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An Audience with the Earl
Rick Reilly
July 24, 2000
Sorry. Can't talk. Just finished nine with Earl Woods. Filled up two notebooks and half of a third. Can somebody move that postal notice off the bottom of this page?
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July 24, 2000

An Audience With The Earl

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Sorry. Can't talk. Just finished nine with Earl Woods. Filled up two notebooks and half of a third. Can somebody move that postal notice off the bottom of this page?

1. Is your training of Tiger finally done? "No, the painting isn't complete. There's some more scenery that has to be filled in. Some smoothing of the rough edges. Besides, I haven't signed it yet."

2. You mean you want to see him win the British Open this week at St. Andrews, giving him the career slam at age 24, youngest in history? "Oh, no, no. That's not important at all. I mean, I'm in awe of Tiger's physical prowess and his mental strength, but his humanity and his compassion need work. They have to counterbalance his striving for superiority. Nicklaus had his wife and kids for balance. Tiger only has me and his mother. Girlfriends don't do it. Girlfriends are here today, gone tomorrow. Without the proper balance, the individual becomes pompous and domineering."

3. How's your health? [At 68, Earl's had eight bypasses, ripped open half of them hiccuping and had them resewn; been told to stop smoking but hasn't; gotten prostate cancer, then beat it with 25 days of radiation; and had to stop traveling to tournaments with his son.] "I'm not ready to the, if that's what you mean. I don't go to the tournaments anymore because I get mobbed and can't see any golf. I know smoking is wrong, but I contend there's no cholesterol in a cigarette. Tiger doesn't like it, but he's accepted that I'm just like him: stubborn as hell."

4. But don't you miss being there with him? "I am there. I'm there in spirit. I've communicated with him telepathically. For instance, at the [1999] PGA, when Tiger was standing over that putt at the 17th [on Sunday], I was in the hotel, and I said to him, 'Tiger, this is a must-make putt. Now, we've been through it before. Trust your stroke. Trust your stroke.' And he made it. That night I said to him, I told you to [trust your stroke on] that putt at 17.' He said, I know, Pop. I heard you.' "

5. Ever met Richard Williams [father of tennis sensations Venus and Serena]? "I've never met him, and I don't want to meet him. I don't think much of the way he's handling his daughters. He's not allowed them to reach their full potential. He's not allowed them to have competent professional instruction. It's almost like watching Tiger play if he'd never gone to [his swing coach] Butch Harmon. I heard Venus say [after winning Wimbledon], I get to buy myself a watch.' I thought, How sad. Twenty years old? Now I can buy a watch? All you have to do is listen to them. You can hear the girlish attitude and the girlish conduct. These girls are not on the road to maturity. They're in a time warp. I feel sorry for them."

6. Would you like to live long enough to train a kid of Tiger's? "No. I've passed the mantle on to him. Besides, I have a granddaughter whom I've been working with. [ Cheyenne Woods, 10, the daughter of his eldest son, Earl Jr., plays this week in the Junior World Championship in San Diego.] She has unlimited potential, just like Tiger did. She has beauty, intelligence, personal strength, leadership and the physical assets of a superb athlete. She started in the same garage Tiger started in [at Earl's house in Cypress, Calif.], hitting into the same net, using one of Tiger's old cut-down clubs."

7. For years you were creamed by writers who said you were the Little League Father from Hell, predicting stuff Tiger couldn't possibly attain. Now that he has, do you feel vindicated? "When Tiger was one year old, I used to tell my friends what was coming. They'd all laugh at me. The other day those friends came over to the house and said, 'We came to apologize. We thought you were just ranting and raving.' Yeah, it hurt to be called pompous and a braggart, but it was only because I knew, and they didn't. Everything I've said has come true. What you're seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg. And that's still true. Tiger is going to get better, more efficient and more effective."

8. Still think he'll be bigger than Gandhi? "Tiger will be a more important figure outside of golf than in it. He will make his mark on world history, probably through his foundation. He'll impact nations. Do you recall the impact Muhammad Ali had, even with his lack of education and his lack of communication skills? Imagine someone with the education and communication skills that Tiger has, somebody with a sense of responsibility and purpose."

9. Ever get to see the U.S. Open trophy after he won it? "See it? It's sitting on my hall table right now!"