masters tournaments. In fact, he played the tape so often that it would have driven any other parents quite nuts.” Hardly the stuff of a normal childhood.
Earl and Kultida Woods were not ordinary parents. Earl, a former Green Beret and U.S. Army officer, discovered golf at the age of 42, after he had served his time in Vietnam and Thailand and met and married Tida, a woman 14 years his junior. A gifted athlete, Earl had competed in collegiate baseball; a catcher, he was the first black player at Kansas State. When Tiger came along, Earl was determined that his son start golf early. Taking him to the Navy Golf Course—just five minutes from their home—Earl put a putter into Tiger’s hands before he could walk and taught him the fundamentals of the game before he could barely talk. By the age of two, Tiger could offer rather advanced criticism of other people’s swings. By second grade, Woods won his first international tournament. 10-year-old Tiger began taking formal lessons with golf pro legend John Anselmo and would continue to do so until he was 17. At 11, he had played some 30 junior tournaments in Southern California, winning every title.
Woods’s adeptness was not limited to golf. During his teen years he participated in many sports. Newsweek acknowledged that Woods was “a natural switch-hitter [in baseball], loved playing shooting guard [in basketball], was a wide receiver [in football], and a 400-meter runner [in track].” But golf always seemed to be his main love, so much so that his parents often had to remind or encourage him to do other things. The pleasure he derived from doing so well on the course was always apparent. Even as a pro, Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle noted, “He smiles on the course and looks as if he’s having fun. He emotes, whether it’s punching the air with an uppercut… or straight-arming a putt into the hole.” And the tougher the challenge, the more Woods enjoyed himself. As Van Sickle remarked, “Woods… is a dangerous golfer. Difficult situations bring out the best in him.”
If one single secret to Tiger’s early success exists, it was mental toughness. Earl Woods tried to ensure that his son’s swing would not unravel during the pressure of competition. When Tiger practiced, Earl made it his mission to drive his son to distraction by jingling change, dropping golf bags, tearing open the Velcro his glove, anything to unnerve the young golfer. As Reilly reported, “What his dad tried to do, whenever possible, was cheat, distract, harass, and annoy him. You spend 20 years in the military, train with the Green Berets, do two tours of [Viet]Nam and one of Thailand, you learn a few things about psychological warfare.” The concentration that the elder Woods had to maintain during combat was passed on to his son for the purpose of winning a golf game rather than a war. “The boy learned coldness, too. Eventually, nothing the father did could make him flinch. The boy who once heard subliminal messages under rippling brooks now couldn’t hear a thing,” Reilly concluded.
Indeed, it was Tiger’s ability to focus, his almost otherworldly capacity for concentration and poise, that made all the difference during the 1994 Amateur Championship. When Woods found himself six holes down after 13 holes of the 36-hole final, he began his improbable comeback. Heading into the final nine, he had closed the gap but still held a precarious three-hole deficit. He continued to find his birdies—golf scores of one stroke less than standard on a hole—pulling even with the leader, Trip Kuehne of Oklahoma State, by the 17th hole.
It was then that Woods created some magic, hitting a “fearless tee shot,” in the words of some spectators, on a par-3. The ball landed on the green, just four paces from the water’s edge. “You don’t see to many pros hit it right of that pin,” Kuehne later recalled for the New York Times. “It was a great gamble that paid off.” Woods dropped a 14-foot putt and played steadily on the 18th to become the youngest winner of America’s oldest golf championship, as well as the event’s first black champion. “When Tiger won his first U.S. Junior [in 1991],” his father told Sports Illustrated, “I said to him, ‘Son, you have done something no black person in the United States has ever done, and you will forever be a part of history.’ But this is ungodly in its ramifications.”
It is possible that Tiger Woods and his family did not fully anticipate the implications of his success. For one, African Americans promptly heralded Woods as the next “Great Black Hope.” Woods, in turn, sought to distance himself from the people who wanted to pigeonhole him. He did not want to assume the role of a crusader. Again and again he pointed out to the press that he was not only African American but also part Thai, part Chinese, and part Indian. On applications requesting ethnic identity, he described himself as Asian.
Tida, in particular, voiced her dismay at the racial stereotyping. “All the media try to put black in him,” she told Sports Illustrated. “Why don’t they ask who half of Tiger is from? In the United States, one little part black is all black. Nobody wants to listen to me. I been trying to explain to people, but they don’t understand. To say he is 100 percent black is to deny his heritage. To deny his grandmother and grandfather. To deny me!” Some writers took offense to the Woods’s racial stance. Jet magazine, for example, subtly voiced this retort: “Woods’s description of his racial identity led one observer to wonder how he could say he is only 25 percent black, when his father is black.” The public exchange was an early sign that Woods’s fame was going to force him to confront issues of race.
