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A Tiger Woods story not many people have heard

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Evil ... Thy name is Orville Redenbacher!!, Jul 17, 2007.

  1. This is a column from Lawrence Donegan, from the UK's Guardian.
    Donegan pulls off something very few golf writers have managed to do for a number of years ... find a rare, original story about Tiger Woods.
    I have read a lot of stories about Tiger Woods, but I never heard this one.
    I would love to hear Tiger's thoughts about this.

    Millions of words have been written about Tiger Woods over the years but none have ever led readers down a suburban street in southern California, past a fading 'Authorised Personnel Only' sign at the gates of Navy golf club and into one of the darker corners of sport's most gilded career. It was here, a few hundred yards from Woods' boyhood home, that he, his father Earl and some of his father's friends would meet up every Saturday morning for their weekly game. And it was here the boy genius developed his skills despite the efforts of people who were determined to make his early golfing life as miserable as possible.

    "It was only a small group but they were in a position of power at the club. They had the choice to make life easy for Tiger or make life difficult. They chose the latter path," says Joe Grohman, who was an assistant professional at Navy in the early 90s.

    "Part of the problem was some of the members didn't want a young kid running around the place but it was also because of the colour of his skin. There weren't that many black families in Cypress at that time, remember," says Scott vonEps, who worked in the pro shop.

    "I used to think they treated him badly because they were pricks but the more I think about it they were probably racists, too," says Roger Wells, who was one of the Saturday morning gang.

    Not that you will hear any of these complaints from Woods himself. The world's most famous sportsman is also the world's most reticent when it comes to his personal life and for a long time the Saturday-morning gang were happy to follow his lead. But the death of Earl Woods and the return of Grohman to Navy as the head professional has seen embarrassed silence turned into humble and public apology. "It's just a dark stain on the history of this place that I want to go away," he says. "We want Tiger to know that we are sorry, that we love him and want him to come home."

    The chances of that happening are not good. Woods is a world-class bearer of grudges, although if he has a long memory for those who did him wrong there must be hope he will also remember those who coddled what they now describe as a special talent. Bob Rogers, a retired army officer who was a close friend of Woods Sr, played with Tiger almost every weekend from when the youngster joined the club, aged 10, until he went to college a few years later. He recalls a respectful, polite kid who was mature beyond his years and could hold his own with the older men when it came to trash-talking and, of course, when it came to golf.

    Rogers was a witness to Earl Woods' unique brand of coaching and a willing sacrifice to its effectiveness. "One day I said to Tiger, 'OK, I'm going to match you shot for shot today, Tiger.' I parred the first hole and Tiger birdied it and, as we headed towards the next tee, he walked past me. He didn't even lift his head but I heard this little voice say, 'You're one down.' That was Tiger. He was such a competitive kid," Rogers says with a laugh. "I tell people that I used to kick Tiger Woods' butt . . . until he turned 12."

    He was not alone. All of the Saturday morning crowd took a beating but still they jostled to get into his four-ball. "I had played with some guys who ended up on the tour, so I knew what a good player looked like and, believe me, this kid looked the part," says Wells. "Looking back, it's like a dream to think I played with the best golfer who ever lived."

    At 13 Woods got his handicap down to scratch. At 14 he won his fifth World Junior Championship and a year later became the youngest winner in the history of the US Junior Amateur Championship - impressive landmarks on the steady march to greatness, all the more so because he achieved them against a backdrop of almost daily harassment from a group of club members and employees.

    "They were always worried he was getting something for nothing," recalls vonEps. "If I was working in the shop, they would come and ask me if Tiger had paid for this or that. Tiger never expected anything for free but, dude, if I had anything to do with it, he was getting as much as I could give him. If he bought a $5 range token, I gave him $15 worth of balls. He was the best golfer of his age in history - I wanted him to have endless practice, as much as he could swallow. Do you think all those country-club kids he was playing against in the national championships around the country were sweating over the price of a bucket of range balls?"

    Pettiness heaped upon pettiness. After he won his first US Junior Amateur Championship his mother, Tida, brought a tray of Asian food over to an empty clubhouse for a small celebration party but was turned away. The rule, even for national champions, was that all food eaten on club premises had to be purchased there. One summer Woods got a letter from the club informing him he had to carry a receipt with him at all times because there "had been complaints from club members".

