Read an Excerpt
Raising the Bar
The Championship Years of Tiger Woods
By Tim Rosaforte
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Tim Rosaforte
All rights reserved.
Robert Walker, the golf photographer, was walking past a laundry on the lower west side of Manhattan in the winter of 1997. It was one of those raw February weekend afternoons in the city, but there was an unmistakable warmth emanating from the small black and white television set. Gathered around, Walker saw black people, Asian people and Hispanic people, all of them transfixed on the image they were seeing on the TV screen. This was not basketball or football they were watching. This was the new fascination. This was Tiger Woods.
Walker only wished he had his camera. The scene reminded him of a clip NBC used to air before its World Series telecasts, a series of vignettes of people from all over the country — gathered around their TV sets in garages and bars, living rooms and country farms — listening to the call of the game. It was almost as if that setting depicted a twenty-first-century picture of the new national past time.
Tiger was in the midst of a final-round 64 that would come one stroke short of stealing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am title from Mark O'Meara, his Orlando neighbor and surrogate big brother. It was the day Woods hit a thundering second shot over the sea wall and onto the 18th green, an Olympian gesture that was as unequivocal as a Michael Jordan slam-dunk. A new hero was being born, and in two more months, he would complete the first phase of his dynasty by winning the Masters by 12 strokes.
"For some reason I recall the TV being black and white," says Walker. "Maybe it wasn't black and white, but it seemed to be black and white because it is a black and white kind of image — a have and have-not kind of thing. I found it very compelling that you had this game which is constantly referred to as a 'rich man's game' being paid attention to by this poor segment of society."
* * *
Alrick Washington grew up in the underside of Oklahoma City. His parents divorced when he was four. He remembers his mother raising him and his sister in an apartment along with three other families. There were 13 people in this house, four mothers and nine kids just trying to survive. Sometimes the power company would turn the electricity off. Sometimes there wasn't enough food to feed them all. And when his mother, Beatrice, could no longer support him, she shipped him off to his grandmother, Clovee. Growing up in this environment made Alrick want more. Much, much more.
He played quarterback on the football team, guard on the basketball team and shortstop on the baseball team, but at 5'4" and barely 140 pounds little Alrick Washington wasn't going to play pro sports. He ended up at Southwestern Oklahoma State, where he earned degrees in math and computer science, and played college baseball.
Golf was never on his radar screen. "If it wasn't the Cowboys and Tony Dorsett," he remembers, "I'd be flipping the channel." But in April 1997, something changed. Football season was over, and he was working the clicker when he saw this 20-year-old black kid in total command of himself and the situation at Augusta National Golf Club, the deepest-rooted, old-school club in the South.
That experience motivated him to buy a set of clubs at a garage sale, and he went from computer programmer to consultant in the electronic data field, billing by the hour. He put away enough money to buy a house for himself (and one for his momma, too) in a guard- gated community in Arlington Heights, Texas.
In his back yard, Alrick Washington has a six-hole putting green with a sand trap and a chipping station. If he's not working, you can usually find Alrick there with his three sons, Todd, Rayshod and Garland.
"Like 90 percent of the blacks playing recreational golf, it was Tiger who influenced me to play," he says. "When I saw him win the Masters in 1997, I thought, 'Man, I'm going to try this golf thing.'"
The "golf thing" has been addicting. He reads Golf World cover-to-cover and is always watching the Golf Channel with his son Garland. When Tiger comes on screen, little Garland always says, "There's my boy!" The kid's already swinging dad's clubs, and he'd rather watch the morning replay of Viewer's Forum than cartoons.
The Washington Boys are doing better than daddy did in that apartment with the four single mothers and nine kids in Oklahoma City. Little Garland's got golf-themed wallpaper and a set of U.S. Kids Clubs in his room; pictures of Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan on his wall; and the same love for the game as his father.
"If you could see this kid, it's scary," says Alrick.
The old man isn't too bad, either. Four years after taking up the game, he's down to a 4 handicap and playing the Hogan forged irons. Business is so good that he can afford to visit the Jim McLean Golf School at the Doral Resort & Spa in Miami. Through golf, he is meeting people that he never thought he'd meet. Like the day at Doral when Greg Norman flew in on his helicopter, and McLean introduced him to Washington.
