Chapter One:Total Commitment!
In my department, there are six people who are afraid of me, and one small secretary who is afraid of all of us. I have one other person working for me who is not afraid of anyone, not even me, and I would fire him quickly, but I'm afraid of him.
-- Joseph Heller, Something Happened
The chase begins on the practice tee.
It's an agonizing pursuit, because progress is slow, hard to measure, and harder to hold. You might towel off after hitting five hundred balls with the uneasy feeling that you're just another stupid, spinning dog who thinks he's finally gaining on his tail. When you're chasing Tiger, and not just improvement, the goal seems to keep receding into the distance. Because Tiger's practicing too, probably harder and smarter than you are.
So tread softly on the practice tee, and keep your voice down. For the mind of the man at work is like a napping baby in a stuffy room, perched on the thin edge between sweet dreams and cranky wakefulness. Just one mis-hit golf ball and the fretting starts. This could be a trend, baby, his inner voice whispers. You need a lesson, you need a rest, your clubs aren't right. You should have stretched before you came out here. Or did you stretch too much? Maybe your wife should be here. Maybe she should go away. You could be losing it.
He could be losing it, thinks the caddie, calculating 5 percent of the money a man who hits shots like that might win this week. The batmen stand behind their employers with nothing much to do, insecurity and caffeine keeping them upright. Every caddie knows the gentle modern phrase for "you're fired." They've all heard it before: "Joe, you've done a great job. But I think I need a change." Yeah, like a baby needs a new diaper, the dismissed looper thinks but doesn't say. He's afraid to. If he lets it get ugly he'll have a harder time getting another bag to carry.
Perhaps our pro strikes a second bad shot, and a third. Then a calm voice may intrude into his consciousness. "You're sliding under it a bit. Let's just slow it down and get back to thinking about stability, here" -- the man with the soothing voice is touching the golfer now, with an intimate hand on a knee or a shoulder or the small of the back -- "and here." The instructor speaks softly, for these words are meant for no one else. Another shot goes off line, or flies too low, or too high, or with too little force. The golfer's jaw muscles ripple as he rakes out another golf ball from the pile. And the teacher wonders, did I say the wrong words, or were they the right words poorly expressed? While he'll have a hundred students besides this one, instructors are more sensitive and image conscious than caddies, so for them dismissal by a student is castration. Besides, losing a high-profile client is not good for trade. A really solid shot: "That's it! That's pure. That's Hogan."
Hogan is right. An obsessive man named William Ben Hogan discovered the joy of incessant practice seventy years ago, and as he won U.S. Opens and his influence spread, the headquarters of professional golf gradually moved from the bar to the rehearsal hall. As 1956 Masters and PGA champion Jack Burke likes to say, every golf course had its own sports psychologist back then, and his name was Jack Daniels. Why we followed Hogan instead of his contemporary and equal Byron Nelson, who didn't like to practice much (but didn't drink, either), is a damn good question, one we can talk about over a beer.
For half a century now, and increasingly each year, the heart of golf thumps on the broad, flat stage of the practice tee, where nothing counts but everything is crucial. Fear sucks the oxygen from the air, and the ticks and twitches of ritual fight off the butterflies. Professional golf had once been social, now it is withdrawn. Most people think it's the money, but it's not that simple.
Like an eighteenth-century battlefield, the range composes itself into skirmish lines. At the front, golfer/soldiers aim relentless fire at distant targets. They joke and banter with caddies and instructors about wine and women, and ask fellow competitors if they're playing at Milwaukee. But for some guys, on some days, the pressure wraps so tightly you could measure it in psi. Behind the warriors, support troops mingle uneasily, competing for a deal or a job or an interview while still watching the golfers with the preoccupied vigilance of mothers on the beach. The tension at the front rolls to the rear.
The fourth regiment in the range war gets its stress from the data streaming into its ears via cell phone. "We're down 6 percent versus the second quarter last year," the boss says. "Those bastards from Callaway and Titleist are up 5 percent. So we have a problem. You have a problem." Sincere men with insincere laughs, the equipment reps look over your shoulder when you talk with them, alert as bird dogs for a signal from a player to fetch him a club or to approach for a conference. Those come-hither gestures are pregnant with money, because amateurs play what the pros play. The golf equipment and apparel market is very volatile, and consumer loyalty has been crumbling for years.
The reps' weapons are vigilance, sunscreen, and golf bags crammed with drivers, woods, wedges, putters, and naked shafts. Often their collective wares sit like yard sale merchandise in a little roped-in paddock about twenty-five paces from the front. There, the navy and gray satchel of Fujikura Performance Shafts does silent battle with UST Proforce Gold Like No Other Shafts, and with Penley, and Aldila, and Rifle High Performance, and True-Temper WITH BI-MATRIX TECHNOLOGY. In clubs it's TaylorMade, Callaway, PING, Cleveland, Titleist, Hogan, Sonartec, Porsche Design, and the rest. If a player who usually plays a Porsche with a Penley decides to test-drive a Ping with a Proforce, four reps eye each other, and the player, and the flight of his golf balls against the sky. And calculate what will happen to their careers if this particular PGA Tour star joins or leaves the stable.
The media, the ants at this picnic, are of two distinct types, one frantic, the other watchful. Two- or three-person local TV crews rush and push and never seem to catch up. "Producer says we've got to get twenty-five seconds of the defending champ!" says the on-camera man or woman. "He was supposed to be here. Parnevik, you know, the guy with the funny hat? Brad, you know which one he is?" Brad the cameraman doesn't have a clue. He'll be shooting a traffic accident tomorrow, then a city council meeting. He's dressed for a hike, or to wash his Isuzu, or for beers at a place with sweaty floors. An hour ago, the on-camera man looked ready for his table at the Four Seasons, but now his makeup is melting from the pressure and the May Texas swelter.
Writers adopt a lower-key posture, similar to that of birdwatchers. They blend, they move slowly and quietly, and they ask if they may ask a few questions. Only camera- and soundmen rank lower sartorially. Equipment reps, instructors, and players dress for golf, with more blacks and navies this year than last, and more texture interest. Caddies wear baggy beige Bermuda shorts and running shoes. Wraparound sunglasses rest the eyes and hide anxiety for the first four groups. But the English majors who consider themselves the intellectuals of the practice tee have no time for the latest look, or not enough money. The hallmark of the writers' ensemble is the free golf shirt. An actual logo on one such garment, painted on, not stitched in: "Art Sellinger Doritos Light Tortilla Chips Long Drive Pro-Am."
