Come to think of it, Tiger might know a little about discrimination himself. Even as Tida carried him inside her, the little house in Cypress was pelted by limes and BB-gun fire from the Unwelcome Wagon, somebody who wasn't thrilled about the arrival of the first "black" family in the neighborhood. On his first day of kindergarten Tiger was tied to a tree and taunted by older white kids. At 16 he received a death threat before playing in the L.A. Open at Riviera. Last fall at Shoal Creek, a Birmingham club that once kept blacks from joining, he was picketed by a group of African-Americans for playing in a college tournament there. Apparently he wasn't black enough.
"I don't want to be the best black golfer ever," he has said a hundred times. "I want to be the best golfer ever." But when he can fill in only one bubble under "Ethnicity" on forms? "I always fill in 'Asian,' " he says.
He will be the fourth black American to play in the Masters—in 61 years—but the first with a real chance to take home a green blazer someday. Lee Elder was 40 years old when he became the first black to play the Masters, in 1975. Calvin Peete played eight times, but his game was too short. Jim Thorpe (six times) never quite felt comfortable. None ever finished in the top 10.
But here, here is a kid of the '90s, too young to hate a club like Augusta National, a kid who considers himself of no real color, a kid with a future that is almost as huge as his dreams.
"My goal will be the same as always," Tiger says. "To learn something, enjoy myself and win." Still, he is ready for the questions when they come. "I know that I wouldn't be playing at Augusta if it weren't for what people like Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder did before me. They are pioneers. They are the Jackie Robinsons of golf."
Someday, Augusta and Woods may fit nicely. If there's one weakness in his game, it's that he and his driver argue some, but Augusta forgives the long and wild driver, because it has virtually no rough. Still, there's not much reason to believe Woods will do well there his first time. For one, he will be hounded by the press as the best story of the first two days. Second, his left knee is still tender from winter surgery to remove two benign tumors. Third, Augusta's greens are tricky and not easily figured out by college freshmen, even Stanford students carrying a 3.0. No amateur at Augusta has come home" better than 15th since 1962. "On the other hand," says Butch Harmon, Tiger's golf teacher, "he's got such a great touch, and he's got those young nerves. Maybe he won't have the fear of the greens that the veterans have."
What's ironic is that Tiger Woods could have played Augusta dozens of times by now and understood some of it? secrets, but pride wouldn't let him. He had invitations from many member; through the years but declined them because, as he would explain, "I only want to go when I've earned it." You hang around Tide long enough, you learn something about face.
Oddly, now that he has earned it, he has chosen an older black man to be his caddie, a man who is completely unfamiliar with the golf course. "I'm not too big on the idea," says Harmon. "I think Tiger should take a local guy." But this caddie comes from special circumstances. As a boy, not only could he never imagine being able to step on the grounds of a privileged white playground like Augusta National, but he wasn't even allowed to play on the only golf course in his scrawny hometown. No coloreds. He didn't take up the game until he was 42, a delay that he deeply regrets. Can you imagine what it will mean to that man to walk down Augusta's 1st fairway?
With his son by his side?
MY STRENGTH IS GREAT!