'I never treated Tiger like a kid. I treated Tiger as an equal.'
The man had lived quite a life even before his son Tiger came along in 1975. As the first black scholarship baseball player in the old Big 12 Conference, Earl Woods developed into a catcher with the skills to play professionally. He chose instead to complete his education at Kansas State and enter the military service, which included two tours in Vietnam. It was there that he met Vuong Dang (Tiger) Phong, the South Vietnamese Army colonel who was a close friend and an inspiration for the son who would grow up to become the most influential athlete in the world.
Tiger Woods' birth signaled the start of more than one new life, and Earl and Tida Woods made the most of it, organizing their lives around their son and the game he loved. By the time Tiger started playing in national amateur events, his nerves had been hardened by psychological techniques his father had learned as part of training as a prisoner-of-war interrogator.
Tiger has taken a big step toward his dream of breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional major championships, and now that he has taken command of his career, his father has more time to be a fan. Earl Woods, 69, joins his son at a handful of tournaments (mostly the majors and tour events with Tiger Woods Foundation clinics scheduled nearby), more often watching the action on television from the couch at his hotel — a concession to diabetes and circulation problems in his legs.
During a July trip to the Western Open outside Chicago, Earl watched golf and Wimbledon tennis on television while talking with Golf Digest Associate Editor Matthew Rudy. Earl, known for his candor, tackled subjects as disparate as overzealous sports parents, the "bum rap" he says Fuzzy Zoeller got for comments about Tiger at the Masters in 1997, "Tiger-proofing" golf courses, the horrors of war, and how he taught the world's most famous golfer how to hold his liquor.
Golf Digest: There's a theory that if you play Mozart for a newborn child, it will increase the child's IQ. As a jazz fan, did you think that kind of approach might work with Tiger?
Earl Woods: I don't know if that holds true, but the first music Tiger ever heard was jazz. I wanted him to be attuned to the sound, because I think jazz is one of the last creative arts we have, played by superbly talented people. You know, novices can't play jazz, because it's too complicated. Singers of today, popular singers, have untrained voices with limited range, and they have to play the volume up really high to be heard.
So when you get into Tiger's car and hear hip-hop, you make him turn it off?
We went through a point where Tiger had rap music that almost got him kicked out of the house. Neither my wife nor I understand rap. I don't consider it music. I don't hear anybody singing. It's just talking, and I don't understand the pronunciation. But far be it from me to judge.
Just don't play it in my car ...
Don't. My assistant and I go through this all the time. Don't put any of that stuff on my sound system.
But if you had to listen to one contemporary artist, who would it be?
There aren't that many who are that good. Sade. She has a lot of talent. Christina Aguilera. She has a lot of power, and it's untrained, but the talent is so great that you don't need training to be effective.
Let's talk about training Tiger. Are you worried that your success in raising him has created a bunch of parents who push their kids toward unrealistic goals?
Yes. And I tried to head it off. I make it very, very clear [in Training a Tiger] that my purpose in raising Tiger was not to raise a golfer. I wanted to raise a good person. And hopefully I gave specific enough directions that parents won't go overboard and use their child's success to validate their own self-worth.
There will be parents who miss the big picture and say, "But I want my kid to be a star."
The saddest thing in competitive athletics is to see an athlete competing because he or she is required to compete, not because they desire to compete.
Does it bother you that for years people referred to you as a stage-manager father?
Your approach with Tiger never led to an estrangement. How did you avoid that?
I never treated Tiger like a kid. I treated Tiger as an equal. We transcended the parent-child relationship and became best friends a long time ago.
Did he have a standard teenage-rebellious phase?
No, he did not. He went through the same period his father did—he thought he knew it all, just like I thought I did. That's part of growing up. I was one of those typical 21-year-olds who thought he knew everything. I made every decision in my life from age 13 [after the death of his mother; his father died when Earl was 11].
Before that phase, when Tiger was young, did you ever spank him?
Never. I never even admonished him. He totally understood my tone. You know how you can stop a dog on a dead run? It's all in the voice. And this was without fear — he didn't fear me. He just knew when he was supposed to stop.
What was your approach to advising Tiger about the dangers that every kid faces, whether it's drugs, alcohol, sex or any other challenges?
