The kid would escape from inside Tiger Woods every now and then,
the way a five-year-old will come downstairs in pajamas and
announce to the adult gathering in the living room that he can't
sleep. A smile would come across his face in just a certain way.
A phrase would escape from his lips. A nice little laugh.
"I got a courtesy car," he would say, amazed at the fact. "I
still can't rent a car, but they gave me a courtesy car."
"I got all these clothes delivered Wednesday, yes, but the best
thing was they came in these great bags," he would say. "They're
unbelievable bags. They have all these pockets and stuff. Just
The adult would come back into control soon enough--the bright
and earnest young man on his first week on the job as the
multimillionaire Savior of Golf and Unifier of All Peoples--but
the glimpses of the kid were the best part. Underneath that
composed, articulate, talented, marketable commodity who was
competing in the Greater Milwaukee Open, there was a 20-year-old
human being off on a grand adventure. He was playing his game on
the stage where he had always wanted to play it.
September 8, 1996
"It was great just to get back to what I do, play golf," he said
after firing a 67 in his first round as a professional, on the
way to making the cut and finishing tied for 60th with a
seven-under-par 277 and receiving a paycheck of $2,544. "That's
what I know best. That's what I've always done."
Signed last week to endorsement contracts that might be worth
more than $60 million--the estimates getting higher and wackier
with each passing day--and introduced to the country with a
blitzkrieg of weekend advertising by Nike, Woods was trapped in
probably the most publicized debut in American sporting history.
What was bigger? Every day suggestions were made in the press
room. David Clyde, teenager, pitching for the Texas Rangers? Jim
Craig playing goal for the Atlanta Flames after the Olympics?
Gretzky? Wilt? Eric Lindros? Jennifer Capriati? What? The
Beatles at Shea Stadium?
Coming off his record three straight U.S. Amateur
championships--the final one, at Pumpkin Ridge, near Portland,
less than a week earlier--Woods was clearly the most heralded
golf prodigy since...who? Nicklaus? He already hits the ball
farther than almost anyone else on the Tour and has been dealing
with pressure since the start of his teens. With his multiracial
heritage (African-American, Thai, a touch of American Indian and
Caucasian) he is the perfect picture for the natural-fibers
future of a game that has forever been mostly white and Ban-Lon.
Who can he be? Pick a name. Arthur Ashe. Jackie Robinson. Colin
Powell. A male Naomi Campbell. Darius Rucker, singing with those
Blowfish. Any of the above. All of the above. All he has to do
is scorch a few golf courses, win a few majors, become the best
player in the entire world. That's all. Starting now.
"He's come along at exactly the right time," says Loren Roberts,
who won the $1.2 million tournament in a playoff with Jerry
Kelly. "He's like Arnold Palmer, a guy who is going to
popularize the sport to a bigger audience, to reach out to areas
where maybe golf has been slow to reach. He's got a lot on his
shoulders. There's no question he's going to do well. When you
hit your best shot and look up and he's 60 yards in front of
you, that's impressive, to start. But he's still going to have
to beat those 156 other guys out here. That's not going to be as
easy as some people think."
"There are guys here who knock him already, but they're the same
guys who knock everybody, who play in the pro-ams and never talk
to the amateurs," says Billy Andrade, who finished 12th.
"Tiger's going to be great for the game."
For most of the four tournament days--well, for all of the days
until he finished early on Sunday and attention could be turned
to the leaders--Woods was the headline performer, with no one a
close second. All of the other galleries from the record GMO
crowds on the course, added together, wouldn't have equaled the
size of his. "It didn't bother me," Woods said. "I'm used to it.
Besides, if you lose a ball, there are a lot of people out there
to help you find it."
Losing balls was not a problem last Thursday and Friday. He was
still feeding off momentum from the Amateur, and both his
first-day 67 and second-day 69 could have been lower if he had
made some putts. ("I think I used them up in the Amateur," he
said.) His first shot as a pro, let it be noted, was a 336-yard
drive straight down the middle. He later described it as his
most memorable shot of the tournament.
On the third day the momentum turned to fatigue. Woods found
trouble and scrambled for his 73, which effectively knocked him
out of a high finish. He skipped his normal postround stop at
the driving range, went back to the hotel, slept for 4 1/2
hours, ate dinner and returned to bed. He said he had feared
hitting the normal letdown after the Amateur and had staved it
off for the two days before it landed, hard. He was back in form
for the final day, when he shot 68 and made a hole in one--the
ninth of his life--on the 188-yard 14th.
"I played with him on his bad day, nothing working for him, and
I was impressed," said veteran Bruce Lietzke. "You learn about
somebody when he's having that kind of day. A lot of 20-year-
olds would get frustrated, angry. He never lost his temper,
still kept working. If he's going to be the game's next great
ambassador, then the game is in good hands."
Woods's plan is to play the next six tournaments, using up his
seven sponsors' exemptions in hopes of winning enough money to
finish in the top 125 for the year and automatically qualify for
the 1997 Tour. The figure he needs will be approximately
$150,000, which means he will have to win or place second in a
tournament or string together some top-10 finishes. If he fails,
he hopes to earn an exemption by playing in the PGA Tour
Since he already eats, drinks, drives, telephones and engages in
most other human activities, additional endorsement deals are no
doubt on the way. After finishing on Sunday, he was on his way
to the next Tour stop, the Canadian Open, outside Toronto. "What
would you be doing if you hadn't dropped out of Stanford and
turned pro?" a reporter asked. "Would you be registering now for
"No, school doesn't start until September 25," the kid said,
sneaking out for a moment. "And you don't have to register. The
student body is so small that you can just go to classes, find
ones you like, then sign up for them. I went 3 1/2 weeks one
semester trying a lot of them before I finally registered."
Ah, but none of that now. Back to work. This new and different
school was in session, and the tests had only just begun.