My Shot: Earl Woods
The following interview appeared in the February, 2004 issue of Golf Digest.
Clubs like Augusta National don't discriminate. They just don't want you. There's a difference. It's a bitch not being wanted by something or someone, which is why divorces are so difficult. But I've learned to handle rejection very well. If you love yourself enough, you won't give a damn if they want you or not.
Tiger's birthday is Dec. 30, which meant he got presents at Christmas and another batch five days later. When he was 5, he started claiming he got only half a Christmas and half a birthday. He thought we bought one batch of presents and split them. I never could convince him otherwise. He left Santa Claus out of the debate and focused on Tida and me. He did get more presents. Smart kid.
When we Green Berets were in Alaska on maneuvers for a long time, nothing tasted better than hobo coffee. We'd fill a can with water, boil it, pour in some coffee and let it brew. When it was done, we'd throw a little snow in the can, which made the grounds instantly settle to the bottom. At that point we'd dip our cups. Then we'd pour in more water and brew the same grounds. We'd do this over and over. None of the grounds got in the cup, and we'd get 10 batches of coffee from a handful of grounds.
I was in the recovery room after my heart operation, with my wife and Tiger by my side. Suddenly I was in this tunnel with a bright light at the end. It got brighter, but there was no sense of moving toward it. I felt better than I ever did my entire life. Then a voice says, "Are you all right?" and it jarred me back to this Earth. Next thing I know the nurse -- it was her voice; she'd rushed in -- was jacking me full of adrenaline. My blood pressure had gone almost to zero, and I had, in fact, died for a second. It scared the hell out of Tiger. Me, all I felt was a momentary pang of regret that I was back in the hospital. That tunnel was so peaceful, just like people describe. I haven't feared death since.
At age 6, Tiger signed for a wrong scorecard. It was at the Junior World in San Diego, on the par-3 Presidio Hills course. He made a par on a hole, but the scorekeeper for the group put down a birdie. Tiger signed his card and was disqualified. Afterward, making sure Tiger was standing right there, I lectured the scorekeeper. Tiger stood there scowling, like, You tell 'em, Dad. But the lecture was for show; I winked at the scorekeeper as I talked. I wheeled on Tiger, and in a stern tone asked, "Did you sign this?" Tiger said, "Yes." I said, "Did you check it?" Now Tiger looked nervous. "No, Daddy." I told him to never trust anyone else with your scorecard. Never. Tiger's little eyes were as big as teacups. That was the end of it. He hasn't signed a wrong scorecard since.
Tiger was 4. I'd say, "Why are you hitting your ball over there, Tiger?" And he'd say, "Because there's a sand twap." "Why are you going that way?" "Because there's wawa." It was course management. To this day, it may be his greatest strength.
Tiger had a stuttering problem in the first grade. Tida and I couldn't figure out why. Even the speech therapist was stumped. Then it dawned on us: Tida talked to him in Thai, and I talked to him in English. When Tiger spoke, he talked in English. The thing was, he didn't want to listen or speak in Thai. His mind was rebelling. We stopped talking in Thai, and his stuttering ceased.
Here's how you teach a child to putt. Place a ball in their right hand and have them stand sideways, like you do at address. Ask them to swivel their head sideways and look at the hole. Ask them, "Do you see the picture?" Have them look down and back up at the target two more times, allowing them to ingrain that picture in their minds. Now say, "Toss the ball across your body to the picture." It works. It makes putting intuitive. The first time I tried it with Tiger, he tossed the ball to within six inches of the hole. When I eventually handed him a putter, he did even better. He used this technique to make the crucial putt on the third playoff hole against Ernie Els in the Presidents Cup.
When Venus Williams won Wimbledon, there was her father, standing up with a sign that read, "It's Venus' party, and no one's invited." I couldn't imagine doing something like that. It would embarrass Tiger, and it would embarrass me. It infuriates me when people compare me to Richard Williams, because I don't respect him.
If you're seven-eighths Irish and one-eighth Indian, you're Irish. If you're seven-eighths Irish and one-eighth black, you're black. Why is that?