Other pitfalls emerged in the wake of Woods’s great feat. As coach Harmon confessed to Reilly of Sports Illustrated, “This young man is one of the best young players to come out of this country in a long, long time. That is the good news. The bad news is that he has to live up to it now.” The question on most everyone’s mind was, would Tiger succeed as a professional? It seemed unlikely that the young star would pass up so many millions to be made off his sport, “especially now,” as Sports Illustrated noted, “that he has been stamped with the undeniable look of a future superstar.” So eager were companies to own a piece of Woods that they called Stanford trying to negotiate deals to start lines of Tiger Woods sporting apparel and Tiger Woods clubs. “Nobody believes,” Newsweek suggested, “Woods will live up to his avowed goal of staying at Stanford for four years, passing up the tour and the hundreds of millions of dollars awaiting him in the endorsement village.”
Still, heading into his sophomore year, Woods remained an amateur. Tida, for one, was determined that her son earn a degree. No amount of money, in her eyes, could replace the value of a good education. Earl was inclined to leave his son’s future open to other possibilities. If Tiger completely dominated college golf during his sophomore and junior years, he told Sports Illustrated, then perhaps his son would joined the tour, juggling tournaments around his Stanford schedule. For all the promise of glamour and gold, the family’s decision to invest in education was a prudent one. As the New York Times pointed out, “Winners of the U.S. Amateur do not necessarily go on to become great golfers—the roll call of amateur champions who had marginal careers is a lengthy one.”
Speculation about the future of Tiger Woods ended, however, in the late summer of 1996, when the 20-year-old, joined the professional ranks. He quickly won two of his first seven Professional Golf Association (PGA) starts, which Newsweek cheekily noted was “the most successful professional golf debut since dimples on the ball.” In just seven weeks, he went from his debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open, where he finished in 60th place, to coming “within range of his stated goal of making the top 125 on the money list and earning a PGA Tour exemption [meaning he would not have to play in the 1997 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament],” according to Gary Van Sickle in Sports Illustrated. Van Sickle further asserted that “By winning in [the] Las Vegas [Invitational], in only his fifth start as a pro, Tiger Woods proved beyond a doubt that his time had come.”
Though some felt his initial pro games were shaky—for example, in his third professional event, the Quad City Classic, he blew the lead in the final round—Woods steadily improved. And, as Reilly assessed, Woods was “making history almost daily.” Having found his rhythm, Woods was the picture of confidence, telling Reilly, “I really haven’t [even] played my best golf yet.” Woods was scoring off the field as well having signed #60 million in endorsements with Nike and Titleist. Still, PGA Tour veteran and friend Davis Love lll cautioned to Van Sickle, “He’s not playing for the money. He’s trying to win. He thinks about winning and nothing else.”
Despite being driven, Love’s comment was not exactly true, however. Like many young adults, Woods anticipated the many rites of passage. The same article mentioned that Woods, “was looking forward to returning to Las Vegas in a year, when he’ll be 21. I’ll be legal,’ Woods said, smiling. I can actually do some stuff around here.” Though he feelshe had a “normal” childhood, Woods has worked harder than most of his peers in orderto accomplish all that he has. “You guys don’t understand,” he chastised Reilly. “When I played in those [early] tournaments, I was either in high school or college. I’d get dumped into the toughest places to play, and I usually was trying to study, get papers done and everything else.”
In 1997 Woods proved again he was capable of doing anything he set out to do. At 21, he became the youngest player and first African American to win the Masters. This important win had many repercussions, both positive and negative. Golfer Ron Townsend, the first African-American member of the Augusta National told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “What [Woods is] doing is great for America and great for golf. He’s just an amazing talent, and it’s pleasure towatch him play.”
But one incident threatened to tarnish Wood’s star. At the ceremony, while Woods accepted his green jacket and trophy, one of the other golfers, Fuzzy Zoeller, made a tasteless joke thatmany thought was racist. Woods brushed it off and Zoeller apologized.
Since winning the Masters, Woods has become Mr. Golf. Swarms of people followed him all over the golf courses watching his every move. Instead of quietly following the sport, many of the “new” crowd behaved as if it were a contact sport, not one of subdued concentration. Every time Woods played, ratings went up and when he won, they were astronomical. “He has changed the way the public looks at golf. Tiger has become one of the most prominent worldwide personalities in current times,” former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His face has been on the box of Wheaties and promptly turned into a collector’s item. Woods has been compared to golf great Jack Nicklaus and basketball legend Michael Jordan.
Both Woods’ winnings and endorsement deals, with Nike and Buick among others, has made him one of the highest paid athletes. He was ranked number two in Forbes magazine. He has been the subject of many books, including his own, How I Play Golf, published in October of 2001. His father has also been published, his tome aptly titled, Training A Tiger: A Father’s Account of How to Raise a Winner in Both Golf and Life. Woods has also been the topic of sports videos and he has his own video games.
