Tale of Tiger: Titles Are Par for the Course : Sports: Cypress' Woods shot to top of amateur golf at 18. He's been a future pro since first teeing off at 2.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tiger Woods lost a gold chain and a watch during a Nov. 30 robbery, when America's most renowned amateur golfer had a knife held to his throat, was struck in the face and knocked to the ground in a Stanford University parking lot.

Woods didn't lose his sense of humor, though.

"I talked to him at 2 a.m. the night after the incident," said Earl D. Woods, Tiger's father. "He said, 'Pops, you know that overbite I had? It's gone. My teeth are perfectly aligned.' "

Just like Tiger's life, which has always had a certain symmetry: golf prodigy on one hand, gifted student on the other; a celebrity in the public's eye, just one of the guys to his buddies.

The 19-year-old has followed an almost primrose cart path, playing his first round of golf in Pampers, racking up so many trophies and awards that his parents turned the living room of their Cypress home into a Tiger shrine, and capturing amateur golf's most prestigious prize when he won the U.S. Amateur last August.

And now this bump in the road.

It wasn't the first: Woods received a death threat before playing in the 1992 Los Angeles Open, and security officers caught two women with handguns during his practice round before the 1993 Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Tex.

But his father is concerned it might not be the last. "Let's face it. A lot of major black athletes have had threats. It just goes with the territory," he said. "I just hope this doesn't trigger ideas in other minds around the world."

The elder Woods, 62, has always been prepared for those other minds. A former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, he uses his military training to identify--and avoid--potential trouble spots while traveling with Tiger on the amateur golf circuit. But now that Tiger, an Anaheim Western High School graduate, is in college, Earl can't always be on the lookout.

"The only thing Tiger can do, from a counterterrorist point of view, is to be alert," Woods said. "But who expects to be mugged in front of their own house in a well-lit parking lot?"

His son, a Stanford freshman who is a willowy 6-foot-1, 150 pounds, dismissed the robbery as an isolated incident. "People get mugged every day," he said in a school-issued release. "I just want to move on from this and bury it in the past."

He appears to be doing so, with the help of Virginia-based sports psychologist Jay Brunza.

"Like anyone who experiences this kind of traumatic event, it's scary," said Brunza, who for years has helped Woods control his emotions on the golf course. "But given the circumstances, he seems to be doing fine. You grow through experiences like this, and that's what Tiger will do."

But doesn't it put a damper on what has been an incredibly successful year for Woods?

"No way," said his father. "You can't take away what is already done."

Eldrick (Tiger) Woods has always been in the spotlight. He made his first television appearance at 2, was featured in Sports Illustrated at 15 and attracted huge galleries when he became one of the youngest to play in a PGA Tour event when he was invited as a 16-year-old to the 1992 L.A. Open.

But last August, Woods, who turned 19 Dec. 30, became a golfing icon. Staging a furious rally on the last day of the U.S. Amateur, he made up a six-hole deficit in the 36-hole final to beat Trip Kuehne of McKinney, Tex. The victory was punctuated by his made-for-television, fist-pumping celebration after a 14-foot birdie putt on the second-to-last hole.

"The Tonight Show," "The Late Show With David Letterman," ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN and CNN all called after the Amateur. Woods turned them all down.

The media crush continued at Stanford, where assistant sports information director Steve Raczynski said he received 75 media requests during a two-week stretch of September.

"We took a little poll in the office, asking what athlete has entered Stanford with more notoriety." Raczynski said. "We had John McEnroe, who advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals the summer before college, (swimmer) Janet Evans, who won Olympic gold medals before coming here, (quarterback) John Elway. None of them was in Tiger's category."

But the only way Woods, who won two of his first four college tournaments this fall, felt he could devote enough time to golf, school and accommodate the media is to have monthly news conferences, virtually eliminating one-on-one interviews.

Yes, he's that huge.

At his last news conference, in November, you could sense Woods was growing a bit tired of all the attention when he sometimes referred to reporters as "you guys," the way Michael Jordan does.

But Woods is a polished speaker who knows to keep his cool in the face of intrusive questions and how to entertain reporters while avoiding controversy.

"I'm always myself," Woods said. "Always tell the truth. Always be who you are. You have to be discreet sometimes--you can't just blurt out what you want to say--but you can phrase things so they come out the right way."

