July 7, 1997 in Sports

Tiger Has Captured Hearts Beyond Sports World

Ed Sherman Chicago Tribune
 

The elderly man sitting in a folding chair craned his neck to get a better view. He looked old enough to have seen the great Bobby Jones in the 1920s, but in 1997 he was there to catch a glimpse of the prodigy.

“Did Tiger birdie that last hole?” he asked.

“He’s really something, isn’t he?”

One fairway later, a 3-year-old sat with his parents by the ropes. The other golfers walked by, but there was no reaction.

Suddenly he saw him, and the jumping began. “There’s Tiger!” cried the boy, gesturing wildly with a finger. “There’s Tiger! There’s Tiger!”

From ages 3 to infinity, this is a Tiger Woods world.

Woods conquered the land of Jordan Sunday. He delivered on the expectations, winning the Motorola Western Open by three shots at Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont. The 1-year-old now has won six tournaments in less than a year since turning pro. No other golfer has won more than two during that same span.

Victory walk No. 6 produced a scene virtually unprecedented for American golf. After he hit his second shot at the 18th hole, Tiger mania exploded. According to one of the marshals, someone yelled, “They can’t hold us back,” and soon Woods’ army was filling up the fairway in his wake.

The pack included golf fans, non-golf fans, men, women, blacks, whites, teenagers with safety pins in their eyelids and seniors in their Rockports. They just had to be near their new hero.

“We got the Bulls and we got Tiger,” yelled a fan of a city twice blessed within a month.

Just like the Bulls, this was a celebration that went beyond sports. Other golfers win titles. Other basketball teams win championships.

But there is only one Michael Jordan. And only one Tiger Woods.

The common thread is simple to comprehend, difficult to describe. It is witnessing perfection. It doesn’t come around often, and when it does, it is something to behold.

In trying to label Woods, Gary Player, one of the all-time greats, kept it simple: “He’s got the perfect golf swing.”

It all starts with the swing, one that generates unparalleled power. Physically, Woods hardly is imposing. He almost is a wisp at 6 feet 2 inches, 160 pounds.

But golf isn’t about size, it is about creating leverage, about turning the golf club into a whip. Woods’ incredible flexibility allows him to make a strong shoulder turn with a miniscule hip rotation. According to his swing coach, Butch Harmon, Woods’ swing is based in the fundamentals of physics.

“It’s like pulling a rubber band back as tight as it can go, and then releasing it,” Harmon said.

Then watch the ball fly, as he routinely hits cannon shots more than 300 yards. He plays another game, often outdriving opponents by 30 to 40 yards. Tiger unleashed is something to see.

If Woods has any potential obstacles, it will be his back. Experts predict that he will develop back problems if he continues with that twisting swing.

There is, however, much more to Woods than power. The complete package includes his mind, and to miss that aspect of his game is akin to viewing Jordan only as a scorer.

Woods is one of the game’s most creative thinkers. For instance, at the U.S. Open, Woods flew an approach shot over a green. Instead of selecting a wedge or a putter, he grabbed his 3-wood, a club he normally hits 300 yards.

But this time he choked down on the club, using the heavy sole to cut the grass and the flat surface of the face as a putter. He knocked it into the hole.

“People look at my long drives,” Woods said. “They look at the birdies, or the putts, or the ball-spinning. But they don’t look at the things that lead up to that. My dad always has preached to me, ‘Play golf with your mind. Play golf intelligently.’ I feel my mind is my biggest asset.”

Woods might get an argument from his father, Earl, on that point. A former Green Beret in Vietnam, Earl taught his son from the age of 10 months how to play the game. The lessons went beyond fundamentals.

Earl instilled in Tiger a champion’s heart.

It was on display in all its glory Sunday. He entered the day in a three-way tie for the lead, and then trailed Loren Roberts by two shots after five holes.

But there never was a doubt in Earl’s mind. He once said of his son’s competitive fire: “He’ll cut your throat in a heartbeat, and then watch you bleed to death.”

Sure enough, Woods took over, blowing away the competition.

“You saw the guts today,” Earl said. “The confidence and the heart.”


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