Unless it's the last few minutes before the final round of the U.S. Open or the PGA, the men and women from the national TV networks do not bother with the practice tee hubbub.
Who fears the media? Almost everyone on the tee -- as much for the interruptions they represent as for what they might broadcast or write. But reporters are easy to block in most cases, either by being unavailable or by responding with no elaboration or with the worst clichés. Cold shoulders give writers the willies and reinforce their worst traits: insecurity, superiority, and a tendency to be judgmental, even vindictive.
Only one group moves with complete ease from the front of the range to the back fence. Agents -- the generals in the range war -- nod, wave, or speak to almost everyone. Smart guys, many of them lawyers or business school grads, their fashion sense and interpersonal skills are the best on the tee. For example, here's David Yates of Gaylord Sports Management, Scottsdale, Arizona, in a sky-blue pinpoint cotton long-sleeved dress shirt, charcoal-gray double-pleated slacks, hand-tooled leather belt with a metal tip, and handmade Italian loafers. He worked for fifteen years at International Management Group, the inventor of the sports agency and still by far the biggest player. He rose to VP and represented such as Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, and Mark Calcavecchia, so he's got the business part down. Once a prominent amateur golfer, he coached the sport at the United States Military Academy, Stanford, and the University of Oklahoma. Tour player Andrew Magee graced his squad at OU. So Yates knows the golf part, too.
He shakes the hand of a player his old agency represents, and they chat for a moment. Then his eyes scan upward, to the top of a steep embankment twenty feet above the practice putting green, and he recognizes the head and shoulders of a former IMG colleague, Clarke Jones. Their eyes meet, or seem to. From Yates's point of view, Jones looks like a sniper in a coat and tie. But Jones pulls out a cell phone, not a rifle. And Yates is sure that Jones is calling back to IMG headquarters in Cleveland, to Alastair Johnston or to the founder, Mark McCormack, to report a seeming violation of the noncompete clause in Yates's exit agreement. "I'll talk to whoever I want to," Yates mutters at Jones, who is too far away to hear. Their eyes might have locked at this point, like those of duelists at high noon, had not each been wearing the inevitable, impenetrable sunglasses.
Friendships on the tee are really more like truces. Everyone affects a poker-faced coolness. Meanwhile, agents dread poaching from other agents, and indecision and lowball pricing from the club, shirt, shaft, and ball manufac-turers with whom they are supposed to make endorsement deals, and the moods and whims of their clients. Equipment and apparel reps fear and mistrust each other, as do instructors, caddies, and writers. The players fear a thousand things, including fear itself, but mostly they're frightened of the future. And everyone's a little nervous about them, the sweating, incessantly practicing golfers at the front.
No one fears nothing. Except one man. Tiger.
Here he comes.
A few children skip before him in the late afternoon sun, as if to strew rose petals in the path of a new bride and groom. Like fighter jets escorting a bomber, four stern, uniformed men surround him. Caddie Steve Williams flies the point, walking fast, carrying a big black and white golf bag emblazoned BUICK. From nowhere -- for it's 6:30 P.M. on a muggy Tuesday and the tournament doesn't begin until Thursday -- a crowd appears. Down the hill Tiger strides, a lithe, slender athlete in baggy pants. Just got here from his home in Florida, in-the-know fans tell each other. Won the last time he played, of course, the Masters, and now he owns all four of the major trophies. No one's ever done that, except, I guess, Bobby Jones. How old is he now? Twenty-five? My God, a woman says, seeing him for the first time, he's magnificent. Is he, like...? No, I think he dropped his girlfriend. Why, do you want to ask him out?
Past the practice putting green, through the ropes and onto the tee strides Eldrick T. Woods. With its proximity to bathrooms, the equipment reps, a chipping area, and the building housing the Byron Nelson Golf School, the right side of this tee is the social side. Tiger and Steve go left.
"No, no, no, goddammit. Speed it up," he says. Tiger is a mutterer. Another swing. "Faster!" Another. "Too fast. See, now it spins out. Match the swing and the hip." He's as profane as a Marine Corps DI, which may have something to do with two men: Earl, his father, and Butch Harmon, his teacher, both of whom are Vietnam combat vets. Tiger cusses casually, making an unnatural suggestion to caddie Williams, or caustically tearing into himself on the practice tee with almost the same sincerity he showed in the heat of his most recent tournament. For example: "A flier," he'd snarled on the ninth fairway in the last round at the Masters. "Goddammit." A flier is an iron shot that goes too far because grass intervenes between club head and ball, reducing its spin. CBS's sophisticated audio equipment broadcast the monologue.
"Did he say what I think he said?" a ten-year-old student at a Catholic elementary school asked his father. "Yeah," the father replied, continuing to stare at the television. "And you can say that, too. The next time you're leading the Masters with nine to play."
For as Earl Woods told Golf Digest, "You can't have it both ways with Tiger. You can't have charismatic abilities to execute the marvelous shots and then chastise him when that same passion causes him to overload when he hits a bad shot." Besides, Earl said, swearing runs in the family. "My father could swear for thirty minutes and never repeat himself. He was that good."
No parent need fear that Tiger will corrupt America's youth. His intent and his effect is quite the opposite, and his overall presentation of success and wholesomeness is strong. As for the audible cussing, we tend to blame the boom mikes -- for competitors this intense, and this successful, we'll cut some slack. After all, would Wheaties put a pretender on its box? Does Disney hire reprobates to endorse its TV networks? Unless he's caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, Woods has nothing to worry about in terms of image.
We love him. Corporate America pursues him with embarrassing ardor, so his endorsement income of $54 million in 2000 will probably increase as the old deals expire and new ones take their place. "I see him in two or three years going over $100 million annually in endorsements," says Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports and Celebrities. "There are some major categories he's not in: soft drinks, telecommunications, fast food. He's made no secret he loves the Golden Arches." And Taco Bell.