Don't think the folks at the nation's top sports management firms haven't noticed this personable teen-ager. They're drooling over Woods, and not just because he's a rarity in the sport--an up-and-coming black golfer.

"If he was white, yellow or orange it wouldn't matter--the fact he's black is incidental," said Hughes Norton, senior vice president of the Cleveland-based International Management Group. "He's everything you could want. He's a very genuine kid, he's good looking, long off the tee. . . . You add it all up, and it's not fair."

Then there's the nickname, Tiger, which his father bestowed on him soon after his birth in honor of a friend named Nguyen Phong of the Republic of Vietnam. The two fought side by side in 1970, saving each other's lives, before Phong disappeared.

Earl Woods believed Phong had the strength and will of a tiger and called him by that name. Now those same connotations are attached to young Tiger Woods.

"It's a great name, as opposed to Dave Eichelberger," Norton said. "You are what you are, but it sure doesn't hurt."

Heck, if Woods is as good as many expect him to be, maybe they'll name a golf course after him some day. Can't you picture it? Eighteen holes, highlighted by long, tree-lined fairways and lush landscaping. . . .

Welcome to Tiger Woods:

First Hole

Earl Woods couldn't believe it. Kultida, Tiger's mother, had put the rusty, worn-out high chair on the side of the house, with other junk ticketed for the dump. "You can't throw it away," Woods told her. "That's going to be in the Hall of Fame some day."

It was from this high chair that 6-month-old Tiger began watching his dad hit golf balls into a net in the garage. He'd gaze at the swing for hours, interrupted only by rice cereal or mashed banana breaks.

When he was 10 months old, Tiger climbed down, grabbed a plastic putter, went through the same pre-shot routine as his dad and whacked a ball into the net.

A star is born.

Woods used the basics of this original swing, which has drawn comparisons to Sam Snead's for its power and fluidity, through most of high school. But last year, Houston pro Butch Harmon helped Woods transform from a teen-age swing, which stresses legs and hands to generate power, to an adult swing, which relies more on the back. The new motion has brought more control to Woods' long game.

"Tiger has always hit a long way, but a lot of times he didn't know how far he was going to hit it," said Harmon, who also coaches Greg Norman, one of the sport's best. "My goal is to take Tiger to the next level, and to be successful on the (pro) tour, you have to control all types of shots with all your clubs."

Second Hole

Tiger was 2 when he played his first round of golf with a set of sawed-off clubs at the Navy Course in Cypress.

"He hit a ball into a sand trap, pulled his pants down and went pee-pee," Kultida recalled. "Then he pulled his pants up and hit the shot."

Third Hole

The 3-year-old Tiger Cub makes appearances on CBS News and "The Mike Douglas Show," where he upstages Bob Hope in a putting contest.

He shoots a 48 on the back nine of the Navy Course. OK, so he played from the red tees . . . and his dad teed up every shot in the fairway. Still, not a bad score for a 3-year-old .

Fourth Hole

Tiger meets--and stuns--Heart-well Park (Long Beach) Golf Course pro Rudy Duran, who would become his coach from ages 4 to 10.

"It was mind-boggling to see a 4 1/2-year-old swinging like a refined touring pro," said Duran, now the director of golf at Chalk Mountain Golf Course in Atascadero. "It was like watching a PGA player shrunk to 50 pounds. What would Jack Nicklaus shoot if he was 3-foot-7? That's what Tiger shot."

Fifth Hole

The city of Cypress held a reception in Woods' honor this September and, as usual, Woods nearly strained his wrist signing autographs. Fresh off his victory at the U.S. Amateur, his popularity at a high, a certain aura had enveloped him at the Cypress Golf Club that evening. How else do you explain grown men, in their 40s and 50s, asking for Tiger's autograph?

"That was weird, but what's even stranger was seeing a 17-year-old ask a 5-year-old for his autograph," said Earl Woods, who retired in 1988 after 20 years in the military and 10 with McDonnell Douglas. "That happened to Tiger when he was 5 and he was filming a 'That's Incredible!' episode. He didn't know how to write, so he printed, 'TIGER WOODS.' "

Sixth Hole

Tiger was about 6 when he got his first full set of clubs that fit him in proportion to his size.

"On the way back he said, 'You know what, Rudy? We didn't get a one-iron--I want a one-iron,' " Duran said. "I said, 'A one-iron? You're not gonna generate enough club head speed to get a one-iron airborne. You'll just hit it into the ground.'