I had a very, very, very simple philosophy about drugs. I said, "Tiger, there are only two people in the world you can trust about drugs, and that's me and your mother. Neither one of us has ever used drugs, neither one of us will ever use drugs, and neither one of us will ever introduce you to drugs. You can come to us openly at any time to discuss drugs. You can't trust anyone else in society." And it worked.
The Woods file Born: March 5, 1932, Manhattan, Kan.
Residence: Cypress, Calif.
Family: Wife, Kultida; son, Tiger (25). Sons Earl, Jr. (43), Kevin (41), daughter Royce (40) with ex-wife Barbara.
College: Kansas Syaye, B.A. in sociology with minor in psychology (1953).
Military service: 1954-1974 (Green Beret training in 1966; tours of Vietnam, 1967-68 and 1972-73).
Professional experience: Senior buyer, Arrowhead Products; major subcontracts administrator, Brunswick Corporation Defense Division; materials manager, Delta rocket program, McDonnell Douglas; retired in 1988. President of the Tiger Woods Foundation since 1996.
Books: Training a Tiger: A Father's Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life (with Pete McDaniel), 1997; Playing Through (with Fred Mitchell), 1998; Start Something: You can Make a Difference, 2000
What about alcohol?
With alcohol, I'm not a teetotaler. I feel that it's the individual's choice. And my responsibility as a parent was to teach him how to drink responsibly. So I use a story of when I used to live in Brooklyn. A friend of mine had his son visiting him, and we were having a New Year's Eve party. His son proceeded to sample each bottle of liquor. He got as sick as a dog, right there. I cited this as an example to Tiger. See, you can't mix scotch, rum, vodka, bourbon, Kahlua — it don't work. And stay away from those exotic drinks that shield everything with sugar and sweetness and stuff. You don't feel it until it's too late. Learn to drink good-quality booze. It'll pay off dividends if you drink too much. And he listened and he learned.
And the funniest thing: He left for Stanford — Tiger had never had a drink in his life — and he came home for Thanksgiving and I was lying in bed watching television, and he said, "What are you drinking, Pop?" I said, "A Coke. Why?" He said, "Give me that." And he built himself a drink and built me a drink — he knows what I drink — and then he came back into the room and said, "Pop, let's go for a walk."
We walked over to the park and we sat down and Tiger said, "I just want to share this first drink with you. This is the first drink we've ever had, the two of us."
And we sat there and talked and talked and talked. One of the most beautiful moments of my life.
We've covered drugs and alcohol. How about swearing? In the Golf Digest Interview in May, Tiger's former teammate at Stanford, Casey Martin, said that the one thing that kept Tiger from being truly great was profanity. Yesterday [at the Western Open] he broke his wedge and cursed a couple of times. Do you wish he would tone it down a bit?
Tiger's not perfect. I'm not perfect. 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. Specifically about swearing, it's a ... I won't say a cultural thing; it's a family thing. My father could swear for 30 minutes and never repeat himself. He was that good. And I inherited it. It took some time before I could bring it under control.
So of the three of you, who has the hottest temper — you, Tida or Tiger?
Tiger, by far. Because Tiger is the most competitive of the three of us. He'll compete in drinking a glass of water.
You were competitive yourself. How did you get started in sports?
I was always in sports. They always put the best athlete at catcher, and I was always the catcher. I was small, very small, so I wasn't a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination.
A funny story: I wanted to increase my power, and I looked at the power hitters that I knew, and they were in the black leagues, and all of them had one common denominator: They all had a big, fat derrière. So I began to exercise with the intent of building up my derrière. You can only imagine that in the context of a young kid, because they think they can do this. I did increase my power, but I don't think it was because of my derrière, but because I had built up my whole body.
You grew up in Manhattan, Kan. Was it difficult to find places to play baseball in the late '40s and early '50s?
There was not plenty of access. Annually they would pick an all-star team, and move on to the state tournament. I was the only non-white on the all-star team, and I was the only non-white at the state tournament, and this is when I became fully aware of prejudice. All the other kids and their teams stayed in a hotel. I had to stay in a private home with a family.
You've mentioned that you met Joe Louis when you were a kid. Who was your hero when you were 10?
There was no hero. In my era, the closest thing to a sports hero was Joe Louis, but I couldn't have Joe Louis as my hero, because he was not educated. He was athletically excellent, but that wasn't good enough, by virtue of what my mother thought. You had to have an education.