If Tiger follows in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and urges the world to eat more Big Macs, the deal will probably be brokered by his agent, International Management Group, of Cleveland, Ohio. The 1995 PGA champion, Steve Elkington, exaggerating a bit for effect, says that some day Tiger will be a kind of loss leader for his agency, "that IMG is going to be paying him." Perhaps the analogy is to the huge Mercedes Benz logo in front of its factory by I-95 in northern New Jersey, the most heavily traveled piece of road in the world. For being its glowing blue, forty-foot-high trademark, Tiger gets a special deal from IMG -- a lower commission rate, a bit of stock -- and he deserves it. Like Mercedes Benz, Tiger stands for excellence, and he acts as a magnet to draw other high earners to the agency. New and potential clients should ask why any of the best people at IMG would expend time on their behalf when they've already got a money machine in Tiger. But apparently they don't ask, or those smooth talkers from Cleveland explain away the conflict. Or make it seem like an advantage.
After five -- at least -- years with an agent (Earl let it slip in a TV interview that was never shown that Tiger was represented while still a student at Stanford, an egregious violation of NCAA rules), Woods enjoys a sunnier relationship with his representatives than do most golf pros. In fact, everyone close to him has the bouncy step of a Super Bowl winner. His instructor is like a brother to him; he calls Claude Harmon, Jr., Butchie, and Harmon calls him T or Teeg. Same deal with his caddie, Steve Williams -- "Stevie" -- a deep-voiced man's man from New Zealand who has the most pleasing ability to keep his mouth shut around the media, which his predecessor, Fluff Cowan, didn't. As for his parents, Tiger declared his independence by moving to the other side of the continent, to an extremely gated community near Orlando. Earl, seventy, beset with weight, heart, and ex-smoker problems, remains in the family home in Cypress, near Los Angeles. Now more the safety valve for Tiger than his spokesman, he coauthors books for the insatiable masses and handles some of the media overflow. He's also the president of his son's charity, the Tiger Woods Foundation, and the president of TWC Corporation. Tida lives in a new house in Tustin, a few miles from their old house. Earl describes the house Tiger bought for his mother as "large and showy...her dream home."
The happy team led to happy results. Into the spring of 2001, Tiger's golf game varied only between spectacular and superb. No worries there, either, only inspiration and possibility.
What about women? Are they a problem? Well, Tiger's such a target that he's got to be careful about when and how he sneezes, much less who he dates. His is a scalp some women might brag about, perhaps ruining deals with G-rated companies like Disney, and his is a fortune many others would love to have access to. The locker room rumor is that Tiger felt obliged to pay his former squeeze Joanna Jagoda hush money when they split. But Woods knows some discreet women. When he visits Harmon, at his golf school in Las Vegas, he combines golf with girls and gambling. His new girlfriend is Swedish. He likes blondes.
Earl weighed in on the matrimonial issue in an interview with TV Guide in June. "I'd like to see him get married and have children," Woods Senior said. However, "I don't see Tiger marrying before thirty, if then. Let's face it -- a wife can sometimes be a deterrent to a good game of golf. 'That's all you do is practice. Why don't you stay home here and have some quality time with me.' 'Honey, I'm a professional golfer.' 'Well, I'm your wife.'"
Tiger smiled indulgently at this, handling it perfectly, because the child is becoming father to the man. "That's just my dad," he said. "I'll know when it's time to settle down."
The media can be as bad as the nagging wife Earl pictures, and some segments of it are particularly curious about things he or anyone would rather keep private. Tiger defends with scheduled news conferences, by paying more attention to TV than to print, by ignoring questions posed incorrectly or at the wrong time, and by being generally unavailable. A writer who wanted to get a few minutes in April was told by IMG gatekeeper Bev Norwood that the list of those wanting a chat was so impossibly long that no names could be added to it. In August, the list had become impossibly short; in fact, it had been eliminated. And no, he won't ask Tiger to give you five minutes. "The only way to talk to him," said Norwood, a slight man of late middle years who has made his diffidence a strength, "is to hang around and ask your questions."
But "hang around and ask your questions" usually means joining a demeaning scrum around the superstar when he ventures for a moment into the open field. Thoughtful questions and reasoned replies are difficult, and woe unto the reporter whose question is not of general interest. You'd better not ask about the role of Buddhism in Tiger's life, for example, when everyone else wants to hear about the eagle putt on the ninth hole. If you're a part of this cluster with a notebook or a tape recorder or a camera, you feel like a beggar chasing a rickshaw. (Worse, you might recall that Princess Diana spent her last moments alive fleeing such as yourself.) Tiger in this situation can be charming or disdainful, depending upon how he played. But he always seems a bit preoccupied, and a little bit nervous.
He'd prefer to get the media chore over with, if he can, with a Q and A near the scorer's trailer. He walks to a certain point, and writers and photographers surround him like iron filings around a magnet. Doug Ferguson, the AP writer whom Tiger likes and respects, is nominally in charge: At least he asks the most questions. Sometimes these interviews devolve into the lowest form of conversation, the walk-and-talk. In May, at the Nelson, we found out how low the walkabout can go. Media clotted around Tiger the instant he breached the yellow rope by the eighteenth green after his practice round, and he walked as fast as he could to the safety of the locker room, uphill and a hundred yards away. He heard the usual questions -- "How was the course today? How do you think you'll do this week?" -- but a reporter for an off-brand TV network didn't want to go there. "What about the Texas women, Tiger? How do you think they compare to the girls in California or Florida?" Woods ignored the reporter, who ran alongside, rephrased the question, and asked again. And again. "That's it, buddy, I'm done," he finally said to the reporter. Then Tiger added in a whisper we could all hear, "Fucking idiot." And we agreed.
Things are always warmer for Tiger on the Golf Channel, with which he enjoys a special relationship. He lives nearby in Orlando and has often driven uninvited to the studio in his white Porsche, to sit in a room to watch tapes of old golf tournaments and TV exhibition matches. He's also been a frequent guest, of course. "I made a few mistakes," Tiger told host Peter Kessler in an interview in March of '97. "You're allowed to at your age," Kessler said. "You're allowed to at twice your age." Tiger pursed his lips. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Unfortunately the public and the media don't seem to look at it that way."
The turning point in his press relations occurred in 1997 when he met a Gentlemen's Quarterly writer named Charles P. Pierce. Pierce hung with Tiger for a couple of days, watched him play in and win the first event on the Tour in '97, the Mercedes Championship. The story, entitled "The Man. Amen," portrayed Woods as a triple contradiction, an all-too-human twenty-one-year-old golf savior. Pierce filled the piece with the shout-and-response phrasings of a black Baptist church on Sunday morning and repeated again and again the words "gospel" and "blasphemy" and "faith." He communicated the all-too-human part by repeating verbatim some sexual jokes with racial overtones Tiger told to a limo driver and to a couple of young, pretty photographer's assistants.
