At 16, when the boy had surpassed his father's knowledge, the father brought in the PGA Tour swing coach from Houston. Talk about pressure. Harmon, caretaker of Greg Norman's game, suddenly had Thomas Edison walk into his electronics school. The kid Tom Watson calls "the most important young golfer in the last 50 years" was Harmon's now, to either improve or entirely screw up.
Now Harmon can't get rid of the kid. "He wants to work with me 24 hours a day," the teacher says. "I can't get him off the phone."
Team Tiger says there's no way he'll leave school early and turn pro, unless, in his father's words, he "completely dominates" college golf his first three years. Then he may turn pro and play events in the summers and during Christmas and spring breaks while he finishes school. Uh, Professor Smithson? Can I get a makeup exam? I've got to play in this dam Skins Game. Of course, if you know Tida, you will bet on him turning pro only in time for the 1998 U.S. Open.
That doesn't mean Earl and Tiger can't start getting ready. Harmon has shortened up Woods's backswing—a la Norman—and tightened up a few moving parts. And Tiger may hit the Tour as the most fit rookie in history. At 148 pounds, his bench-press rep is 215 pounds. On most days he works out a minimum of one hour on the weights, with another half an hour of aerobics and half an hour of stretching. Already, his bunker-rake body is starting to cut in. His biceps are out-sized for his body, and his body fat is 5.5%. Stanford's former weight-room supervisor told golf coach Wally Goodwin that "pound for pound, Tiger's one of the strongest athletes on campus."
Golf balls could have told him that. On demand, Woods will lengthen his back-swing a little, release his wrists and drill a drive 320. At the Amateur he hit a 230-yard four-iron. If you request it, he'll blade a sand wedge 180 or sky a five-iron off a blimp. He has won two of the seven tournaments he has played in for the defending national champ Cardinal, and with his freshman season only two-thirds over he's the No. 1-ranked male collegiate player in the country. And because Woods has understood the golf swing since the age of two, he is less likely to go into deep, career-killing slumps.
"He handles pressure like a 30-year-old," says Harmon, the son of 1948 Masters champion Claude Harmon. "And his creativity is amazing. Some of the shots I've seen him hit remind me of Norman and Arnold Palmer."
And the biggie: He is probably not going to choke. He may screw up, but he won't choke, and choking is the No. 1 reason that Tour players go into real estate. Where I wanted my ball to go, Daddy. Tiger Woods still hasn't learned how to fear failure. "If I fail at golf?" he says one day, laughing. "Hmmmm. I don't know what I'd do. That's why I'm here, right?"
I AM FIRM IN MY RESOLVE!
At 18, he traded millions for a dorm room and no sleep.
Most any night you catch Tiger Woods and his roommate at Stanford, you'll notice Woods is not calling his agent, not getting a massage and not checking his investments. Usually, he is doing what his roomie is doing—cramming for a test and trying like hell to keep his hands off the TV remote, which, if it weren't for The Simpsons, he would have given up for the year. "No time," he says ruefully.