Years ago the Army sent me to Germany. My first wife came with me. A landlord took us downtown to show us an apartment. And we caused a traffic jam. I mean gridlock. People got out of their cars, pointing at us as though we were aliens. I asked the landlord what they were talking about. "They're looking for your tails," he said. "When the white soldiers came through here in World War II, they told us black people had tails." Now, you can't blame the Germans for thinking we had tails. But it bothered me that American soldiers would perpetuate such a thing.
I could quit smoking if I wanted to. I have tremendous willpower. A while back I quit for 18 months. But then I went to my daughter's college graduation. Got stuck in my ex-wife's house with all her relatives. I snapped and lit up. Been smoking ever since.
Lying about your score or cheating at golf is really stealing. They constitute the worst kind of stealing, which is stealing from yourself. There is no end to the misery this brings on a person. I taught this to Tiger at a very young age, and to this day he's incapable of lying. He may not give you a full answer, but he never lies. The one time Tiger lied as a boy, he got physically ill.
When you get angry, you give up power. You allow outside influences to harm your greatest asset -- yourself. That's why I've gotten angry at someone only twice in my life. The subject of my anger I'll keep to myself. But that person said it was very frightening.
My mother told me I was as good as anybody else, but to have an equal chance, I'd have to do better than the next person. She told me never to judge anybody, to devote myself to being proactive, positive and constructive. That's how I've run my life, and as a result I haven't had time to feel bitter or hostile about the inequities associated with being a black man in America.
Race consciousness and prejudice will never disappear in America. It can't, because it's embedded in our language. A minute ago you referred to "little white lies." Why isn't it a "little black lie?" Why is it blackmail and not "whitemail?" Why do good guys wear the white hats? Invariably, the word black is used to refer to something derogatory, dangerous or inferior. It creates a stigma, and so long as it exists -- and I can't imagine it ever changing -- there will be a separation between black and white.
I was watching a documentary about the famine in Ethiopia. Tiger, who was 4, saw the distended bellies and the inability of the children to even swat flies off their faces. Tiger disappeared into his bedroom and came back with his gold-coin collection. "Daddy, can we give this to help those little kids?" I accepted it, and sent the cash equivalent to a doctor friend who was serving in Ethiopia. Tiger doesn't know it, but I still have those gold coins. One day, when the time is right, I'll give them back to him and recall that moment, which brought tears to my eyes.
Food has to taste good, look good and smell good to be good. Collard greens, contrary to what Fuzzy Zoeller said, don't fit the bill.
I love golf, but my first love was baseball. I was a catcher. When I was 12, Roy Campanella and Satchel Paige came through town on a barnstorming tour. They let me be the bat boy because my dad was the scorekeeper. While they were warming up, I asked Roy if I could catch Satchel. He handed me his mitt and said, "Don't hurt yourself, boy." I said, "Don't worry. I've got a major-league arm." Campanella giggled at that. I said, "By the way, tell Satch that after he throws his last pitch, he'd better duck, because I'm gonna throw the ball right through his chest. Roy just shook his head. Satch's first pitch came in real easy. I threw it back harder than he threw it to me. Satch threw the next one harder. So did I. By the time he threw his last warm-up pitch, he was really bringing it. And when I caught it, I sprang out of my crouch and threw it right where Satchel's chest was. You better believe he got out of the way. The second baseman caught the ball ankle-high, on the right-hand side of the bag. Roy said, "Boy, you really do have a major-league arm." I did have a good arm. And I can say that I caught the great Satchel Paige.
My mother insisted that I speak in good, clear English. No sloughing off on my e's, f's and t's. Learn good grammar. If I had said "ax" when I meant "ask," she would have been all over my case. Today, I concur with Thurgood Marshall -- there is nothing wrong with speaking the language of your culture when you're within that culture. But to be upwardly mobile in society, one must learn to speak the best English that one can.
Yes, Tiger is known to swear on the course. You can't have it both ways. You can't have the fire, intensity, competitiveness and aggressiveness if you don't blow off steam. Profanity is the language of youth. I don't say it's right, I just say that's the way it is.