Tiger and Company read what he said and that was the end of his public candor. He clammed up, or wised up, and developed an impressively empty kind of media speech that still fills up notebooks and tape. He prefaces a lot of his sentences with the word "obviously," a clear signal that the words to come will contain no surprises. "Obviously, I'd like to win. Obviously, I'm playing well." He understands the power of editing, so he'll do a bit of live TV after his round but blow off Ed Bradley and 60 Minutes. For another example, Newsweek wanted to talk a couple of weeks before the U.S. Open. For our June 18 cover, their people told his people. No can do, Eldrick said. Newsweek went ahead anyway, using a four-year-old photo of that extraordinary face on the cover below an appropriate headline: tiger rules.
Or does he? Since the First Amendment to the Constitution forbids Congress and IMG from making any laws abridging the freedom of the press, Tiger must endure things such as what appeared in Walter Scott's Personality Parade, Parade magazine, August 27, 2001:
Q: You implied that Tiger Woods and his longtime girlfriend are no longer together. What is his romantic status?
A: Confusing. Woods, 25, broke up with Joanna Jagoda, 23, earlier this year. He later was seen in Vegas, giving golf tips to Gabrielle Reece, 31, the volleyball star and model. When the tabloids hinted at a romance, Reece denied it, saying she had reconciled with her husband....
He's in Parade, he's in People. He's in the tabloids at the supermarket checkout, competing for attention against the amazing but true story of the three-breasted woman and her three-armed husband, proud parents of a three-legged baby. In one of these, the August 28 Star (the number-one Celebrity News Magazine, according to itself), next to a head shot of Tiger and a photo of a spade royal flush, the tabloid shouted this headline: tiger woods gambling away his millions! "Golf phenomenon Tiger Woods has lost so many millions of dollars gambling in Las Vegas that his beloved father fears that the young golfing great may be turning into a compulsive gambler," wrote Jill Ishkanian. "He hits the gaming tables whenever he's on a jaunt with his superstar pals, like former basketball superstars Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley." Ishkanian quoted a "sports insider" who said, "I think they're all gambling junkies. Gambling is their off-court thrill, and they've introduced Tiger to it. And he's taken to it like he took to golf."
But the prying press may as well be a million miles away as Tiger continues to practice. Pink and purple paint the sky in fuzzy streaks, and the crowd slowly thins. Beneath his shirt, the gold Buddha on a chain around his neck sways and jumps with every swing. Sweat soaks his made-in-Peru, double-mercerized, two-ply cotton Nike shirt from his thickly muscled shoulders to his tailbone, and the clinging fabric convinces you that his is not the body of an athlete but of a dancer. Who else but a guy in the ABT or the Bolshoi could possess such a combination of flexibility and strength? He's Nureyev with a metal stick and a white plastic ball, perfectly balanced and full of grace while executing a split-second flex of fifty muscles.
Tiger's the last one on the range, which is not to say that he practiced longer than the other guys. He hits the driver last. If a spectator positions himself just so, he can watch Tiger's Nike golf balls fly into the glowing disc of the rising moon. And if the spectator doesn't watch himself, he might imagine ET on a flying bicycle, or recall Yeats's words about flight, "a lonely impulse of delight."
Finally Tiger gets inside his security formation for the walk up to the hotel, which is on the grounds here at the Four Seasons in Irving, Texas. In his $1,500 top-floor, two-bedroom suite, he picks up the phone and talks to room service. A few minutes later, his food arrives -- a peanut butter and banana sandwich on white, and a glass of milk. A happy meal after a long day.
Players, instructors, caddies, reps, agents, media, fans, and behind them, junior golfers and their parents -- if golf is a layer cake, then Tiger's the little tuxedoed figure on top. Each level feels the weight of his tread.
To some his footsteps sound like there's a fat man jumping rope on the roof. Others claim not to hear a thing. "Chasing Tiger?" asks Andrew Magee. "I'm chasing Gary McCord." McCord plays the Senior Tour and plays the court jester on the CBS broadcasts of golf tournaments. Magee's humor is as witty and glib as McCord's and he's just as articulate and insightful. But his slightly nasal voice doesn't modulate as well: He'd have to work on that. On the other hand, he's got a hell of a lot more hair. He's about to turn forty and for the first time in his life, he's feeling old. This wouldn't be the last time in 2001 that Magee talked about career options. Because for the first time in his life, he's failing at something.
"My business isn't very good," Magee says, his way of saying that he hasn't been playing well. It's April 22 and he's on the practice green at the Shell Houston Open. For two hours with one club and three golf balls. April 22 and he's won only $40,533. This is a man who's been within shouting distance of a million dollars a year in prize money the previous three years. But in 2001 he's missed the cut in five of the nine tournaments he's entered. He's paid Uncle Sam about a third of the forty in taxes, and it costs three to four thousand a week to travel and live on the Tour. Magee's operating in the red and everyone knows it.
Since 1985, his first full year on the Tour, he hasn't endured a bad slump. With failure a mere abstraction, he quite naturally built a financial life based on a high income. He's got a daughter in college, mortgages on two houses, a wife who likes Pashmina and stargazer lilies, two other kids, and a couple of dogs. Endorsement income keeps him afloat, but Coors Light won't continue paying him at the same level to wear its logo on his shirt if he never plays well enough to get on TV on Saturday and Sunday. The easy money of the Senior Tour is still ten years away. His career truly is at a crossroads.
"So I guess you're looking at some of the younger guys," Magee says, while continuing to experiment with a midlength putter, one end of which he buries in his belly button as he strokes Spalding golf balls at a hole. "Charles Howell? Perfect."
While Magee claims not to feel affected by Tiger in the slightest, Charles Howell III can't remember the time when he didn't have Tiger on his mind, at least a little bit. "I want to beat him," he says. "I want to be the best in the world." He makes waves by uttering these thoughts, because hardly anyone else dares to. Can he back it up? When the PGA Tour comes to a town near you, go out and watch Howell and see what you think. Even if you conclude he doesn't have the putter to topple Tiger, there's entertainment in seeing someone as young (twenty-two) and thin as a Gap model drive the ball longer and straighter than Woods. Longer and straighter than anyone. He sets the ball on an extra-long peg about four inches in the air, digs in his spikes like he's about to attempt a standing broad jump, and then whips the titanium into the ball as if it's just said something about his mama. Even before he finishes his swing his Callaway Red is already one hundred yards away and it's departing so quickly it looks as small as a Tic Tac. But somehow, he never, ever loses his balance.