You were a good enough baseball player to earn a college scholarship.
My American Legion coach happened to be the baseball coach at Kansas State University, and he got me a scholarship to play there. I was the first — and only — non-white in the whole conference. There's that loneliness.
With your mother stressing education, what would have happened if you hadn't gotten that scholarship?
I was good enough in baseball that it never dawned on me that I couldn't get a scholarship. But I knew that it was a dead-end street, because there was nothing after college for me in baseball. Because of my race, I wasn't eligible to play in the major leagues.
My father was an avid baseball fan. His desire was for me to become a baseball player for the Kansas City Monarchs [the Negro League team]. That came up after my freshman year in college. They offered me a contract, and I remembered my mother saying, "Get your education, son." Then I'd hear my father, with his gruff voice: "I want you to be a Monarch — a Kansas City Monarch." It was just torment. I finally made the decision to continue with my education, and I've never regretted it.
You've said that if you hadn't entered ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Course], there might not have been a Tiger.
That is so true. If you consider all the options open to a young black college graduate in 1953, the options were slim and none. If you wanted a fair chance, it amounted to post-office work — take the civil-service exam — or military service. That was it. So the odds are, if I had not taken advanced ROTC, I would have been tossed into the labor pool — black, educated people who corporations did not really want. Overqualified, underemployed and underpaid. I would not have had any reason at all to go to Thailand, and I never would have met Tida, and there never would have been a Tiger.
What was your first active-duty assignment?
Fort Benning, Ga. It was my first extended period in the South, and I had a tremendous adaptation to go through, because I wasn't brought up that way. I did not feel inferior, I did not feel intimidated, and I was like a ticking bomb, really.
I had one other bad incident down in Georgia. Four of us were going to go downtown and take a look at Columbus. There were two whites and two blacks, window shopping. We were in civilian clothes, just walking along. All of a sudden, a paddy wagon pulled up, cops jumped out and threw us up against the wall, patted us down, handcuffed us, put us in the van and took us to the judge, who was in all-night court. He said, "You're two white guys and two black guys walking together. That's disturbing the peace. Guilty."
I'll never forget it. The fine was $37.50 to get out. Fortunately we all had the money. That was a fond memory of Columbus, Ga.
After your first tour of Vietnam, what possessed you to join the Green Berets and go back?
That's a good question. Even in the Army, I was not given a fair and equitable chance. The Green Berets is the only organization that treats you at face value. What you see is what you get.
Did the fighting equalize people?
No, not really. You had separate armies. You had black armies and white armies. Blacks and whites didn't socialize. We brought all our stuff over there to Vietnam — all of our prejudices. It's so sick.
How was the second tour of Vietnam different?
The first time, I was a personnel officer, with civilian personnel and administrative responsibilities. The second time, I was an adviser to a deputy province chief, Tiger Phong, who commanded all the Vietnamese military forces in that province. I was almost 40. Tiger and I were traipsing all over Vietnam, fighting.
What's the closest you ever came to getting killed?
There were so many times. So many times. One time, Tiger's lying in the ditch in this rice paddy, and I'm talking to him and standing up to see the helicopters [to direct air support]. Tiger hollered at me. I finally jumped down into the ditch. He said a sniper had bracketed me. The first bullet went to my right, the second went to my left, and the third one was supposed to go through my chest. It never came.
How do you describe the stress of being in a place where every day some unknown person could suddenly kill you?
It's weird. Tiger and I drove up to a restaurant — we called it Howard Johnson's — and I instructed my driver to never, ever leave my vehicle when I'm in for lunch. Never. Because the Viet Cong had recruited these little kids 4 and 5 and 6 years old to place explosives under the jeep, and when you come out to get in your jeep, it blows you away. And these are little kids. And they'd try to sell you heroin. For 50 cents, enough heroin that would cost $500 in the United States. Scary.
How did you and Tida meet?
In Thailand, I was the special-services officer, and I ran bowling alleys, movie theaters, softball diamonds, libraries, resorts, everything, and I was going in to hire laborers for a job. I needed 500 people. My assistant was white, and we walked into this office where Tida was the receptionist. And she met us and she addressed him: "Can I help you, sir?" And I was standing right there. He said, "We're here to see the personnel officer." She says, "Oh, he's expecting you; go right in." Again, she addressed him. She did not even look at me.