"Later that day on the range, he took his dad's one-iron, a full-length club that went up to his chin, and just ripped it. Then he did the same thing a few more times. So, we went out and bought him a one-iron."

Seventh Hole

Earl Woods is concerned. His 7-year-old is obsessed with low scores. He's so intense on the course it seems he's having no fun. Dad's advice: Enjoy yourself, stop and smell the roses.

"He said, 'Daddy, this is how I have fun, shooting low scores,' " Woods said. "I shut up and said, 'OK, I'll never ask that again.' "

Losing was another matter.

"He'd be so upset when he lost," Kultida said. "We'd say, 'Do Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson win every tournament? They can't.' We had to explain that to him."

Eighth Hole

Tiger was 8 when he notched his first prominent victory, at the Optimist International World Junior. He won the Optimist again when he was 9, but it was his second-place finish when he was 10 that revealed his true prowess.

Down eight shots, Woods birdied the last six holes in a late charge that fell short. There would be more dramatic comebacks--from two down with two holes to play to win the 1993 U.S. Junior, from three down with five holes to play to beat Buddy Alexander in the 1994 U.S. Amateur round of 16, and from four down with 10 holes to play to beat Kuehne in the final.

"Tiger has the gift of a champion--that is, he's able to elevate to another competitive level to enhance performance when he needs it," Brunza said.

Woods isn't sure how this happens, but he knows it does.

"If you have to accomplish something, you just set your mind to it and hopefully it will be there," he said. "It won't work every time. You can't do everything you want. But as long as it happens occasionally, that's nice."

Ninth Hole

News clips of Ethiopia's famine in 1985 so moved Tiger that the 9-year-old took $20 out of his piggy bank, gave it to his parents and told them to send it to Africa to help the starving children.

Woods has always felt an obligation to give, more recently conducting numerous clinics for inner-city kids and developing plans to form a foundation to help kids through golf.

"Hopefully you can touch someone, show them a good outlet besides gangs, drugs and violence," Woods says.

Said Stanford golf Coach Wally Goodwin: "I think he'd rather put on a clinic for kids than play in a tournament."

10th Hole

True story, Earl Woods swears: "When Tiger was 10 he said, 'Daddy, when I turn pro, do you think you could live off $100,000 a year?' I paused and said, 'Let me think about it. The tab is going up every week.' "

Tiger is not Woods' only child. He has three sons by a previous marriage, Denny, 36, Kevin, 35, and Royce, 33. But Tiger is his most expensive kid.

In addition to traveling throughout the United States for tournaments, Woods has played in Mexico, France, Canada and Thailand, racking up frequent-flier miles and airline, hotel and restaurant tabs.

Many amateur tournaments provide host hotels with special rates and courtesy cars, but it's nothing like the pro tour, where sponsors pick up the bulk of travel costs.

"Oh, I get everything paid for by sponsors," his father joked. "There are three companies: Earl, D. and Woods. I have about five very floating credit cards and two mortgages on the house."

At least college provided some relief. Woods is on a full scholarship at Stanford, where he is following a self-created major with an emphasis on business.

11th Hole

When Tiger was 11 he had a short love affair with, of all things, professional wrestling. He'd ask his father to tape World Wrestling Federation cards because he had to be in bed by 9 p.m.

"I didn't realize it was fake then," Tiger admitted.

12th Hole

Tiger had this look of gloom when he came to John Anselmo, the teaching pro at Meadowlark Golf Course in Huntington Beach, one day when he was 12. "What's wrong?" asked Anselmo, Woods' coach at the time.

"He said, 'I'm having problems. I'm hitting the ball at the flag, and it keeps sucking back. How do I get rid of that backspin?' " Anselmo recalled. "People spend their entire lives trying to get a backspin on the ball, and here was this kid trying to get rid of it!"

13th Hole

CBS golf analyst Ken Venturi had dinner with Woods a few weeks ago and came away thinking he was the "most mature 18-year-old golfer I've known."

No wonder. This was a kid who, when he was 13, sent a letter to the Stanford golf coach saying he wanted "to obtain a quality business education." When he was 15, Woods told his father he wanted to learn how to manage the people who manage his money.

