Tiger Woods insisted he never thought about the social significance of what he was doing Tuesday. To him, it was just another golf course, another tournament, another victory. After all, he's only 18.
But it was hard not to think back as Woods walked off that final green at Shoal Creek, a winner on the course that forever will be linked with golf's civil rights awakening. If there was any doubt before, this willowy, multiethnic teen-ager was proving again that this sport is not for whites only.
"I just went out and wanted to play well," said Woods, a Stanford freshman from Cypress. His two-shot victory in the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate tournament helped the Cardinal, the defending national champions, win the team competition by 27 shots. "The significance to me is our team won, and I also happen to be the individual champion," Woods said. "That's what we came to do. We play to win."
Four years ago, Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson sparked a national furor when he said his all-white country club wouldn't be pressured into accepting African Americans before the PGA Championship. Eventually, one African American was admitted, and the PGA was forced to re-evaluate the membership policies of clubs around the nation.
Tuesday, while three African American activists protested outside the front gate, Thompson spent a good part of the day trailing Woods around the course, probably as amazed as everyone else by his talent. Woods finished with a 25-foot birdie putt up a steep incline for a three-round, 10-under-par total of 206.
"You're a great player," Thompson said to Woods as he walked off No. 18 following a 5-under 67. "I'm proud of you. You're superb."
Entering the day three shots behind Auburn's Ian Steel, Woods overcame that deficit before they made the turn. But Stanford teammate William Yanagisawa made a charge, finishing at 208 with his second consecutive 68 to put the pressure on Woods heading into the final two holes.
At the par-five 17th, Woods wound up on the left fringe about 50 feet from the hole in two and two-putted for birdie.
At No. 18, a downhill par-four, Woods' second shot rolled into a valley on the steeply sloped green. "Go Tiger Woods!" someone yelled from a nearby house. When the putt snaked up the incline and dropped for another birdie, Woods raised his putter to those fans.
"I hit the ball exactly the same way as I did the first two rounds," said Woods, who this year became the first African American, and the youngest player, to win the U.S. Amateur, confirming his status as the sport's rising star. "It's just that more putts fell today."
When asked about trying to reach the green in two at No. 11, the other par-five on the back nine, Woods seemed befuddled.
"Why not?" he asked. "It was in my range, so I decided to go for it."
Woods' two-iron sailed over a creek and onto the green. The other two in his group, including Steel, laid up short of the water.
Afterward, Auburn's Steel admitted it was tough to cope with the Tiger factor, especially with up to 100 people following their group around the course. College tournaments, including this one, usually draw only a handful of spectators.
"I knew most of the people out there were watching Tiger," said Steel, who struggled to a 73 in the final round and finished tied for third at 209. "It's always tough when you have one of the best amateurs in the world playing with you. You can't really block it out."
Woods, who already has won two college tournaments, said he was impressed with Shoal Creek, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus.
"It's absolutely awesome," Woods said. "This course was (built) before Nicklaus went crazy with his designs. It's pretty flat and straightforward, and not so diabolical around the greens except at 18. That's the way I like it."
Even against a strong field, which included the last four NCAA team champions, Stanford won easily. The Cardinal carried a 10-shot lead into the final round and finished with an 18-under 846. Auburn was a distant second.
"It's not only Tiger, it's the whole team," said John Daly, who is helping coach Arkansas, his alma mater, during his sabbatical from the PGA Tour. "They've got everything. Stanford is better with the short game than any team I've ever seen."