Tida In Thailand

Continued (page 4 of 4)

"After they divorced, it was hard for me," she says. "When I was put in the boarding school, for five years I almost never went back to any of my family, just stayed at the school. Every weekend I'd hope my father or mother would visit me, or my older brothers and sister, but no one ever came. I felt abandoned."

As a pre-teenager alternating between the separate homes of her father and mother, "I preferred to be with my mother," Tida says. "But she had other children after remarrying, and I was nothing to my stepfather. My father also had other children with his new wife, and they were considered more important. My father, he never hug me or tell me, 'I love you.' So when I returned to Thailand from the U.S., I would hug him and say, 'I love you.' That's why I always hug Tiger and tell him I love him. Because I didn't have that.

"Tiger know his grandmother a little, so that was good, but my mother never understood me," she says. "I tried to break the wall, but I couldn't." Her mother died in Thailand in 1985, her father in 1998.

"Now that Tiger is older, he has his own children, and he knows more about how life is, and he looks at me differently," she says. "The other day he said, 'Mom, you were so strong.' And that felt so good, and I was so proud of my son that he understands me."

Of Tida's three full siblings, two are still alive, and she visits them when in Thailand.

"They think I'm OK. That's it," she says.

On the way to see her eldest brother, Gayee Punsawad, 74, the father of Pong and Tida's niece, Peau, 46, who lives with her in the United States, we stopped at the town temple that was designed by Tida's father and finished a few years ago with funds provided by Tiger. Gayee, who runs a general store, suffers from the same nasal congestion and cough that troubles Tida, and the day before he had coughed so violently that he had lost consciousness and fallen, cutting his forehead. The two siblings hug and talk for a few minutes, and then Tida signals that it's time to leave.

"We get along fine, but we are not really close," she says. "That's the story of my family. Hey, we are all old now. What happened, it's over. It's gone. What the heck. Have to forgive and forget and live in present."

Making a Sacrifice

Making a sacrifice to the water god near a friend's home.

Her real focus in Thailand is on the two schools she is helping. At the convent school, 44 nuns care for 300 girls, many orphaned or abandoned, some sexually abused, some rescued from Thailand's sex trade. The small dormitory can accommodate only about 50 girls, so the rest sleep in the classrooms. Tida, who has included the school in her will, offers words of encouragement to the girls and watches intently as they interact, some walking arm in arm or hugging. "When these kids get here, a lot of them don't talk," she says. "It takes a while. Only each other can understand what they been through."

At the school for the mentally disabled children, the scene is sadder. Of the 97 children, only a few are claimed by parents, and most are severely challenged enough to require constant help from the 10 therapists and other staff. As Tida walks among the children dispensing candy, one 8-year-old boy is especially insistent in reaching out to her, and as she holds his hand he begins to talk loudly and laugh.

"He called me Mom," she says, looking back at her group. "You know, we all want the love."

I was brought back to an earlier conversation, when Tida discussed her tough exterior.

"I don't show emotional," she said. "Even when Tiger win at Masters first time, and the old man sobbing, I was very happy but not break down. At U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, on Sunday when all the people on the fairway bowed to him, I think, That's nice, but that's all. Only at St. Andrews, when Tiger win his first British Open and finish the Grand Slam, when he was coming up the last hole of the Old Course, which is so much history, and all the people are waving and applauding, and I thought, That is my son. I got a damp in my eye. It just come up."

She's still holding the boy's hand when a damp comes up again.

For more information on the Buddhist Girls Convent School for orphaned and abused girls and the Ratchaburi Home for Mentally Disabled Children, please visit tigerwoodsfoundation.org

Dom Furore
Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today