In six years, Woods has 29 PGA Tour victories. He has won six majors, including the PGA Championship and U.S. Open. He even did a Grand Slam, by winning four majors consecutively. According to the Cincinnati Post, he played 52 consecutive rounds at par or better. During the 2000 season, Woods played under par at every tournament. He has even shattered or matched many records. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “My goal is to obviously be the best. It’s a lofty goal, and if I do, great. If I don’t, at least I tried.” His father told theCincinnati Post, “He finally reached maturity last year. Now, he’s trying to bring under control the resources that he has.”
In 2001 Wood’s golf game, according to many, was below average. Many blamed everything from his swing to injury to Woods suffering from burnout. Some have even blamed love. According to Sports Illustrated, rumors floated that he was infatuated with a well-known volleyball starand model. But Woods shrugged it off. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “That’s golf. It’s part of playing sports. You can’t play well all of the time. You can’t have everything go your way….”
Though his play may have been off the first half of the year, Woods rallied back and won his second Masters. “This is really special. When I won [the Masters] in ‘97, I hadn’t been pro a full year yet. I was a little young, a little naive. I didn’t appreciate what I had done. I have a much better appreciation for major championships now,” he was quoted as saying in Jet.
Fame may have many perks for Woods, but it has also come at a price. His identity was stolen, and he was bilked out of #17,000 before the perpetrator was caught and jailed. He complainedin the press that the PGA was using his image to promote events he wasn’t participating in. During a tour in Thailand, he met with a protest of 100 people upset over layoffs by Nike. To deal with the pressure of competition and being in the spotlight, Woods cuts loose at times. He would like to get married and raise a family, so he has begun dating. He has been known to eat McDonald’s on flights and smokes an occasional cigarette. Woods dyed his hair blond in 2000 (he has since changed it back.)
To help keep himself grounded, Woods relies on “The Brothers”—basketball players, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and former football player and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad. These three have been mentoring Woods since he met Jordan after winning the 1997 Masters. The four keep in constant contact and have given or asked for advice from one another. Though he raised him to be a formidable force and taught him all the fundamentals of golf and helped him keep his focus, Earl Woods has given the control of his golf career to Woods since the elder Woods has taken ill. His father is still in charge of the Tiger Woods Foundation and Tiger Woods Inc. He also goes to the tournaments, but watched his son’s victories from TV.
Perhaps most inspiring about Woods’ accomplishments as such a young man is that he has literally, and singlehandedly, transformed the image of the game, making it more attractive to a wider spectrum of people while glamorizing it. “Tiger Woods is the biggest draw of any athlete on television these days,” ABC Sports president Howard Katz exclaimed to the Dallas Morning News. As Reilly pointed out, “Golf used to be four white guys sitting around a pinochle table talking about their shaft flexes…. Now golf is [supermodel] Cindy Crawford sending Woods a letter.” Indeed, Woods’s presence has attracted a multitude of new fans to the sport of golf— minorities and young people among them. Van Sickle reiterated Jack Nicklaus’s belief that “someone would come along who could hit 30 yards past everyone else, much as he did decades ago, have a great short game, and dominate the sport.” In so many ways, Woods already has. Though golf is and will be an integral part of his life for many years to come, as he has matured, he has come to appreciate his victories and his life outside of golf. He commented to Sports Illustrated, “No doubt about it, I have a wonderful balance in my life. I’ve learned what’s best for me.”
Business Wire, September 4, 2001, p.2319; September 11, 2001, p.0197.
The Cincinnati Post, August 28, 2001, p. 6C.
Dallas Morning News, July 28, 2001, p. 9B.
Entertainment Weekly, November 15, 1996, p. 16.
Jet, August 26, 1991, p. 48; September 12, 1994, p. 51; November 14, 1994, p. 49; April 24, 1995, p. 8; September 18, 2000, p. 48; November 27, 2000, p. 48; January 22, 2001, p. 33; April 23, 2001, p. 54; May 21, 2001, p. 35; July 9, 2001, p. 51.
Library Journal, July 2001, p. 145.
Nation’s Restaurant, September 3, 2001, p. 36.
Newsweek, April 10, 1995, pp. 70-72; December 9, 1996, pp. 52-56; June 18, 2001.
New York Times, August 28, 1994.
People, September 23, 1991, p. 81.
PR Newswire, June 10, 2001, p. 7445.
The San Francisco Chronicle, April 22, 1997, p. B7.
The Source, November 1996, p. 121.
Sports Illustrated, September 5, 1994, pp. 14-15; March 27, 1995, pp. 62-72; October 4, 1996, pp. 37-38; October 28, 1996, pp. 47-50; April 3, 2000, p. 78+; August 27, 2001, p. 1.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 14, 1997, p. 1C; August 20, 2001, p. D7; September 9, 2001, p. 10; September 11, 2001, p. Al.
Time International, November 27, 2000, p. 60.
USA Weekend, July 24-26, 1992, pp. 4-6.
—Ami Walsh, Lorna Mabunda and Ashyia N. Henderson
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