"He said he wanted to be able to open the books, understand them and hold people accountable," Earl Woods said. "You see the difference in maturity?"

14th Hole

At 14, Tiger began assuming more control of his golfing career, making all travel arrangements, handling caddies and reserving practice times. This was Dad's strategic plan, to teach Tiger how to be a professional player, how to be independent, how to be the boss.

"By the time he was 16, he took over full responsibility, and there was a role reversal," Earl Woods said. "On the road, I became the child and he became the parent. He's in charge. He tells us what time to get up in the morning, when we go to the course, when we come home, where we're going out to dinner. The one thing he doesn't tell us is when to go to bed.

"As soon as the last ball was hit in the tournament, the roles would be reversed again automatically."

The elder Woods said many young amateur golfers could handle such responsibility but don't because they're coddled by parents.

"When I see a kid like that, I see someone who, when he gets to college, might say, 'Free at last, free at last, party time, here we go,' because they're not accustomed to handling independence," he said. "I don't think Tiger will have a problem like that."

15th Hole

Tiger was playing touch football a few years ago when, while looking over his shoulder to catch a long pass, he smashed into a tree and suffered a concussion.

Woods loves going to football games--he was on the Candlestick Park sideline for a recent Rams-49ers game--playing video games at Chuck E. Cheese, going to movies, frat parties at college, hanging out with friends . . . yes, all the things most teen-agers like to do.

"The public thinks of him as a full-time golfer, but he does everything normal kids do," said Bryon Bell, Woods' teammate and friend from Western. "The only difference is, he has to go out to the golf course every once in a while."

Woods was careful to keep golf and school separate during his days at Western.

"In four years there, we had only one camera crew on campus, and that was during a zero period when there was no one here," Western golf coach Don Crosby said. "He wanted to make sure he was like all the rest of the kids."

16th Hole

He was tied to a tree in kindergarten because he was the only black kid in the class. His house was once pelted with limes because he and his family were the only non-whites in the neighborhood. Then there was that ride home from the 1992 L.A. Open.

"He was silent for about 10 minutes after I told him," Woods said. "Then he said, 'Hmmm, 16 years old, and I've already had my first death threat.' "

Woods doesn't want race to be an issue. He has always said he wants to be the best golfer on the pro tour, not the best black golfer. But, as his father said, "Obviously, his race can't be ignored."

Fact is, there have been only a handful of black professional golfers, and it has been eight years since one, Calvin Peete, won a PGA Tour event. So with every milestone Woods reaches, race probably will be mentioned.

"The media loves it because they like controversy," said Woods, who is actually one-half Thai, one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter black. "They like to have something to write about besides the normal blah-blah stuff."

Woods downplays the issue at every turn. When a reporter in October asked him the significance of winning at Alabama's Shoal Creek, which was an all-white club before it was pressured into accepting blacks before the 1990 PGA Championship, he replied: "The significance is our team won, and I was the individual champion."

But don't try telling Charlie Sifford, who in 1960 became the first black to play in a PGA Tour event after threatening to slap the all-white PGA with a lawsuit, that Woods' achievements aren't significant for blacks.

"Tiger is amazing--he makes me feel like all the hard work I did was worth it," said Sifford, 72, who still competes on the Senior PGA Tour and keeps in touch with Woods. "I'm quite sure there's a lot of young black kids who have picked up golf clubs since reading about Tiger."

17th Hole

The 1994 U.S. Amateur, Tournament Players Club Sawgrass Stadium Course, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., No. 17, par-3, 139 yards. Woods' tee shot lands on the fringe, two feet from water, 14 feet from the hole.

"That was the kind of moment Tiger thrives on," Crosby said. "He had battled back to get even (with Kuehne), and when he was on the fringe, I knew he'd make the putt."

Woods then sealed the victory with a par on the 460-yard 18th.

"I've watched the pros play that course for years, and he hits a 2-iron and 7-iron to the green," Crosby said. "He hit a 7-iron 200 yards! He told me later he was a little pumped."

The victory earned Woods exemptions to play in three major events in 1995, the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. He said he hasn't had time to think about his trip to Augusta, Ga., in April, what with all his schoolwork at Stanford, but you know it's in the back of his mind.

"One day in September he had a stomachache, and I asked what was wrong," Woods said. "He said he had just watched a tape of the Masters. He always watched the tape with the view that he might play there some day, but this time he watched it knowing he will play there, and it hit him."

