Volume 90, Issue 67

Thursday, January 23, 1997



Woods blazes new trails for golf

By John Intini
Gazette Staff

He holds his six-iron with the confidence of a 20-year pro. He watches quietly as his opponent hooks his ball into the water. He methodically places his Titleist on his tee in front of millions of onlookers and then, with an explosive and perfect swing, he lays his tee-shot mere inches from the pin. Then with an embarrassed smile he collects his $216,000 pay cheque.

He's 20 years old. He's a pro golfer. He's Tiger Woods.

Life is good for Eldrick "Tiger" Woods: three victories and five top-five finishes in nine PGA starts; endorsements from Nike and Titleist; Sports Illustrated's celebrated sportsman of the year; millions of kids around the world dreaming about growing up like him. Even Michael Jordan calls Tiger his hero. All this and still a week short of being legal.

If Tiger Woods is sportsman of the year in his first year out of teen-hood who is to say he won't dominate this title for the next 30 years. Usually SI saves the award for an accomplished sports figure who has put in his or her dues. SI's managing editor, Bill Colson, explained in his editorial that it was impossible to deny Woods the title based on his single-handed redirection of golf, now a spectator sport for the masses. In a year which has included Michael Johnson's Olympic gold in the 200 and 400 meters and Michael Jordan's emotional NBA championship victory proceeding the murder of his father, Woods remained the favourite.

Woods, who is part Thai, African, Chinese, native American and European, is everybody's hero. A uniter of a nation some say. Maybe a little brash, but nevertheless a uniter. Like Jackie Robinson in the '50s, Woods is subject to racism in a sport that has not yet fully broken through the colour barrier. Woods, a three-time amateur champion, learned the hard lessons of racism early in life. On numerous occasions he was disallowed entry onto courses and into some amateur tournaments. All this did was make him tougher and give him more motivation.

Woods is now a more important sports figure than Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe or Robinson ever were. As SI touted, "He's more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone."

People worry that all of the bright lights and privileges will get to the head of this 20 year old. Constant pressure to do interviews, sign contracts as well as autographs for adoring fans fill his daily life. Most adults would succumb to these immense pressures – somehow Woods is different. His poise and manner won't allow the pressure to get to him.

Two weeks ago the NFC championship game had to compete with the $216,000 Mercedes championships which Woods was in contention for. Even with the importance of the football game, ratings for the playoff between Woods and Tom Lehman held a steady audience. Watching golf isn't just for your dad anymore – Woods appeals to all sports fans. As Lehman hit his tee shot into the water, all but handing Woods the championship, crowds were silenced. Woods' tee shot, as expected, landed eight inches from the pin and rolled in a stroke later.

In reality, Woods probably doesn't have the ability to end racial tensions in the U.S. or bring about world peace. He is just a golfer. However, what Woods can do is provide us with a distraction from the world's hardships and make us realize that even the greatest adversities can be overcome by hard work. His incredible poise and determination to succeed in a white man's game is an inspiration for all races. For a little while, Woods' talent can take us away, allowing us to believe.

Don't ever change Mr. Woods. One day you will change the world.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997