So we go in, and I sat down and I put my feet up on the coffee table. She could see that through the big plate-glass window. She could tell I was the one in charge. I turned everything over to my assistant and I walked out, and she was so embarrassed. She said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't know. I didn't mean anything by it." And I said, "That's fine, it's understandable. You've been seeing a lot of American movies."
I started talking to her, and I talked her into a date: 9 o'clock. Told her where to meet me. We walked out, and I'm smiling like hell — I got me a date.
I got back to the barracks, changed into civilian clothing, showered and all this good stuff, went over and sat down. Waited. Nine o'clock came. Nine-thirty came. Ten o'clock came. She didn't show. I said, "Well, this is the first time I've been stood up."
I report to work the next morning, and one of my girls comes in and says, "Sir, the restaurant down below called and said two young ladies are down there waiting on you, and they're angry because you're late."
What? So I went down, and it was Tida. She had her chaperone — she was a good Thai, so she needed the chaperone — and I said, "Where the hell were you last night?"
She said, "What do you mean last night?"
"I said 9."
She said, "I was here at 9!"
And I said, "Oh, Lord!" In her experience, she could never imagine a date at 9 o'clock at night. She went to bed at 9 o'clock at night. We ended up going to several Buddhist temples, then having dinner. That was our first date.
From what I understand, Tida had to make a big sacrifice to move to the United States with you when your tour in Thailand was over.
These were reputable people. Her father owned a tin mine. For his daughter to even want to be married to a foreign person was a violation of their code.
Later, Tida's father wasn't satisfied with the way his son was raising his first grandson. So he wrote to Tida asking if I would take this little grandson and raise him to be a man. She asked me, and I said, "Sure, bring him on over." So this little spoiled brat came over, and I sent him back a young man — through the Woods training program.
You had three kids from your first marriage. Were you looking forward to having another child when you and Tida married?
I wasn't, but Tida was, because in Thai culture, the marriage is not fully consummated until you have a child.
How old were you when Tiger came along?
So then you said that was enough?
No, I didn't say that until I realized that Tiger was almost the perfect child. We would never get anything better, and I said, "That's it." She agreed.
Is it true that Tiger never had a babysitter?
That's right. He was with us wherever we went.
Your first marriage — is there anything you regret, getting married young, having a family so early? I would change things. It really taught me a lot. Tiger is the only one I've been able to spend his entire life with. The rest of them have big holes — I'm gone a year and a half, I'm gone six months.
Have you been able to repair that?
I tried to repair it when they were between 18 and 21. I gave them the option to come and live with me, and all three of them took that option. I called it finishing school. A lot of the damage had already been done. There was nothing I could do to catch up, but I did the best I could, and I sent them off and started them off right in life.
Seeing what's happened with you and Tiger, has there been any resentment from them?
The biggest problem they have is not fully understanding how preoccupied and how difficult the life Tiger lives is. They just don't understand why he doesn't have more time for them, and I try to tell them, "He doesn't even have any time for me." He really has to be a complete jerk just to get any time for himself. He's always gone someplace. He never even really knows where he is.
Even with those frustrations, does Tiger still have a pretty good relationship with your other three kids?
He used to. But remember, they're in their 40s and he's in his 20s. They're old enough to be his parents, and there's a lot lost in the generation gap. There are a lot of little things that can't be corrected now.
How has your relationship with Tida changed over the past 10 years?
One simple way: She lives in her house and I live in mine. Other than that, the relationship is the same. We're not separated, we're not divorced. I was reading in the paper, in The Chicago Tribune, that we were separated. That's news to me. We're family. It's just that she lives in one place and I live in another. Some people call that affluence.
You still live in the same house where Tiger grew up.
Yes. It's the family home, with some upgrades so that one day it can be turned into a National Historic Monument.
So you kept the room the same?
I've saved certain elements of it so that it could be put back — like the two doors. One has his growth chart, another has his awards from "That's Incredible" and a "Star Wars" poster — he loves "Star Wars."
Do you still have the chart where he marked his progress against Jack Nicklaus' achievements?
He's got that. It's just a newspaper clipping showing the years and months. He beat him almost every time.
After Tiger's third U.S. Amateur victory, you were quoted as predicting Tiger would win 14 majors. Do you want to revise that number now?