18th Hole

It all began with a blistering performance to win the Pacific Northwest Amateur. Then there were victories at the Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur, the Western Amateur and the U.S. Amateur, followed by his great start in college. He was named Man of the Year by Golf World magazine and he has been nominated for the Sullivan Award, which recognizes the top amateur athlete in the nation in all sports and is awarded in January.

"If he gets that, I don't know how he can ever top a year like this," Woods said. "What do you do? Go back to the U.S. Amateur, get eliminated in the semifinals and you're a failure? It puts an inordinate amount of pressure on him."

Not to worry, Woods says:

"To get that far at the Amateur would be a great accomplishment. It would probably be more of a disappointment in the media realm than anything. But everyone around the country who understands golf would understand what an accomplishment that would be."

Where does he go from here?

There is already speculation that Woods, who has only been in college long enough to do a few loads of laundry, will leave school early for the riches many believe await him on the PGA Tour.

Don't count on it. "If you know me, you know I'll stay in school four years," said Woods, who recently had surgery to remove a benign tumor and cyst behind his left knee.

Pro golf is the furthest thing from Woods' mind. His focus now is on college and finding enough study time to keep up with classmates in a most competitive academic environment.

That hasn't been easy. Woods, who had a 3.7 grade-point average in high school and last January received the prestigious Dial Award for being the nation's top scholar-athlete, said he's "doing fine" in school, but he had to drop calculus when he fell behind in the first quarter. He'll take it again this winter.

"Nobody sleeps around here. There's so much work and you have to stay up late," said Woods, who is living in a dormitory. "But it's easy to blend in here because everyone's so special. You have Olympian swimmers, baseball and football players who are going to be in the pros . . . and I'm not the brightest one, either. There are geniuses here."

Woods is committed to earning a degree at Stanford, but then what? Though he has surpassed the amateur golfing exploits of many of the game's greatest players, the sport is filled with stars whose post-amateur careers fizzled.

For every Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, there is an Eddie Pearce, who won a U.S. Junior championship but lost his card after a few years on the PGA Tour, or a Brian Montgomery, who won a U.S. Junior and reached the U.S. Amateur semifinals in 1986 but failed to qualify for the PGA Tour.

"But his is not a fleeting ability," Duran said. "Tiger knows how to golf. He's not going to lose that."

What separates Tiger, many believe, is a tremendous desire to succeed, a love for practice, a knack for getting out of trouble and an innate feel for the game.

"Everyone hits bad shots," said Long Beach State golf coach Bob Livingstone, who has followed Woods through the amateur ranks. "But you won't ever hear Tiger say he hit a dumb shot."

Woods' strengths are his irons and short game. He's sometimes erratic with his driver but can improvise out of danger.

"He has all the shots," Anselmo said. "He can hit it low, hit it high, hit rough shots, finesse shots. He's a tremendous player out of the sand trap, and he knows how to get out of the woods. You don't learn by hitting down the middle all the time. You learn by getting out of those spots."

And you never stop learning, a fact Woods fully grasps and appreciates. That's why when asked what aspects of his game he'd like to improve when defending national champion Stanford resumes competition in February, he replied:

"Everything. Even if you're the best in the world at one aspect of the game, you can always improve on it."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Not a Bad Start

Selected golf milestones for Tiger Woods:

AGES 6-15

* Won Optimist International Junior World six times (ages 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15)

* PGA Junior Championship, second place (14)

* USGA Junior Championship, semifinalist (14)

* Won USGA Junior Championship

* American Junior Golf Assn., Golf Digest's player of the year (15)

AGE 16

* Won USGA Junior Championship

* Played in PGA's Los Angeles Open and U.S. Open sectional qualifying

* AJGA, Golf Digest, Golf World's player of the year

AGE 17

* Won USGA Junior Championship

* Played in PGA's Los Angeles Open, Honda Classic, Byron Nelson Classic

* Golf World's player of the year

AGE 18

* Won U.S. Amateur Championship

* Won Western Amateur Championship

* Won Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur Championship

* Won Pacific Northwest Amateur Championship

* Played in PGA's Nestle Invitational, Buick Classic, Western Open

* Won collegiate Tucker Invitational

* Won collegiate Jerry Pate Invitational

* Golf World's man of the year

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
77°