He's an aw-shucks young man despite his patrician-sounding name, from the home of golf (or one of them) in the United States, Augusta, Georgia. Despite the aw-shucks, he earned straight A's at Westminster Prep, where the academics are really tough, and a 3.76 at Oklahoma State, where they're not. If Woods hadn't sucked all the media attention from golf in the last few years, you'd have heard of him. But golf fans in Portland, Oregon, cannot forget the very skinny kid and the golf game he brought to Waverly Country Club for what would be the third of Tiger's three consecutive U.S. Juniors. Howell, fourteen, appeared younger than that, almost too young to be so far from home, competing in this company. He wore glasses then, and the frames seemed too big for the thin kid beneath them: He looked like Mr. Peepers. Woods, on the other hand, except for the layers of muscle he's added recently to arms and shoulders, looked a lot like he does now. When Tiger held up the trophy, he was a few months from his eighteenth birthday and just a few weeks from entering Stanford.
Perhaps, by the time we got to Howell, we thought we'd heard his story before. And in a way, we had. Like Woods, Howell focused on golf almost from the cradle, enjoyed sensational junior and college careers, won the NCAA, then quit school early to turn pro. Tiger lasted two years at Stanford when he bid farewell to men's golf coach Wally Goodwin. Charles gave Coach Mike Holder three years at Oklahoma State, but his leaving was less amicable. Howell turned pro without consulting his coach, and Holder felt left in the lurch. Both Tiger and Charles are skinny but strong, chose their parents well, practice as many hours as they sleep, train with weights, and employ the best instructors to shape their swings. Nike paid Tiger $10 million a year before he hit his first ball as a professional; Callaway ponied up about $2 million annually for Charles. Both men compete with an intensity that's so pure and bright it's almost hard to look at.
But they are not cut from the same cloth. Tiger mistrusts the media and can give fans little time; Howell, perhaps naively, signs every autograph and responds thoughtfully and at length to a reporter's questions. He says he's flattered that anyone would ask what he thinks. After hearing Howell agree enthusiastically to an interview request, Doug Ferguson of the AP sighs, "Why can't they all be like that?" And while Tiger plays the field, Charles got married this summer on the beach at Maui to a green-eyed beauty from Kingfisher, Oklahoma, Heather Myers.
Woods and Howell met head to head once, in the United States Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon in 1996. Tiger was twenty, Charles, sixteen. The older boy won three-and-one, and went on to win the tournament. They didn't become friends. Both wanted the same thing then and now, to be the best. A Pennsylvania Dutch expression applies: "If they weren't so much alike they'd like each other."
Howell will not be quoted saying anything negative about Tiger. He's too polite and his background is too conservative and Christian to permit any trash talk. But a request that started as a joke then became another item on his to-do list, and thus a minor obsession: "Why don't you put me on the cover of your book? I'd be more accessible, and I'd give you much better quotes. If I win a tournament, you've got to put me on the cover."
As the year went on and his challenge gained more and more credibility, the national media discovered Howell. ESPN Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and the Golf Channel all did features on the Thin Man from Augusta. With his yes sirs and no sirs and genial disposition, he emerged as a very likable young man but with a monkish single-mindedness that was hard to fathom. He'd had no real friends in high school, he admitted. No girlfriend. And not a single date -- no wait, he did borrow the car and Dad's aftershave once, when he went to the senior prom with a lovely girl, Fran Gardner. But someone else set the whole thing up -- he couldn't finish high school without having at least one date, could he? -- and his mother practically had to force him out the door. But he had a pretty good time and he came home with a crown on his head. In an ironic gesture, his classmates made the friendly but friendless, famous but famously antisocial golfer prom king. He put the crown on top of one of the scores of giant golf trophies in his bedroom.
"Why don't you date?" his mother, Deborah, asked him a hundred times. "Girls cause bogies, Mom," Charles would say. Deborah rolled her eyes at her son's tunnel vision. Where did he get that line? Must have been adapted from what Burgess Meredith -- as Mick the trainer -- had said in Rocky: "Women weaken legs." Just like his father, she thought, both the intensity of focus and the dry, sly humor. She herself had been among the most popular kids at her high school in Augusta, Richmond Academy, but her son made no room for a social life. The other kids wore blue jeans, the uniform and symbol of the casual life. Charles didn't own a single pair. He got his first denim pants during his second year at Oklahoma State, a gift from a roommate. He still has them.
"I started playing golf when I was seven, and it wasn't just for the heck of it," Charles says. "After the first day I played, I came home and said I wanted lessons."
And at that crucial moment of his young life, his father listened.
Junior golfers compare themselves to one another, or their parents do, as relentlessly as beauty pageant competitors. It's not as cut and dried as money won or world rankings, of course, but it's close. Golfweek, the junior's Bible, rates the top one hundred U.S. golfers age eighteen and under. The Golfweek Hot One Hundred is the scorecard in a game with almost absurdly high stakes. It's not that the kids are competing for college scholarships -- they are, but that's nothing new and it's hardly unique to golf. And it's not that most of the kids think they're on their way to playing with Tiger in the last group at the Masters. That's not new, either. Athletic fantasy has been around since the first newspaper sports page: a desire to hit a baseball like Rogers Hornsby animated my father's life in Chicago in 1930, and a lot of us in Ohio in 1970 made firm plans to be very much like Jack Nicklaus. Or Tom Weiskopf, minimum.
Where the equation has really changed is not in how much the kids gamble -- hell, they've got time, and dedication to a game as rewarding as golf is almost always a good thing -- it's in how much the parents risk. Junior golf has gone big time, and you can thank or blame the Woods family for turning a trend into an obsession. Tiger won the lottery -- and keeps winning it -- in part by having started his competitive career at age three and taking lessons beginning at age four. And damn the expense, wrote Earl in Playing Through: "Tida and I made a personal commitment to each other that we would devote all of our energies and finances to assure that he had the best we could give him. Total commitment! Well, something had to give, and it was our relationship. The priority became Tiger, and not each other."
Why a couple would sacrifice the union that made the kid possible in the first place is a complicated issue. Part of it must be a laudable selflessness and love. Perhaps deep down Earl resembled the mother of one of the twentieth century's greatest poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay. "It's striking how many writers of both sexes have been the offspring of mothers like Cora Millay," wrote Judith Thurman in The New Yorker (September 3, 2001). "Exceptional women disappointed in marriage and thwarted in ambition and desire who give all and ask for nothing except that the special child live gloriously enough for two."