He is not Tiger Woods. He is Alrick Washington. He represents the changing face of golf in this country.
* * *
Michael Wilbon, sports columnist for The Washington Post, is in his office on Fifth Street in downtown D.C., on February 7, 2000. Tiger was coming off a record-setting year in which he won ten times worldwide, earned over $6 million, and nearly $40 million more in off-course endorsements. He had won a Masters and PGA Championship, and he had worked his way through a "slump," a swing change, and a metamorphosis in his public persona. It's the Monday that Tiger has come from seven strokes back with seven holes to play to trample rookie Matt Gogel and win the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Wilbon has the genesis of something working on his computer screen, but there's a breaking story and Wilbon is getting ready to craft a new piece. The phone rings, and Wilbon immediately recognizes the voice. He's got his column. It's a slam dunk.
"I've got goose bumps," says Michael Jordan. "Can you believe that? I'll tell you what else — I'm ticked off that I missed it. I'm ticked off because I was supposed to be there, front and center, watching it first hand, right there by his side when he was doing it. But I knew if I was there [as Woods's amateur partner] you guys would have killed me in the paper for not being on my new job."
Jordan, a total golf junkie, a man who isn't warmed up until it's the third 18, has just taken over as president of the Washington Wizards. It is a job that's definitely cut into his golf schedule. Michael was scheduled to be Tiger's partner in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am but WDed at the last minute, leaving Tiger to play with his college teammate, Jerry Chang. Jordan, the man Woods emulated, is in awe. Total awe.
"You see the way he creates negative thoughts in his opponents' minds?" Jordan says. "What he's got is confidence that borders on being cocky ... Intimidation can be so successful. Tiger has that. And once it gathers, it takes so much to break it. I think that in an individual sport, it can have a greater impact than a team sport. I still had to rely on teammates, on four other guys at any one given time. With Tiger it's just him against the course. In some respects, he's in more control than I was."
* * *
John North, a service manager at Arrigo Dodge in West Palm Beach, Florida, is not a golf fan. He's a Dale Earnhardt man, not a David Duval man, and nothing against Tiger Woods, but Richard Petty was and will always be king. Still, there was something about Tiger's performance in the U.S. Open that hooked him, that got him fired up the way Darrell Waltrip gets him fired up.
"I have to admit, I couldn't stop watching it," he says. "I know there was no drama, but I had a sense that I was watching history. You couldn't pull me away from it. At one point my wife came in the room and said, 'Since when did you start watching golf? The only sport you watch on TV is stock car racing.'"
* * *
Tommy Roy, the executive producer for NBC Sports, left Pebble Beach on Sunday night and flew to Los Angeles for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. He knew he had just been at the controls for something special, something he'd never probably see again. But the full impact of it wasn't really clear until he arrived at the Staples Center on Monday night. It was there in a totally different environment that Roy was surrounded by basketball people who had never before considered themselves golf people. These were people that Tommy had seen around NBA arenas for years. And what they had to tell Tommy was that, like John North the NASCAR fan, they couldn't get up from the TV set on that Sunday. They sat there and watched the entire telecast, all six and a half hours of it. And when it was over, they had been converted, just as John North had been converted on the other side of the country in West Palm Beach.
* * *
"I'm speaking to this as the son of a golf pro," said Roy. "Golf didn't used to be cool. It was all about playing football, baseball and basketball. Golf was not cool and this kid has made golf cool, no doubt about it."
* * *
Paul Spengler, general chairman of the 100th U.S. Open and senior vice president of golf development for the Pebble Beach Company, was telling this story outside the press tent at the British Open: "There's a husband and a wife who were attending the U.S. Open on Thursday. The man's in a handicap golf cart given out by the United States Golf Association. The woman's obviously a big Tiger Woods fan. The man's riding on the cart path by the sixth green, and in the crush of the crowd, he gets tipped over. There's a big commotion. The man requires medical attention. The paramedics arrive and the woman apologizes ...
"'As soon as Tiger finishes the round,' she tells him, "I'll meet you at the hospital.'"
