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Strictly speaking, this was not the house Tiger grew up in. A few years earlier it had undergone a top-to-bottom remodeling, with the granite, marble, unfinished rock and beveled mirrors reflecting Earl's cool aesthetic. Always looking ahead, he had spruced up the place because he hoped to someday turn the house into a museum, and his long-range dream was to have it declared a national historic monument. "I want people to know Tiger didn't grow up in the ghetto and he didn't grow up in a mansion in Beverly Hills but, rather, [in] a nice, quiet middle-class neighborhood--the epitome of the American dream," Earl said.
While we spoke, he reclined in an oversized leather armchair. With his paunch and ever-receding hairline, Earl looked like a beatific Buddha. Throughout my visit a young woman floated around, straightening up. I was tickled by her appearance. As a catcher at Kansas State, Earl had broken the color barrier in the old Big Seven Conference, and now his maid had blonde hair and blue eyes.
As we were shaking hands goodbye, I commented on the gorgeous Rolex that Earl was wearing. It was part of Tiger's booty for winning the 1999 PGA. As Earl explained it, the contract Tiger had with Rolex compelled him to wear one--and only one--make of its watches, so Dad got to enjoy another reward from the career he had helped launch. "Ain't life a bitch?" he said, bidding me adieu.
Anyone who wrote about Tiger Woods in his amateur days remembers his proud father pulling out the wallet and producing a snapshot of a diapered baby. "A tennis ball just shot out the door," Earl would say, handling the drugstore print by the edges. And there was little Tiger, a tad out of focus, caught in the now familiar follow-through but with a vacuum-cleaner attachment in his hands instead of a golf club.
When Tiger was 16 and the reigning U.S. Junior champion, he made his PGA Tour debut in the 1992 Los Angeles Open. I walked with Earl, who was then 60, as he followed his son around eucalyptus-shaded Riviera Country Club. While we talked, Earl listened through earphones to a light-jazz tape recorded by Tiger off the Quiet Storm, a Berkeley radio station. When Tiger was over a putt and the gallery was hushed, I could hear Earl breathing beside me and the faint, tinny sound of a soulful saxophone.