Whatever the motivation, parents can express their deep commitment easily enough. Junior golf has its own tour, the American Junior Golf Association, and all the hotel, gasoline, car repair, food, and airline expenses implied by the word "tour." Tiger played AJGA and to some extent popularized it. The expense seems staggering. The touring junior needs new clubs every now and then at about six hundred dollars per set, an instructor at about a hundred dollars an hour, probably a country club membership at God-knows-how-much, and new clothes -- and forget Old Navy, these kids wear Polo. One or both parents attend most of the tournaments, most of the time, often sacrificing a couple of days' pay or vacation days. Some of the parents, following Earl's blueprint, employ a mental coach for their embryo pro. And trainers. And, so help me, nutritionists. Total commitment!
Recently Charles Howell calculated what his parents had spent to help make him the world's number-one-ranked junior, and then the top or almost the top-ranked amateur, an exercise that illustrated both Howell's precision and the upper-end cost for a young player's climb to the top. Recall that Charles didn't develop a desire to be the best in the world, he started with it. And remember, too, that his father understood his son's ambition and decided not to impede his son's progress with half measures. Like any good physician, Dr. Howell knew how to find the best specialists, so Charles's first lessons were with the highly recommended George Kellner Hoffer at the Atlanta Golf Center, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Augusta. At age ten, his son's dedication and talent confirmed, Dr. Howell raised the stakes, and switched Charles from a very good instructor to possibly the best one, David Leadbetter. Getting Charles to Leadbetter's lesson tee in Orlando with some regularity was not cheap.
Charles figured the average annual expenses for travel, equipment, lessons, clothes, entry fees, and membership at Augusta Country Club, and multiplied by twelve years. He adjusted for inflation, interest rate, opportunity cost, and the time value of money (he took macroeconomics at OSU and got an A). The final number: about eight hundred thousand dollars.
Most parents will spend far less, of course, if only because most people make a lot less than a top pediatric surgeon. Chasing Tiger can annihilate the family budget -- and the family. Sometimes the highest cost is the emotional one.
"I saw a mother kick her kid right in the rear end," recalls Mike Cassell, who, with his father, founded one of the big events, the Hudson Junior Invitational in Ohio. Phil Mickelson, Magee, Billy Andrade, and a handful of other current touring pros played in Hudson. "I also saw a father yank on his son's arm so hard after a three-putt that I thought he might pull it out of its socket. But with the really good players, you didn't even notice that their parents were there."
As to that last point, the Howells had a different experience with at least two high-profile juniors and their high-pressure fathers. "There's this one -- you know who he is, but I'm not gonna say his name -- who liked to go on the practice tee and make comments to the kids who might beat his kid," recalls Dr. Howell. "He'd say 'Hey, I noticed that new move you've got at the top of your backswing -- sure looks good,' or, 'When did you change your grip? I liked the way you had it before.'"
Deborah Howell shudders to remember another father of another very high-profile junior golfer who "just berated his son. In a loud voice. He'd jab his index finger into his boy's chest, and say something like, 'You're playing like an idiot! When are you gonna straighten up?' Awful. He got kicked out of more than one tournament."
Ron Balicki, who covers juniors and colleges for Golfweek, has seen all this and more. "A parent sent an e-mail to one of the reps I know, asking for free equipment. Said his kid was gonna be really good. The kid's three." Balicki believes that Tiger has affected the parents more than their children. "They see what might happen if you start a kid before he's in kindergarten," he says, "but they don't see reality. They don't understand that Tiger was a special case, the best junior golfer ever. Ever.
"From taking golf so seriously at such a young age, they're taking the fun out of it. Burnout's just inevitable. You see it all the time. Those Wongluekiet kids who've been so good? At the U.S. Junior, one of them lost in the first round, and the other didn't even qualify for match play. You wouldn't believe how intense the kids are at these tournaments. And how intense their parents are."
Intensity is one thing, abuse is another. But because of the game itself -- its honor system, its do-unto-others behavior code -- golf will always compare well to other sports. Take baseball, for example. Scolding and profane parents with their egos on the line have been ruining youth leagues for years. Baseball tradition emboldens adults to swear at the umpire and to try to rattle the eleven-year-olds on the other team, life lessons of dubious value. Not coincidentally, it costs only fifty bucks or so to get a kid into a Little League uniform for an entire season -- versus the $150 per tournament charged by the AJGA. Basketball parents can be just as bad as baseball, but seldom are, thank goodness. Many hockey and soccer moms and dads should be sedated before being allowed to watch. Overbearing tennis parents trying to get their little miss or mister on the pro tour are legend.
When junior golf parents snap from the pressure, they may be reacting to the money they've just spent at the Holiday Inn or to the frustratingly high standard set by Tiger, but they are not following the example of Earl and Tida. Their behavior as spectators was flawless: Perhaps the fact that their son was always winning relaxed them. Mrs. Woods usually seemed to be the happiest person in any gallery. A light and lively woman, she wore big conical Thai-style sun hats and talked while she walked, and hung on the arm of whoever she was speaking with. She often kept score for Tiger and the other kids in his group and cheered for each one. Earl watched the action more keenly from behind wraparound shades. Between the sunglasses, his naturally down-turned mouth, and a vaguely military bearing, Earl owned an intimidating presence. But his girth made him look silly in shorts and the shortness of breath from his cigarette habit caused him to walk very slowly and made him less forbidding. He was patient and pleasant with strangers who asked him how to raise their own Tiger. "First," Earl would always say, "put a golf club in his crib."
Golf gave Tiger Woods the boy purpose, identity, and a stage. It filled his heart with the wonderful feeling that he was doing exactly what he was born to do, and that his success pleased the two people he most wanted to please. But Tiger the man wants to dismantle golf and start over.
He revealed his deep discontent in December 1996, a few days before his twenty-first birthday, in an interview with Peter Kessler on the Golf Channel. We were still early in Tigermania back then, and Kessler asked Tiger to describe his goals. "To be the best golfer that I can be -- that's a given," said Woods, who wore a gray wide-wale corduroy cap, with the brim in the back, and a large white Nike logo sewn in the nominal front and facing the camera. "As I've grown up and matured and gotten more of a perspective on life, one of my main goals is to make golf look like America." The second half of his response was surprising both for its content and for sounding strangely canned, like Clinton saying "grow the economy" or Bush vowing "to leave no child behind."
