Tida In Thailand

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"I enjoy the things that are old more than the new," she says. "You know, the test of time. In Thailand, you always respect the elders and history, which is what I taught my son. I know he liked Byron Nelson very much; he was my favorite of all the golfers I meet. Just the way he looked at me and shook my hand. I hardly talk to him. But I like him."

After a spirited spin through one of Bangkok's downtown malls, where Tida indulges her love of a bargain while haggling with the kind of shrewdness that makes her a formidable member on the board of her son's ETW Corporation, we head to an animal park known for its genial elephants. The elephant is the most revered animal in Thailand, and Tida has urged her son to donate to elephant-protection organizations. Just like the Tiger Temple, the access to the elephants is unencumbered in a way that liability laws would make impossible in the United States, but with the handlers at their sides, pachyderms are indeed friendly bordering on affectionate with humans, especially those carrying bunches of bananas.

Later, the handlers mount the elephants and direct them in a delightful game of soccer in a spacious arena, and they offer members of the audience a chance to ride. Without saying anything, Tida leaves her seat, and a few minutes later she is regally seated on an ornate saddle atop a majestic animal as it circles the arena. Watching, Pong smiles and shakes his head at his aunt's natural charisma.

"She's a star, too," he says. By way of explanation for her impulsive act, Tida says, "Hey, when you get a chance, you got to have fun in life."


At an orphanage for girls, run by Buddhist nuns, in Ratchaburi.

Tida's purpose in inviting visitors was to bring attention to two schools -- the Buddhist Girls Convent School, for orphaned and abused girls, and the Ratchaburi Home for Mentally Disabled Children -- that she has chosen to receive funds provided by Tiger for supplies, added staff and expanded facilities.

"I tell my son that I want to help my country," she says. "He say, 'Mom, Thailand is your department. Go ahead and take care of business.' Tiger is generous, and I choose these two schools as the first ones because they are special to me."

Geographically, the two schools are close to where Kultida Punsawad was born in 1944, in the province of Kanchanaburi about 75 miles northwest of Bangkok, near the then just-completed and later to be immortalized bridge on the River Kwai. Emotionally, the convent school in particular strikes a personal chord. The youngest of four children of an architect and a teacher who divorced when she was 5, Tida was sent to boarding school until the age of 10, after which she was shuttled between her father's and mother's second families in what she candidly calls a lonely childhood.

"I always had to make my own thing," she says.

Such a mind-set was evident when, while working as a civilian secretary in the U.S. Army office in Bangkok, she met officer Earl Woods. After a few months, though she had never been out of her homeland and spoke only the barest English, she married him and left to live in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tida's only child was born in 1975 after the couple had moved to California, and she made an extra effort to expose him to her heritage. When Tiger was a preschooler, Tida's mother, Chardcharvee, lived in the Cypress house for two years. When Tiger was 9, he took his first trip to Thailand, seeing the historic sites in Bangkok and meeting his maternal grandfather, Vit, whom Tida describes as "built like my son, tall and slim." He gave the boy a mother-of-pearl Buddha statue that Tiger still keeps in his bedroom.

Whenever Woods has competed in Thailand, he has given the impression of being on a mission, winning all three tournaments he has played there as a professional.

In 1997, on a trip in which Tiger was besieged by media from the moment his plane landed, he won the Asian Honda Classic by 10 shots. The next year, at the Johnnie Walker Classic, he shot 65 in the final round to make up eight shots on Ernie Els before defeating him in sudden death with a long putt that triggered perhaps the most intense fist pump of his career. In 2000, he won the same tournament by three shots.

At his mother's request, Tiger annually visits a Buddhist monk in Southern California, who he says has helped him live with more tranquility. And though it has angered some in the African-American community, Woods has always described himself as half Thai. "You see," says Tida, "Tiger will not disrespect his mother's heritage."

But more than nationality, what mother and son most share is temperament.

"I am a loner, and so is Tiger," she says. "We don't waste time with people we don't like. I don't have many close friends. Never have. I am independent and strong-willed. That way, you survive.

"When I was a girl my mother would always be worried, 'What will people say?' And even then I would think, I don't give a damn. I always tell Tiger, 'You can't do things just to please other people. It will waste your energy, and you won't be happy in yourself. You have to do what is right for yourself.' And on that, he does a good job."

Her will is reflected in her speech, which is direct and blunt.

"With Tiger and me, no means no, and yes means yes," she says. "We don't need to talk a lot of b.s."

She opens conversations with declaratives like "Hey!" "OK" or "Now," that leave no doubt about who is in charge. When in agreement, she'll usually respond with a quick, "That's it," "That, exactly" or "You see?" Sometimes, after dispensing a sharp disagreement or criticism, she might extend her version of an olive branch: "Hey, I always tell you straight. That's me."

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