Father and Son

Father and Son

Golf king Tiger Woods and his father, Earl, recently whisked through Birmingham on April 20 and 21 to raise money for the Tiger Woods Foundation. Featured in the weekend festivities were the younger Woods’ phenomenal ability to charm golf balls and his dad’s uncanny mastery at charming his son’s legion of fans. Dwight Burgess of St. John’s AME Church had seen an article on the Tiger Woods Foundation, prompting him to make a 1999 call that resulted in the visit to Birmingham; one of only four cities on the Woods Foundation itinerary.

Reassuring smiles and words of encouragement from the golf legend greeted the awed stares of youngsters participating in the instructional clinic. Woods offered invaluable tips on adjusting stances, gripping clubs, and following through on swings. “There’s some serious talent out here,” observed Woods. “Kids today hit the ball farther than I did [at their age]. They’re younger, stronger, and more athletic.” Father Earl lounged nearby in a golf cart, posing for photos with lovely ladies and fielding occasional questions from bold reporters. After a few awkward seconds, the sometimes controversial Woods Sr. scoffed at suggestions that Tiger’s exposure to Buddhism (his mother is Buddhist) was responsible for his son’s unparalleled ability to concentrate under immense pressure. Instead, he said, the younger Woods learned self-hypnosis from a sports psychologist he saw for five years beginning at age 16.

Tiger and Earl Woods started the Tiger Woods Foundation four years ago to “make golf look more like America,” according to Tiger. Each year four cities are selected for the popular instructional and exhibition clinics. “We go to communities that haven’t been as enthusiastic about golf,” explained Tiger, emphasizing the importance of lingering in a city for a couple of days for greater impact on the community. “We don’t want to be a circus, where we just come in, do a clinic, and leave.” As for those kids battling nerves trying to hit a ball in his presence, he said, “I tell them no matter who’s watching, it’s just you and the ball. No one else can hit that shot for them.” Asked if he considered going back to finish his college degree at Stanford, Woods noted the difficulty in resuming studies. The former economics major hinted at a change in his field of study. “I’ll have to change majors. Maybe become a journalist,” Woods laughed to the throng of media gathered on the golf course between Highland and Clairmont Avenues. “Then I can just B.S. my way through.”

The afternoon before the clinic, Earl Woods, president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, addressed a two-thirds capacity audience at St. John’s AME Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham. Focusing on raising children and the importance of his son as a role model, Woods confessed, “I never raised him to be a golfer. I raised him to be a good person.” An engaging speaker, Woods sometimes wandered in melodramatic, even surreal, directions. He never failed to place Tiger on a monumental pedestal. “My son’s power dwarfs mine like a grain of sand in the Sahara Desert,” explained the elder Woods.

Back at the golf course, Tiger Woods made an entrance befitting that of a champion, motoring down the fairway from several hundred yards away to the strains of “Eye of the Tiger” as more than 3,000 shouting children and adults squinted for a glimpse of the world’s most famous athlete. Stepping from a golf cart, which had been flanked by two carts driven by bodyguards, Woods flashed his world-famous smile as he wowed starry-eyed patrons with his million-dollar golf swing. Putting on an impressive exhibition, he explained practice habits and the importance of becoming comfortable with gripping the club. Aiming for a 100-yard marker as he began hitting balls, Woods shook his head and questioned the marker’s distance. “That’s a long hundred. What did you do, measure it in meters?” He fielded questions from children, revealing that he wore red shirts during final rounds on Sundays because his mother told him his astrological charts said that red was his “power color.”

Woods ended the exhibition with a flourish. Bouncing the ball on his club just as he does in his now-famous Nike television commercial, Woods grabbed a second club and began performing the feat with two balls. Suddenly he tossed one iron aside and peered into the distance, still bouncing the ball as he apprehensively noted how narrow the fairway appeared. Woods promised to give the shot a try, regardless. And, of course, he whacked the ball in mid-air, it’s 200-yard flight a white blur that brought a collective sigh from the gallery. It was reality imitating television, with fine dramatic flair.

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