Before I left for my second tour of Vietnam, the Army assigned a demolitions expert to me. This man was an expert at hurting people, and he loved his work. He was a genius at creating special booby traps and tripwires, all sorts of custom-made devices designed to inflict maximum pain and damage. It's all he talked about. We'd send him out to prepare a perimeter, and in an hour he'd come back with a look of great satisfaction on his face. "Nobody's coming through there, sir," he'd say, and I knew he meant it. I was glad he was on our side, but eventually I was glad to get away from him. He scared the hell out of me.
The secret to being a good player is balance. I don't mean keeping your equilibrium. I mean placing an equal emphasis on driving, iron play, short game and putting. It's the most obvious thing, but very few players have balance. And almost nobody works to correct it.
Most people cannot or will not discuss their combat experiences. It's too traumatic and painful for them. I saw all the things you see in war -- dead bodies, brains all over the place, friends dying -- and I can talk about it. I had a mind-set that this was war, and that it doesn't make a lot of sense, but I had a job to do. I didn't overanalyze it. I loved myself too much to let it take something away from me.
Many times I've been in bed and it's 1 a.m. and I'm tired but don't want to go to sleep because I don't want the day to end. My goal is to enjoy every minute of every day, squeeze every bit out of it that I can. I have a hard time looking ahead because I'm so involved with what's going on right now. I love living life.
To a golfer at Tiger's level, a good caddie is as important as a good wife. There has to be a chemistry between the two, and the caddie must have great technical ability. There cannot be one shred of doubt in the player's mind that what the caddie is suggesting is correct. Some people think the caddie is overrated. I see it just the opposite.
Many years ago I attended a self-help seminar. One of the exercises concerned money. They asked us to write down on a piece of paper the material things we desired to have in a two-week period. Then we wrote down what we wanted in a month, three months, six months, a year and five years down the road. I forgot about the seminar, and 10 years later I accidentally came across my lists. I laughed, because I had everything I'd wanted. On the list was a sports car. Well, I had two. I also put down that I wanted $10,000 in the bank. I had a lot more than that. These things seemed as far away as the moon when I wrote them down. They in fact were right around the corner.
The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil, but I'm not so sure. There are a lot of poor countries with all the evil you'd want. The desire for power is much more corruptive.
The worst part of getting older is realizing what you could have accomplished if you'd known then what you know now. Every old person, no matter how content they seem, feels that sense of regret. It's a bitch, but it's part of life. So be nice to me.
I acquired some knowledge of geopolitics through my two tours of Vietnam. I can unequivocally say that as hairy as things are in Iraq, the situation would be apocalyptic if we pulled out. Civil war, reprisals and bloodshed like you can't imagine. I support our involvement there totally, for humanitarian reasons. At a minimum.
Listen to Tiger when he loses. He does it graciously. He acknowledges that the other guy was the better golfer that day. The one thing he doesn't say is that the other guy was better over all.
Tiger has tried all kinds of creative ways to get me to give up cigarettes. I appreciate that, but he might as well be talking to a tree. We have an understanding. When our plane lands in Hong Kong, Tiger gets the baggage. I go to the curb and smoke.
Tiger and I were in our motel at a junior tournament. He was 11. Out of the blue he asked, "What's male menopause?" We talked about it for an hour. Then he asked, "What's the immigration policy of Australia?" That took another hour. Tiger then said, "Dad, what's ... " I didn't let him finish. I put his butt in bed.
There's one thing about my smoking that Tiger has either forgotten or never listened to in the first place. I don't inhale.
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Earl Woods: 1932-2006
Born: March 5, 1932, in Manhattan, Kan., the youngest of six children
Died: May 3, 2006, in Cypress, Calif.
Education: Kansas State, sociology, graduated 1953
Profession: Retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army; served two tours of duty in Vietnam
Wife: Kultida; married in 1969
• Diagnosed with prostate cancer, 1998; cancer returned, 2004
Quote: "I knew Tiger was special the day he was born." Earl Woods, in a May 2000 interview with The Associated Press.
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