That was supposed to be a privileged conversation. We were at the U.S. Amateur and we were celebrating Tiger's win, and this reporter violated that.
What happens if he breaks Nicklaus' record of 18 pro majors?
What he's doing is setting a record for kids who are following him to shoot at. When he reaches a point — and only he can determine that point — he'll say that's enough and do something else.
After Tiger's third Amateur victory, you were quoted as saying that he could have more impact on the world than Gandhi.
I would like to have it stated that I did not say that. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. But I will say unequivocally that Earl Woods is not stupid enough to hang a moniker like that on his son — or anybody else.
How did you intend for that to come out?
That Tiger is as charismatic and would have an impact upon the world, in a humanitarian aspect, very similar to that of Gandhi. Tiger will be interested in kids like that. He will be like an ambassador at large, without portfolio. It would not be political. He's not a very political individual, at this stage.
Are there any other examples where you feel you've been burned?
Well, a lot of things have been said about me that were not true. In the early days, writers were ridiculing me and saying, "He doesn't know what the hell he's talking about." And come to find out, I did know what I was talking about. I don't know why I knew, I just knew. So be it.
In 1998, you said that there would be a time when Tiger would be winning tournaments by 10 and 15 shots.
He's done it. The writers took it as the ravings of a madman. But I'm not one of these guys who gets kicks out of being right.
Is there any quote that you've regretted?
No, I'm pretty good at saying what I want to say.
There was that quote about Scotland that got a lot of publicity.
I don't even remember it.
This is it: "Scotland sucks, as far as I'm concerned. It has the sorriest weather. People had better be happy that Scots live there instead of the soul brothers. The game of golf would never have been invented."
I'll tell you where that quote came from. I was at the Navy Golf Course [in California] after a round, and we were drinking beer and we were shooting the breeze and we were telling war stories.
If that's the context problem that you're having ...
No, the interviewers do a reasonably good job. It's the people who don't even bother to call you for an interview.
You were quoted as saying that when Tiger met Nelson Mandela in South Africa, it was the first time he had met someone as important as he was.
Did you notice in that article that that guy was ticked off?
Tell me the anecdote.
Tiger was playing there, and we went to Nelson Mandela's summer home. We went up to his residence, and were escorted in to see him, with the instructions that there were to be no flash pictures — the years in captivity had sensitized his eyes too much. So as soon as we walked in, they locked eyes, and they recognized each other.
And they acknowledged each other and spoke to each other as equals. It was like a teacher talking to a pupil, but acknowledging that the student is clearly superior to my other students, so I have to pay special attention to him, because he's going to do great things. And Nelson counseled him, telling him that he did have this ability and that he had to go out and do a lot of good in the world. I sat there and marveled at their complete ease with each other. It was marvelous to see.
Let's talk a little more about Tiger's development as a kid. What were his interests besides golf?
He tried baseball at my request. He was a natural switch-hitter. He would absolutely murder a low pitch. Couldn't hit a high pitch across his shoulders. Couldn't touch that. But it interfered with his golf. He went out for cross-country in junior high and moved right up to the No. 2 spot but gave that up at the end of the season because it interfered with golf. Tiger has chosen golf on his own over all the other sports.
The story is, you were hitting balls in the garage one day when Tiger was just a toddler and he started copying you. When was the first time you put a golf club in his hands?
Ten months old. I just unstrapped him out of the high chair, allowed him to come over and play and he picked up a putter, put a ball down, waggled and hit a ball into the net. First time. Changed his grip from a left-handed grip to a right-handed grip and proceeded to hit the first one into the net.
You didn't help him with the grip?
How are you gonna explain a grip to a 10-month-old? But at 5 years old, he could look at a guy and say, "He's got a reverse weight transfer."
I know it's hard to quantify, but how much of Tiger's achievement is physical and how much of it is the mental toughness?
At the professional level, the game is 90 percent mental.
Who do you see on tour who can do some of the same things Tiger can do physically?
Suffice it to say, there are players out there who are not capitalizing on their ability because of their lack of mental toughness.
Are there any players you particularly admire — besides Tiger — for their mental toughness?
Anyone from another sport? Michael Jordan?
Yes. Michael Jordan is right there, but I was thinking of Cris Carter of the Minnesota Vikings. He's talented, but the thing that sets him apart is his mental toughness. Jim Brown — mentally, mentally tough. John Elway. Joe Montana. These are guys who transcend the game by virtue of their mental toughness.
