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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Of all the fathers of all the athletes I've ever interviewed, none stick to the walls of memory more than Earl Woods. Three gates had to be passed to earn that interview: a cool stare, a cold grunt, a frigid silence. But once you were in.... Whoa, Nellie!
Big furnace. Big friction. Big contradiction. Love and anger, bluster and wisdom, life and death all rubbing one another, spitting sparks. "He could slit your throat," said Tiger, "and then sit down and eat his dinner."
And discourse for hours, at that dinner, about love and healing, or drop a beauty like this: "There's only now. You must understand that time is just a linear measurement of successive increments of now. Anyplace you go on that line is now, and that's how you have to live it."
Here was a man whose parents both died by the time he was 13, who asked out of his job as an Army public information officer to eyeball death as a Green Beret in Vietnam, who demanded to know why he lived. "Searching for something, always searching, never satisfied," his second wife, Kultida, told me. "He couldn't relax. Sometimes he stayed awake till three or four in the morning, just thinking."
Finally he found his reason for existence: to spawn, in every physical, spiritual and psychological sense of the word, Tiger Woods. Everything that Earl had suffered and survived made sense if Tiger became a golfing genius--but, no, that wasn't enough--and a man who changed the world. "He's the bridge between the East and the West," Earl declared. "He is the chosen one. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations."
When Earl's search ended last week, the scoreboard read, ten majors won, no world changed. If he can possibly bear it ... may he rest in peace.
-- Gary Smith
Earl woods was famous for his candor ( Scotland sucks) and for his immodesty (Tiger will be bigger than Gandhi), but he could be coy and political when it suited him--another sign of his intelligence. When Fuzzy Zoeller cracked his chicken-and-collard-greens joke as Tiger was wrapping up his 12-shot victory at Augusta in 1997, the world turned on the Fuzzster. At least Oprah and Jesse Jackson did. Earl and Tiger made themselves very unavailable. Zoeller believed that had there been one supportive comment from Earl when the whole thing was blowing up, he might have kept his fishing show on ESPN. In Fuzzy's mind all the press needed was for Earl to say, "Fuzzy was trying to be funny--bad joke," and the incident would have gone away. But Earl wouldn't talk, not then and not for years afterward.