Explain, Kessler said.
"How many kids do you see at the ballpark or at the playground playing hoop who are of all different races?" replied Tiger. "They gather everywhere and they just do it. I want golf to be the same way. It's such a great game, why limit it to just a few, when it can be enjoyed by all?"
The question sounded skillfully rhetorical and idealistic -- why can't we provide a prescription drug benefit for the elderly? -- but required a fight through several layers of cynicism. The first grain of salt came from the comparison of two playground sports -- requiring little more than a ball and a hoop, or a ball and a bat -- with golf. Baseball is a kid's game that adults sometimes play but golf is an adult game that some kids can learn. The average age of a golf beginner in the United States is thirty-something, possibly because the tuition is exponentially higher than anything on the playground. The equipment is elaborate, the rules are arcane, and etiquette and comportment are crucial. Basketball requires a patch of blacktop and a goal; to build even the most no-frills golf course costs $2 million. New golfers need to have some money, in other words, a lot of time, and even more patience.
The logo on his hat delivered another argument against the words coming out of his mouth. And that phrase he used -- "Just do it." After seeing the swoosh and hearing Tiger say the catch phrase from their infinitely repeated ad campaign, you had to wonder what was in it for Nike. Since he wears their symbol virtually all the time, and since they pay him $10 million a year, it's reasonable to assume he's always selling, that everything Tiger says is a commercial message. "I want basically to give kids in the inner city -- in any city really -- the chance to play a beautiful game," Tiger concluded. It sounded like the New Products for New Markets strategy they teach in the first college marketing class. Was Tiger/Nike cloaking a business purpose in altruism? They teach that gambit in the second class: OmniBank will donate a portion of your December charges to the World Wildlife Fund. Clip the labels off your soup cans and Campbell's will give money to your school. Buy Nike and help the angry and the alienated in the concrete jungle.
A cynic might also wonder why making golf look like America -- less white, presumably, and more black and brown -- was a worthy goal. Should racial quotas be extended to all sports, from the nine on the field for the Yankees to the five on the floor for the Lakers? Of course not: Obviously Tiger's wish concerned opportunity, not the colors of the best players. Yet here was a man with caramel-colored skin, sitting on top of golf and a mountain of money. For him, at least, the system appeared to be working.
Was he pushing someone else's agenda? You don't picture golf's Mozart having suffered at the hands of racist America. Yet he says, "I was always treated as an outsider." Like a lonely raisin in a rice pudding, the Woods family stood out in their otherwise all-white neighborhood in suburban Los Angeles. He got into a fight the first day of kindergarten. "I've been denied a lot of things just because of the color of my skin -- whether school, socially, or in golf. That's just the way it was." A driving range pro kicked him off the premises in 1994, he said, because the owner of a nearby house had complained that "this little nigger" was hitting balls over a fence and onto his roof. Tiger could have hit balls through the man's window and into his soup if he wanted to, but he was not the guilty party.
Despite Nike, and new markets, and the wealth and success he had already achieved, Tiger's dissatisfaction with the face of golf was genuine. He'd absorbed all the outrages endured by his father, and he had some of his own, and then he met Charlie Sifford. Like his father, Sifford loved a smoke and jazz and a drink. "I treat Charlie like he's my grandfather," Tiger said. "I love him dearly."
Although his friends and family say he's got a lovable side, on most days Sifford, almost eighty, is about the grouchiest man alive. Don't try to interview him. Four out of five times -- an actual count, not a figurative one -- he not only will not answer your questions, he will make you feel one inch high for asking them. He's got an excuse for his gruffness, however. As a black man trying to make a living on the postwar golf tour, he suffered through an appalling amount of racially motivated insult and disrespect. As Tiger would discover, Grandpa Charlie was the reluctant and angry star of the PGA of America's most shameful chapter.
The newspapers back in the day referred to him as "Cigar-chomping Charlie Sifford, the four-time National Negro Open Champion." He had a funny punch of a swing but he controlled the ball like it was a yo-yo on a string. He had the game, in other words, to compete and win at the highest level. But blacks were not welcome in every PGA tournament (the PGA Tour, a spinoff from the PGA, did not begin until 1968). According to Article III, Section 1, of the Constitution and By-Laws of the Professional Golfers' Association of America: "Professional golfers of the Caucasian race, over the age of 18, residing in North or South America, who can qualify under the terms and conditions hereinafter specified, shall be eligible for membership." The infamous whites-only clause stood until Sifford, the NAACP, and California attorney general Stanley Mosk contrived to get it off the books in 1961. But Charlie's fight had only just begun.
For the first time in his career -- Charlie was already thirty-eight -- the Bing Crosby Pro-Am and Palm Springs tournaments invited him to compete in '61, thanks in part to the intercession of Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and his old friend and patron, the black Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine. But after the events in Phoenix and Tucson, the tour followed its usual path east to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Pensacola, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, and Wilmington, North Carolina. Sifford applied to enter all these tournaments. None accepted him.
Then came the Masters, and then the Greater Greensboro Open, and Charlie felt he had the same chance to play in those as to sprout wings and fly. But the head of the Greensboro NAACP pulled some strings and got Sifford in. He would be the first black man to play in a PGA tournament in the South. It was a disaster.
He drove from his home in Los Angeles to North Carolina, lonely and full of dread. Good hotels accepting people of color were hard to find in Greensboro, or didn't exist, so he took a room in a dormitory at an all-black college, North Carolina A&T. School was still in session and the dorm was noisy as hell, but Charlie shot 68 in the first round and led the tournament. That night he accepted an offer from a sympathetic black family, the Lavetts, and happily left NC A&T. Things were looking up. But somehow, from out of the darkness, they found him. The Lavetts' phone rang. "It's for you, Charlie." "You'd better not bring your black ass out to no golf course tomorrow if you know what's good for you, nigger," a hateful voice said. "You'd just better watch out, nigger."
Sifford froze: Except for a few stares, the first day of the Greater Greensboro Open had gone smoothly. "Suddenly, things had changed," he wrote in his vivid and heartfelt autobiography, Just Let Me Play. "It wasn't a golf tournament I was in, it was a war zone...I couldn't shake the fear. I knew how easily black people could disappear in the South." A wolf pack of young white men stalked him the next day, shouting, taunting -- "go back to the cotton fields" -- until security finally led them away by the fourteenth green. Under the circumstances, Sifford's fourth- place finish was remarkable. Mike Souchak won. Charlie drove to Texas, with his check for thirteen hundred dollars from Greensboro.