What's your opinion of Richard Williams and the way he's handled the tennis careers of his daughters [Venus and Serena Williams]?
I've never met the man, never talked to him. I've only observed him from afar. But I will say this: If I was those girls' father, I would do things totally different. I would realize my shortcomings as a teacher and not want to have that impair the growth and development of my kids. I would get a true professional to teach them, so that they could get the most of their potential. It's a disservice to them not to give them the best opportunity for development in the game.
At what point did you do that with Tiger — call in a pro when you realized you had taught him as much as you could in golf?
When he was 4 years old. He had a professional teacher [Rudy Duran] from age 4 to 10. Then John Anselmo took over until about 17, and then Butch Harmon took over. That's it. All the time, I've been able to teach Tiger also.
I've read that you can still putt and chip with him.
What's the best score you've shot?
Sixty-three. Navy Golf Course [par 72]. I've never shot 100 in my life.
When did you start playing?
About three months before I retired from the military. I was 42 years old.
So it didn't take you long to establish a low handicap?
After I retired, I moved to California, and my first established handicap was a 12. The first year, it went from 12 down to 7. The next year, I went from 8 to 4. I know how much fun it is to shoot a 65 or a 67.
You had a serious problem with your heart in 1996. Tiger visited you in the hospital after a tournament round and was really shaken up. What would be the impact on him if something were to happen to you? Is the training complete?
There are still things to be done. But it's like rolling a snowball down the mountain — it gains speed and size on its own, once it starts moving. I've achieved enough that he'd ride it out the way it was supposed to be.
How's your health these days? Everything OK?
Nothing wrong with my heart. I've always had a heart like an 18-year-old — the problem was, the blood supply was being restricted. I finally got that fixed. I do have a problem with my legs — I don't have sufficient circulation in my legs for me to walk distances.
I'm in phase one of this diabetes thing, and I've got it under control now, so I'm switching to phase two, which is weight reduction. My objective is to be able to play and walk 18 holes of golf and get back to where I used to play. And be able to walk and watch Tiger play again.
What's your favorite tournament to watch Tiger play?
The beauty of the golf course, the serenity. It's like God designed this as a golf course. It's just like a shrine, really.
Are you comfortable there?
I have been treated, and Tiger, too, with the utmost respect when we have gone to Augusta. They have opened their arms wide open to me. They have never held anything back, and they have been gracious and generous. They've been gentlemen, and I respect them a lot.
What about Fuzzy Zoeller's comments when Tiger won the Masters in 1997? Some people thought they were racially insensitive. What was your first reaction?
I heard about it about three days later. Because we were cooped up at meetings at Nike and we didn't know what was going on. Tiger had left the meetings. Remember the movie "The Postman"? Well, Tiger was a friend of Kevin Costner, and he went on the set, which was way the hell out in Oregon. So he didn't know about it, either. And people were wondering why Tiger didn't respond to it. It was because he didn't know, I didn't know — nobody knew. When Tiger issued a statement, that's where he got criticized, because he issued it so late. But if you don't know something is going on, you can't respond to it.
Do you think Fuzzy deserved the criticism he got?
Let me tell you this: I know Fuzzy. Fuzzy has played with Tiger in matches prior to the tournament, practice rounds. And Fuzzy is a wisecracking guy who says things before he even thinks about them. He wants to be funny, and he doesn't think of the ramifications. I think Fuzzy took a bum rap. I don't think it was personal, and I think he got slapped in the face inordinately. I feel sorry for the guy, and I hope he doesn't feel bitter toward Tiger and me for not coming to his rescue, because, hell, we didn't know.
How much racism do you think is out on tour?
I don't think there's that much.
You've said that Tiger regularly got hate mail. Does that still happen?
I don't know. I don't know. And I'll tell you the reason I don't know: I've pulled back and I've turned everything over to Tiger. If he's receiving death threats now, he doesn't tell me.
Any in particular that stood out?
One in Phoenix. The guy said that they had been training with a rifle and they'd gotten the shot pattern down to six inches at 300 yards, they had their rifles ready. And if they didn't get him this time, they'd get him later.
It's got to be the hardest sport to secure for a player. Is there any way for the tour to have enough security for your liking?
