April 28, 2009

A matter of balance

When it comes to mixing golf and parenthood, Tiger has some role models

PHOTO: Golf Digest Photo Illustration/Getty Images

PHOTO: Golf Digest Photo Illustration/Getty Images

Why do we care so much about Tiger Woods? Because he has been as close to a pure study in human potential as we are likely to get. Everyone wants to know how far a supremely gifted person with all the intangibles can go when just about everything goes right. It's why his knee injury became a worldwide obsession. And now that the 33-year-old is the father of two, Woods fetishists wonder what it will mean to his golf.

Fatherhood is arguably the most complicated life passage he has ever faced. Certainly Woods had exceptional parents to learn from, and their lessons are being applied. But the task of Tiger and Elin will be different from that of Earl and Tida, and in important ways more fraught. Tiger didn't grow up wealthy or with a famous father. Sam and Charlie--whose extra-normal names seem an almost wistful effort to counter such forces--will.

Woods' tournament schedule--even though it's less crowded than most and can be mitigated by private-jet travel and bicoastal residences--means he won't spend as much time with his young children as his retired military father did with him. He knows of players who after becoming fathers couldn't abide the time away and lost their edge. He has also seen how placing career before family can leave a man with lifelong guilt, most vividly in the case of his father, who admitted he wasn't there enough for the three children of his first marriage.

Finding more time will mean a compromise, a word that at first glance doesn't seem to have a place in Woods' maxed-out approach to constant improvement, and one that makes the fetishists flinch. But in fact he has made plenty of them. As a golf-smitten child prodigy he had to finish his homework before he could go to the course, missing out on a lot of developmental daylight. Later he spent two academically oriented years at Stanford even though he knew his game would have progressed more quickly if he'd eschewed college and turned pro.

In Woods' World, golf doesn't conflict with parenting, it enhances it.'

Both compromises helped him gain balance--an important word in the Woods vocabulary--and more balance is what he says Elin and the children give him now. And even though he lacks a Stanford diploma, the experiences were part of Woods' training in completing tasks, and completing them well. It's what he does--from adhering to tedious swing drills to establishing his charitable foundation to closing out tournaments. After Earl and Tida's example, it's hard to conceive of him being a bad parent.

In the Woods concept, it's not a role that's limiting. Earl Woods in particular believed the most important lesson of his life--learned after his first marriage--was that a personally fulfilled father is a more giving father. On the same theme, the son who was the beneficiary of that lesson has said, "As long as I love myself, I know I'll be all right." In Woods' world, golf doesn't conflict with parenting, it enhances it.

Golf is the vehicle Woods will use to show his children what it takes to do a thing very well. It might even up the ante of what he plays for, and make him even more determined.

Woods has no intention of spoiling his children, but to give him more peace in this endeavor he has enlisted Tida as head baby sitter, encouraging her to impart the same old-school, Asian-influenced discipline that left its mark on him (see feature article, "Tida in Thailand"). At the same time, he wants their earliest years to be filled with fun, the overriding memory of his own development.

Woods' biggest fun took place on the golf course with his father. He surely hopes he can share similar experiences with his children, while fully aware that the daughter and especially the son of Tiger Woods could easily just say no. He won't push, because his parents didn't do that to him, but if Sam and Charlie start imitating his swing and fall under the game's spell, his fun will get bigger and keep him playing longer.

As a father, Woods' potential remains intact. It might have even expanded.