    "I know for a fact that no one else in the club ever got a letter like that," says Grohman. "Tiger showed it to me and asked me, 'Why are they doing this, Joe?'" I didn't know what to tell him. In the end I tried my best to protect him from a lot of stuff by not telling him what was going on."

    Alas, his best was not quite good enough. Shortly after he won the US Amateur Championship for the first time Woods was approached on the driving range by a then club employee who, according to numerous sources, told him he would have to leave because there had been a complaint about an "n word" hitting balls there. "There was no way Tiger was hitting balls into anyone's back garden," says Rogers. "He wasn't a bad enough golfer."

    Grohman was working in the club shop when he found out what had happened. "I ran over to their house. Tiger had already told Earl so, when I walked in to the front room, it was like walking into a funeral," he recalls. "I said I knew a three-star general, an African-American, and I could tell him what was going on. Earl said he didn't want to drag a general into the whole thing and Tiger felt the same. 'That's just the way it is, Joe,' he said."

    This was always Woods' response and, when he was not brushing aside the indignities, he was trying to build bridges. One day Grohman idly mentioned to his young friend that he was embarrassed at the poor quality of the trophies he was forced to give out to the junior members. That afternoon Tida Woods called and said her son had suggested he donate his to the club for the use of the junior section. "She turned up the next day with 297 trophies," Grohman recalls. "Can you think of a 50-year-old who would want to part with his trophies, never mind a 15-year-old?"

    But gestures like that did nothing to thaw the chill. After Woods's first US Amateur title he also offered to display the trophy in the clubhouse. "They just ignored him when they should have been proud to house the Amateur trophy, especially with all the names it had on it, like Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus," says Rogers.

    In all Tiger Woods won the US Amateur three times. The trophy, meanwhile, ended up on display at Big Canyon country club in nearby Newport beach. The management there had heard about the young Tiger's problems at Navy and offered him an honorary membership. Woods, whose family would never have been able to afford the joining fee for a place like Big Canyon, accepted. He returned to Navy for the occasional practice session late in the evening but, when he left for Stanford University, the ties were cut for good.

    For years visitors would never have known the most famous player on earth had spent his formative time at Navy club. There were photographs of other players on the clubhouse walls, of Arnold Palmer and David Toms but not Tiger. Grohman, who has a box of memorabilia, including some of the junior trophies Woods donated, is planning to build a shrine to the memories of the old days - but only the good memories.

    "The other stuff is so ugly that I've never wanted to talk about it before," he says, shaking his head. "But I realise now some good can come out of it if kids in the inner cities were able to see what Tiger was able to overcome. And, if it also helps him realise that he can come home any time he wants, then that's great, too."
  2. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Interesting... solid original take...
  3. nafselon

    nafselon Active Member

    Tiger talked about this a little bit in "Who's Afraid of a Large, Black Man" in an interview with Barkley and Wilbon. He didn't get into great detail, but it's nice to see a story that followed up on it.
  4. txscoop

    txscoop Member

  5. Birdscribe

    Birdscribe Active Member

    This is a good piece by Donegan, who's a solid golf writer. And there are some fresh takes here.

    But it's been sort of done already...

    By Bill Plaschke, on Sept. 6, 2006. I can't post the link because I don't have the time to do it, but if you can get it, read it. Remarkable column about how they can't even post his picture at the Navy Golf Club, where Tiger was repeatedly called the N word.
  6. Simon_Cowbell

    Simon_Cowbell Active Member

    I take the 5500 miles comment back.

    As usual, scribe is dead, solid, perfect....


    One think from both pieces, though: The thought that a 15-year-old Cablinasian boy couldn't be intentionally hitting balls into the back yards of some racists is funny to me.
  7. MileHigh

    MileHigh Moderator Staff Member

    Beat me to it. As usual. ;) I remember reading something very similar to that by Plaschke, but thought it was longer than just last year.
  8. Lion_Woods

    Lion_Woods Active Member

    The fact that Plaschke wrote about it just kills the lede of the story mentioned above. That's one of the problems I had with it, even if Plaschke hadn't written about it. If a story is unique, there is no need in saying it, especially in the lede.
  9. is there anything more disgusting than a racist?
  10. Sportsbruh

    Sportsbruh Member


    Racism doesn't exist anymore.

    I swear I wonder whether tiger is a glutton for punishment.
  11. Simon_Cowbell

    Simon_Cowbell Active Member

  12. Sportsbruh

    Sportsbruh Member

    I was taught WELL!!!

    by people outside of my Beautiful Chocolate Skin.
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