Tiger Woods had his daydreams and his nightmares, same as any child of 8, but his did not exist independently. His nightmares were a threat to his daydreams and eliminated any comfort provided by the feathers in a boy’s pillow.
For more than a year, Woods’ sleep was haunted, not by the creatures that encroach on the sleep of other kids and vanish at first light, but by a more enduring terror to which this 8-year-old already had been introduced.
Woods had met racism on his first day of kindergarten in a Cypress, Calif., school three years before, when older boys tied this son of a black father and Asian mother to a tree and taunted him and pelted him. The boys were later identified and punished.
The enemy that disturbed his sleep, meanwhile, was faceless and posed a greater danger to a boy who dreamed of becoming the greatest golfer who ever lived. Even then, Tiger Woods was aware that he could arrive at that destination only via Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia and the Masters, the cornerstone of golf in the South.
The nightmares? “That he’d be assassinated playing golf in the South,” his father, Earl Woods, said.
It is this stage gilded in irony on which Woods, at 19 and a freshman at Stanford, will make his debut on the international golf scene. By winning the U.S. Amateur Championship last summer, Woods qualified to play in the Masters, which begins Thursday.
Augusta National is a course steeped in history, not all of it commendable. The club had not invited a black to play in the Masters until 1975, when it became unavoidable, Lee Elder securing an invite by winning the Monsanto Open.
Augusta National consisted of some of the wealthiest, most influential men in America, all white. Jim Crow was de facto club president.
Integration arrived at Augusta National only in the aftermath of the Shoal Creek controversy in 1990. Site of the PGA Championship that year, the Alabama club was founded by Hall Thompson, who explained the absence of black members.
“Because that’s just not done in Birmingham,” Thompson said.
Only three blacks have played in the Masters, Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe later joining Elder. Charlie Sifford, responsible for integrating the PGA Tour in 1960, never was afforded the opportunity. He failed to qualify, tournament officials contended, conveniently overlooking that the Masters is an invitational.
“I was talking about that the other day with someone,” Earl Woods said. “The average golfer that goes there is blown away with Magnolia Lane and the history and tradition of the Masters, and I said that doesn’t impress the black golfer. Black golfers have nothing in common with Bobby Jones, no historical ties with Bobby Jones. They prevented blacks from being there for many, many years.”
A reluctant trailblazer, Woods hoists the burden of responsibility and forges ahead. He never chose the cause, the cause choosing him instead, yet he has become its champion in every sense.
A frenetic schedule that includes a full course-load at Stanford and a burgeoning golf career still has room for clinics that Woods conducts for inner-city youths.”I don’t want to be a role model, because it’s a hard task and I’m human and I make mistakes,” Woods said. “I’m not perfect. But I will accept the role and I will do it because it’s important.”
As for the nightmares, they eventually subsided, in large measure the result of his father’s persistence in preparing Tiger for the racism he was certain to encounter.
“I’ve been able to convince him there isn’t anything he can do about it,” Earl said. “It’s been an abiding principle I’ve taught him, that you don’t worry about things over which you have no control.”
This lesson is lost on the teacher, who does the worrying for both of them. When Earl watches his son play, he casts a wary eye over the crowd. Woods received death threats when he played in the Los Angeles Open in 1992, and at the Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Texas, last year, two women armed with hand guns were arrested on the course one evening when Woods was virtually alone on the course, still practicing, Earl said.
“There are people out there that consider this kid a threat and do not want to see him succeed,” Earl said. “It bothers me as a parent and concerns the (expletive) out of me. It (racism) will be going on for the next hundred years, because you can’t change people’s way of thinking. You can change their conformity or compliance, but not their way of thinking.”
Woods, incidentally, played Augusta National for the first time Monday. Before winning the U.S. Amateur, he had declined an invitation to play the course, insisting he would prefer to play there only after he had earned the right to do so.
This represents progress from the treatment afforded black stars of another era. Woods was extended an invitation, but preferred to earn one; Sifford and others earned the invite but were never extended one.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The Masters Site: Augusta, Ga. Dates: Thursday through Sunday. Course: Augusta National Golf Club (6,905 yards, par 72). Purse: To be announced. Winner’s share: To be announced. Television: USA (Thursday-Friday, 1-4:30 p.m. PDT), CBS (Saturday, 12:30-3 p.m.; Sunday, 1-4 p.m.). Last year: Jose Maria Olazabal, coming off a second-place finish in the Freeport-McMoRan Classic, closed with a 69 and earned the green jacket with a 279 total, two better than Tom Lehman and three ahead of 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize. It was the Spaniard’s first victory in a major championship. Notes: Olazabal failed to make the cut in the Freeport-McMoRan Classic last weekend. … Davis Love III had to win last week to qualify for the Masters, and did, beating Mike Heinen in a playoff. It also moved him into third place in the earnings race with $514,987. David Duval, the Nike Tour graduate, finished one shot back in third. … Jack Nicklaus (1965) and Raymond Floyd (1976) share the course record at Augusta with 17-under 271s.
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