Well, in the early days we had some in-depth conversations with the PGA Tour regarding security for all the golfers — not just for Tiger. Before, each tournament site and each tournament director was responsible for the security. Now the PGA Tour is responsible for that. They have a security director who reviews their security plans. So I feel a lot better about the situation, but there is no such thing as a security that can't be beaten.
Let's go back to Tiger's college career and his decision to leave Stanford after his sophomore year.
We knew that by the selection of Stanford, the development of his golf game was going to suffer, because he had to study and couldn't devote time to golf. Before Stanford, he was also thinking about UNLV [Nevada-Las Vegas]. If he had gone there, his golf capabilities would have continued to grow and develop, but actually, in college, they kind of just tapered off. But after he won the U.S. Amateur the third time, it was pretty obvious to him and to me that he'd accomplished everything there was to accomplish in golf at the college level. The biggest problem was that he would not be physically mature. Just last year, he reached physical maturity.
You're trying to give advice and listen to his concerns, then turn around and be the person who's the point man on the negotiations.
We have enough problems trying to win this darn Amateur, and he hasn't made a decision yet [about turning pro]. And all of a sudden at the end he says, "This is it." And I was being prepared. So I feel that I acted responsibly. I did not violate any [NCAA or USGA] rules or regulations.
How long did it take to do all the negotiations with Nike, to actually do those deals? Was it a particularly difficult deal to hammer out?
There was no difficulty with anyone who knew Tiger and knew marketing. Nobody had any problems in realizing that this kid was going to be great. If you aren't trying to stretch the limits, things work very quickly and rapidly.
I wasn't even there when Tiger signed his contract with Nike. In fact, I bore the brunt of it. Tiger came down to my room and wanted $300. And I said, "What do you want $300 for?" He said, "I have to pay my entry fee."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I have to pay to get into the tournament."
OK, so I gave him a check for $300. And the thought that was going through my mind: This kid just signed for a whole bunch of money and he's still scrounging 300 bucks from me. This was right after the announcement. And I'm saying, "Will it ever end?"
Now what do you get Tiger Woods — the man who must have almost everything — for Christmas?
As little as possible. He lives a very different life away from the golf course. We give each other simple things. Personal things. Last Christmas, I gave him a wallet.
Back to the Nike negotiations: A lot of people say it's impossible that a deal could have been done in that short amount of time, from winning the Amateur on Sunday to Tiger's first pro tournament that week.
Well, let me put it to you this way: No one will tell you anything about how Phil Mickelson's father held tryouts at hotels for prospective agents. That's fine. I don't know why they didn't feel that I had the ability to do certain things myself. I'm aware of the USGA, the NCAA and their rules, and I was not under the auspices of either organization. And I worked and I did the things that I felt were necessary to cause things to happen that would protect the financial security of my son.
You have some strong opinions about the NCAA.
The NCAA is an organization that has exceeded its usefulness in control and policing of collegiate athletics. The presidents should take back control and should establish regulations that are consistent with modern times. The athlete is getting the short end of the stick.
I set it up so that my son would have sufficient funds to have a telephone, eat properly and have a decent social life. Not extravagant, by any stretch of the imagination. I left it up to him: "How much do you think you need per month?" And he told me.
I think he said $400, something like that. I mean, if you're going to go have a burger, or if you're going to go on a date, if you're going to live your life ... just a simple thing like gas in your car. Or to have the funds to make a phone call home.
So by the time there was the big uproar about Tiger eating lunch with Arnold Palmer and Palmer picking up the check, Tiger had already had his run-ins with the NCAA.
It seemed like there was a concerted effort to find something on Tiger, and Tiger went up there with the purest of intentions. He went up there to get Arnold Palmer's counsel and wisdom, and for that, he was sanctioned. And then, eventually, the NCAA said, "That's OK, as long as he pays the $25 check." And they didn't know that Tiger had a previous relationship with Arnold Palmer and didn't have to do that.
When you look back on all the things Tiger has accomplished in golf, what's the most memorable for you?
The most significant thing in my lifetime that has ever been achieved in the game of golf, not just by Tiger, is his three consecutive U.S. Juniors.
That's interesting, considering all the things he's done.
In the history of the U.S. Junior tournament, nobody has ever won it twice. He won it three consecutive times. Which means that as a 15-year-old, he took on full-grown 17-year-olds at their maturity and beat them at match play. Three straight years. And then, on top of that, he takes on the best amateur golfers in the world and wins three U.S. Amateurs.