Things got worse. Houston had the next event on the suddenly integrated tour. But in the clubhouse at Memorial Park Golf Course, a man representing the sponsors of the Houston Classic informed him he would not be playing, and a PGA official could only say, "Sorry, Charlie." Furious, he drove the Houston streets aimlessly for an hour. At the Texas Open at Oak Hill in San Antonio the next week, Sifford couldn't even get past the guard at the gate. He put his Cadillac in reverse and headed back to California.
Imagine Tiger sitting with Charlie as he told these and other stories through his cigar smoke. About frequently having to eat his lunch on a bench in front of his locker, smelling sweaty shoes and damp towels, because some clubs would not allow him in their restaurants. About the tournaments that tacked on an extra word at the end of their names, just to keep the only black pro out. The Texas Open, for example, became the nonsensical and contradictory Texas Open Invitational to give its exclusion of Sifford a whiff of legality.
Four months after the face of America interview, Woods electrified the sports world by winning the Masters by twelve shots, the widest victory margin in the history of golf's four majors. It was as if the Cleveland Indians had won the seventh game of the World Series 30-0.
He was the first person of color to win the tournament. He mentioned Sifford's name in his victory remarks, and two of Charlie's predecessors, Teddy Rhodes and Bill Spiller, nearly forgotten men who were to golf what Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell had been to baseball. Which is to say, great players few of us got to see.
Seven months after that, on a cold, sunny November day in Central Park, a band of dignitaries -- including former president George Bush -- announced a new program to provide "affordable golf access for everyone, especially kids, who otherwise might not have an opportunity to play." The initiative of five of golf's biggest administrators -- the same five who'd built the World Golf Hall of Fame -- would be called the First Tee. It was so close to what the new king had been talking about that many people assumed it was his idea and his organization.
It wasn't. "He's given clinics and exhibitions at some of our openings, but the First Tee didn't really have anything to do with Tiger or Earl," says First Tee spokesperson Amy Caruso. "Its founders are the PGA Tour, the USGA, the LPGA, the PGA of America, and Augusta National.
"But sure, Tiger's had a tremendous impact on us and on the game of golf. Look at TV viewership when he plays. He's brought golf to the masses. He's made kids and minorities believe, 'Hey, I can do it too.'"
Late in 2001, the First Tee was operating seventy-two kid-friendly facilities and had fifty-nine more in development. In addition to learning some golf, First Tee kids take complementary courses in "life skills," in which instructors draw parallels between the decision-making in golf and making choices in school and on the street.
It's a bold social experiment with an impressive group of backers. Very rich backers: the PGA of America milks a cash cow called the Ryder Cup; Augusta National swims in money from the billboard it rents to CBS every spring; and the Tour and the USGA have many millions of discretionary dollars after expenses. And none of them pay taxes! They've got to give it away.
Will it work? If it doesn't, there is an alternative way to get poor kids into golf, the path Charlie Sifford walked as a stocky twelve-year-old in Charlotte. He learned where to stand, how to act, when to talk, how to read a putt -- all of the thousands of nuances in this lifestyle game played by presidents, prime ministers, and plumbers -- and he didn't have to pay a dime. In fact, they paid him. Self-sufficiency, pride -- he learned all the Boy Scout virtues, plus valuable lessons in economics and what happens to a fool and his money. He learned the culture of golf, in other words, not just the game. It was a great system.
Charlie was a caddie.
The First Tee Augusta opened dramatically on Tuesday of Masters Week 2001. Searchlights and a big floodlit tent amplified the feeling of portent, and the warm, gently scented night air made you feel like falling in love. Hundreds of recently bathed and well-dressed people milled around, smiling and waving at friends and looking to see who else they knew. There's Arnie, someone said. Arnold Palmer, forever the King in Augusta, would be saying a few words. His design firm had laid out the six-hole course and its practice range, no charge. One rumor floated in the air like the magnolia's perfume, namely, that Tiger would be there.
The speakers stood in front of the Doric-columned portico at the front of the bright white clubhouse. They said what they say on such occasions, that this was a laudable project, that it represented a tremendous amount of effort and foresight by the people who'd donated their time and money. And can we have a big hand for the chairman of the Fore!Augusta Foundation board of directors, Mr. Paul S. Simon. The second-to-last speaker recognized the outstanding golf pros in the audience, such as Augusta's own Franklin Langham. But no one from the podium recognized Charles Howell, who stood with his father and the pro from the Augusta municipal golf course, Guy Reid. Howell was having a miserable week. A hometown boy, as good as he was, and he hadn't been asked to play in the Masters. "Saw you on TV on Sunday, Cholls," his friends would say, gripping his elbow or his hand. "Finished sixth? What you win, hundred and three thousand? Sure wish you were playing this week." Howell would say thanks, thanks a lot. "My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail," he told everyone who asked, but he was getting sick of his own joke.
Speeches over, the happy crowd lined up for barbecue, potato salad, cole slaw, beans, bread, cobbler, and tea. Isn't this brisket good? we asked each other. Didn't they do a great job on this place? You think Tiger's gonna show up? You think he's gonna win? You meet Mayor Bob Young and his lovely wife Gwen, and say hey to former mayor Larry Sconyers, who catered this delicious meal. Still under the misapprehension that Tiger owned the First Tee, as the evening went on some people became miffed that the host did not seem to be showing up for his own party. Others counted the mere two handfuls of black people in attendance and concluded that this was a bad sign for a project designed to benefit inner-city youth.
In the silence that fell as people attacked the cobbler, there was time to wonder about Tiger and his putative brothers and sisters in their lousy houses downtown. Not so much what they thought of him -- there are so many downtowns, and each downtown speaks with many voices. A better question would be what he thinks of them. He grew up in a white neighborhood, went to white schools, dated white girls, and became famous in a white sport. He is not a black man. Refer to him that way only if you want to make him furious.
"The media in general have always said that I was black," Tiger said in 1996. "I couldn't stand that. If you said I was purely black, then you're insulting my mom. And that is wrong. I will not accept it, I will not put up with it. Because I love my mom."
Where's Tiger? a latecomer asks. Did he ever show?
No, you answer. But he was here.
Copyright © 2002 by Curt Sampson