Tiger Woods, the Student
Head of the Class
Serious, focused, analytical and immersed in his subject: That is Tiger Woods the golfer. That was also Tiger Woods the student. At the three schools Woods attended—Cerritos Elementary, Orangeview Junior High and Western High—he was nearly a straight-A student, but academics didn't always come easily. According to teachers who had him in their classrooms, Woods had a natural curiosity, methodically dealt with classwork and was determined to succeed.
Woods began kindergarten at Cerritos in the fall of 1981. On his first day, some older boys tied him to a tree and taunted him with racial slurs. Woods has never forgotten the incident, but the episode didn't damage his attitude toward school. According to his former teachers, he was at ease in the classroom and well liked by his classmates.
"The other kids talked about Tiger's golf or his having been on That's Incredible!, but Tiger never did," says his second- and third-grade teacher, Carol McAllister. "I remember he was the first one in the class to get contact lenses, because it helped his golf, and when the other kids marveled at that, Tiger got embarrassed. He didn't have his hand up a lot, but he was obviously bright and participated in discussions. He was very grown up, one of those quiet leaders the others respected."
That continued in the seventh and eighth grades at Orangeview. "I saw the name Tiger on the class roster and expected a rambunctious kid," says Carl Vanderbosch, Woods's seventh-grade history teacher. "But at an age when most kids can't sit still very long, he had an amazing attention span. The thing that impressed me most, though, was his sense of self. When we were studying Asian history and focusing on religion, he raised his hand to volunteer that he came from a Buddhist background. Just the way he carried himself, he took life as I imagined a Buddhist might, and he seems much the same in that regard."
At Western, Woods's golf schedule became more intense, but he didn't take easy courses or ask for favors from his instructors. As a senior his courses included two advanced placement classes—economics and government. "What I loved about him was that he had a real respect for education," says Ed Woodson, Woods's world history teacher in his freshman year. "He had one of those focused, analytical minds that liked working things out. You could tell by looking at his eyes. It's the same look he has on the golf course."
"The word that comes to mind is conscientious" says Ron Butterfield, who had Woods, then a senior, in government. "When he had a tournament coming up, he would ask what he needed to do to keep up—not the other way around—and he would do the work, on time and very well."
Just as Woods practices to improve the weaknesses in his golf game, he worked hardest in the classes that he found the most difficult, according to his Spanish teacher in his junior year, Dianne McGinnis. "The subject matter did not come easily to him, and he struggled at the beginning of the semester," she says. "But he began interacting more with the native speakers in the class to improve his skills. By the end of the semester he had really earned my respect. I was a real stickler, but I gave him an A-minus."
"Every career teacher has six or seven students he remembers for the rest of his life," says Woodson. "Tiger was one of them, and he would be if he had never won a golf tournament."