How do you look at Tiger's major victories? Obviously, the Masters in '97 was special.
He's been winning majors his whole life, since he was 8 years old.
Do you look at those differently?
No, a major is a major. He was beating the best in the world when he was 8 years old, because the Junior World is an international tournament. The same people that he was beating then, he's beating now.
He won four pro majors in a row and people were speculating about whether that was a real "Grand Slam." Do you think he can win all four in the same year?
Yes. If you can win the career Grand Slam, you can win all four in the same year. If he can win four in a row, he can win four in the same year.
See, I go back to the days of Roger Bannister, when nobody thought they could run a four-minute mile, and this guy went out and proved that it could be done. It's all psychological. But I didn't consider his slam a Grand Slam, because I'm of the old school. I feel that records should be kept on an annual basis, like baseball and football.
A popular notion is that Tiger is so dominant that for the tour to really thrive, someone needs to step up and become Tiger's rival. Do you think that's true?
No. Totally a publicist's dream. That isn't what makes the PGA Tour successful. It's the people who watch it, and they watch it because of the charismatic abilities of Tiger.
Because that seems to be so much the case with Tiger — that he transcends the tour, and the television revenue has risen in large part because of him — how will that rectify itself over the years?
It will have no effect on Tiger, because the PGA Tour is a nonprofit organization and cannot share profits with members. Therefore, Tiger has no chance of ever, ever getting any of that television revenue.
But he does have the option of being a non-PGA Tour member and just playing majors and making his own television deals.
Why bite the hand that feeds you? If he's going to be successful in establishing a record-oriented career, he cannot achieve it outside the bounds of the PGA Tour.
Maybe the career record for victories, but not the record for majors.
Yeah, but this is all poppycock. People are going off the charts speculating about what Tiger would do, because that's what they would do. It's ludicrous. Why Tiger? He might be able to pull it off, but he's not going to do it. None of this with Tiger has ever been about money. It's about competition.
When you hear someone say that they're Tiger-proofing a course, what goes through your mind?
I start laughing. It's a joke to try to Tiger-proof a golf course. Whatever you do, it's going to make it harder for the other golfers. But if they want some guidance, I'll tell them how: Cut all the rough, bring the tees up, let the greens run about 10 on the Stimpmeter and make it as easy as can be. Because then you'll bring a whole bunch of people into the competitions.
How important is it for Tiger to be liked among his peers?
It isn't important at all; it is important that they respect him. And that's all he strives for, respect. There are guys out on the tour who he is very close with.
Tiger came out on the tour and there was nobody his age, even anywhere near his age. So he had no friends. Some of the older players adopted him. One was Mark O'Meara, and another was John Cook. And it's only been in the last two years that some of the guys from college are coming up, like Notah Begay, and he's very close to Notah.
But Tiger doesn't have any problem beating his brains in.
No, he's been beating their brains in since they were in college.
Do you have a good sense of the people around him? Are there any moochers or yes-men?
I'm one of the people around him, and I'm far from a yes-man. There aren't any. I assure you, Tiger's always had a team, and that team has been directed to give close and personal support to Tiger and follow the game plan, which was, as Tiger grew into his responsibilities, to pull back and allow him to grow, make mistakes and learn from his own mistakes and mature.
What kind of impact has Steve Williams, Tiger's caddie, had on him?
I promised Tiger when he was a little kid that I'd have no input on two areas of his life — his selection of a caddie, and his selection of a mate.
Wrapping up: We're here for one of the junior clinics. You describe how you stand 10 feet in front of Tiger and he hits the ball between your raised arms. How close has he come to your head?
In St. Louis, the crowd kept urging him to get me to move closer and closer. Finally, I got in so close it was ridiculous. There was about six inches between where the club went on the follow-through and my chest, and he hit that dad-gummed shot and it went straight up in the air and landed right on the top of my head. That crowd went nuts. We don't do that one anymore.
Who doesn't have the nerve for it anymore, you or him?
Hell, Tiger's not the one in any danger.
Do you have a question for Earl Woods that we didn't ask? Send an e-mail to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll follow up in a future issue. And for more than 30 Golf Digest interviews from our archives, please see www.golfdigest.com/features.