It was to have been a beautiful relationship, the marriage of student and athlete in the person of Tiger Woods. He arrived at Stanford last September, a newly crowned U.S. Amateur champion emphatically expressing his determination to stay in school long enough to earn a degree before seeking to mine the golf world for a lion's share (or a Tiger's share) of the available gold.
Now that school is out for the summer. Woods arrives this week at the first stop on his vacation itinerary—Shinnecock Hills, for the U.S. Open—amid talk that he has become disenchanted with his student-athlete status.
Trouble surfaced in April, soon after the Masters, when Stanford suspended Woods from the golf team for a day for writing Masters diaries for Golf World and Golfweek magazines. "It's deemed to be a promotion of a commercial publication," says Steve Mallonee, director of legislative services for the NCAA. "What Stanford did was in accordance with the rules. It had to declare the individual ineligible. Because of the inadvertence of the violation, there was no penalty and his eligibility was restored."
Stanford, according to Tiger's father, Earl, also asked that Woods explain the source of the new irons he used for the final round of the Masters (they belonged to his instructor, Butch Harmon) and why he used Maxfli golf balls rather than the Titleists provided to him by the university ( Greg Norman suggested he try them). Again, Stanford was acting on its responsibility to ensure that one of its athletes was not receiving free equipment from a manufacturer.
Woods privately seethed about the inquiries. Meanwhile, his father intimated that Tiger might leave school early if such annoying NCAA scrutiny continued or if, said Earl, "he achieves a level of performance in which collegiate golf is no longer a viable environment for him."
Certainly other environments beckon. This summer Woods, 19, will compete in the U.S. Open, the Western Open, the Scottish Open and the British Open. Favorable reviews on the international stage will raise the stakes awaiting him when he renounces his amateur standing. At the moment, according to one major management firm. Woods could immediately command endorsement deals totaling more than $10 million.
In large part Woods's biggest dilemma is trying to be a serious student while dealing with the enormous time demands of college golf. Big Division I programs play a 10-month season that begins in September. Indeed, a study commissioned by the NCAA five years ago determined that college golfers miss more class time than football or basketball players.
Woods makes no secret of his frustration with the time constraints that left him dissatisfied with both his grades and his golf, a B average and first-team All-America honors failing to pacify the perfectionist in him.
Nearly 35 years ago Jack Nicklaus, similarly intent on getting his degree (from Ohio State), quit school three semesters short of graduation and turned pro. Nicklaus is the first to say that the opportunities and pressures facing Woods are far greater than those that he had to deal with. He believes the temptation to leave school early will be powerful.
"Tiger has all the right tools to be a successful and dominant golfer," Nicklaus said at the recent Memorial Tournament. "He has a college career he wants to finish, but at the same time he'll be receiving invitations to pro events all over the place. It's up to him to determine how much he wants to focus on golf and what his goals are."