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Reigning Amateur Champ Tiger Woods To Turn Pro Coach Tells Golf Phenom He Can Play At Top Level; Official Announcement Expected On Wednesday

Thomas Bonk Los Angeles Times

Tiger Woods, the 20-year-old golfer from Cypress, Calif., who won a record third consecutive U.S. Amateur title Sunday, has decided to take his game to another level and join the professional ranks, sources said.

International Management Group, the Cleveland-based sports representation firm, has prepared a Woods information kit and called a news conference for Wednesday in Milwaukee, where Woods is to play in the Greater Milwaukee Open beginning Thursday.

Woods accepted sponsors’ invitations weeks ago to play in that event and the Quad City Classic at Coal Valley, Ill., Sept. 12-15. Those tournaments were to serve as tests for Woods to measure his game against the pros before returning to Stanford for his junior year later this month.

However, Woods apparently had a change of heart after Sunday’s dramatic, 38-hole victory over Steve Scott of Florida in the final of the U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Cornelius, Ore. Woods was vague when questioned about his plans Sunday, although only days earlier he had committed to play for the U.S. team in an international amateur competition in November.

Woods was joined in the locker room after his victory by Hughes Norton, an agent for IMG, who represents pro golfer Peter Jacobsen, among others.

Butch Harmon, a Houston teaching pro, who serves as Woods’ coach, said Woods had asked him if his game was good enough to play in the pros. Harmon said he answered in the affirmative.

“The only player I can compare him to at comparable stages of their careers is Jack Nicklaus,” Harmon said. “Like Nicklaus, he has tremendous length, tremendous touch and tremendous focus and concentration.”

And also like Nicklaus, Woods is getting a head start on how to become a millionaire.

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, and Ely Callaway, who founded Callaway Golf, were in Woods’ gallery at the U.S. Amateur.

Nike has long coveted Woods as a client. Callaway estimated that Nike will offer Woods $18 million to $25 million for five years.

“Nike is going to pay him big,” Callaway said.

Professional golf is a fertile ground for endorsement income for its top stars. In addition to whatever clothing and apparel company Woods chooses to represent, he will be paid to play a certain brand of clubs and a certain brand of ball and wear corporate logos on his clothing.

John Daly, for instance, is under contract, for $30 million to play Wilson clubs.

Besides working out endorsement deals for Woods, IMG will negotiate appearance fees, lucrative overseas appearances and corporate outings.

Rocky Hambric of Cornerstone Sports, who represents 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, said top players command fees as high as $300,000 to play an overseas event. One-day outings can bring in as much as $50,000.

Wally Goodwin, Woods’ golf coach at Stanford, said he would not criticize any decision his star pupil made.

“I never second-guess Tiger,” Goodwin said. “He’s very smart and very thorough in his thinking. And his dad is very businesslike. They have it all worked out.

“He’s not turning pro because of the money. When he does it, it’s because he wants to play against the pros on that level.”

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