* * *
Former vice president Dan Quayle was one of a record 130,000 spectators who witnessed Tiger Woods complete the career grand slam at the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews. Quayle was the No. 2 man on the DePauw University golf team, so he understood the game on the competitive level. He was struck more than anything by the regal and efficient manner in which Tiger Woods went about his business: taking no practice swings, standing over the ball for what seemed like no time at all, sending these lasers out over the Old Course. More than anything, he felt the aura of domination that Woods cast over that sacred, holy ground.
"You can't pick it up on television," remarked Quayle. "But he's so majestic, so confident. It's just so apparent in his walk, the way he carries himself. If he was hitting a shot, many times players on a parallel hole would stop to watch him. I thought, isn't this interesting? They're there watching this fellow. They know where he is, not just on the leader board, but on the golf course."
* * *
Tom Fazio, the golf course architect and the man put in charge of "Tiger proofing" Augusta National, was on a Colorado vacation with his wife at Beaver Creek the day Tiger won the British Open. She wanted to go hiking but he wanted to watch Tiger make history at St. Andrews. Eventually, they reached a compromise: Tom would go to the resort's health club with his wife, walk on a treadmill, look at the mountains, and watch the Open on the gym TV. Like the millions who watched in the United States that Sunday morning, the Fazios couldn't pull themselves away from the telecast.
"This goes on for two hours and she's worn out," says Fazio a month later. "She wants to go. No, I tell her, I can't leave, it's not over yet. So I pick up the smallest barbell, start exercising with it. Two days later I can't move my arm. I've got tennis elbow from watching Tiger win the British Open."
Fazio laughs. He is in the kitchen of his home in Asheville, North Carolina, making breakfast for his family. He's talking about the impact Tiger has had not only on golf, but in his community. "I've got six children and they've all gone to public school," Fazio says. "So I see a lot of different kids. And what I see in the young people today is that they're almost being nonprejudicial in all phases. It's different than the era we grew up in. In Tiger Woods's case, it's one more piece that helps that situation. He transcends all races."
* * *
Barry Van Gerbig, president of Seminole Golf Club, watched Tiger Woods win the U.S. and British Opens from his summer home in the Hamptons. Van Gerbig grew up hanging around Seminole with Ben Hogan, and knew Jack Nicklaus back in the days when Nicklaus was doing what Tiger Woods is doing today. Admittedly, Van Gerbig may have been a little tough on Tiger when he first came out, but so were most of the game's traditionalists. They thought Tiger was a little over the top on his celebratory acts, that he basically needed to study Hogan and Nicklaus a little closer to see how to act as a professional.
Now, what Van Gerbig sees in Woods is something incredibly different. He sees a stoicism, a toned-down Hoganesque sort of demeanor that defines the manner of a true champion. He sees a Nicklaus-like tactician who knows not only how to win, but lose, with honor and dignity. "Tiger is overwhelming the game, and he's overwhelming the golf community, and he's doing it in a way that has tremendous grace," says Van Gerbig. "I'm mesmerized by it."
Van Gerbig used to be of the school that credited Butch Harmon as the reason for this transformation, but the more he sees Tiger, the more he realizes that what Tiger has can't be taught, that it's not what some of his critics labeled a painted-on image. This was the real deal here, a once-in-a-life experience, a young man who just needed some time to grow.
"You can't teach class," says Van Gerbig. "You can prompt and you can tutor, but somewhere deep in this young man's soul he's got class. I am totally impressed with this guy."
* * *
George Burger, general chairman for the 2000 Presidents Cup and 7-handicap at Robert Trent Jones GC in Manassas, Virginia, is having dinner two nights after Tiger won the PGA Championship, at the Sheraton Suites Hotel in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Burger is in town for the NEC Invitational, a $5 million tournament that Woods won at Firestone GC in 1999 to begin his six-tournament PGA Tour win streak. The NEC brings together Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup participants, and Burger is a friend of PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who worked in Washington politics before he switched careers and was fast-tracked to his present position as czar of professional golf.
Burger, who was schooled at Georgetown, serves as a consultant to government figures, so he knows how images are constructed and how they play to the public. He wonders how the International Management Group is going to manage this phenomenon, if they'll have Tiger go to the Oscars or the MTV Awards, if he'll eventually take on a greater cause than the Tiger Woods Foundation, if he would throw himself behind an NAACP or a National Black College Fund.
Can you imagine, Burger asks, what a day's worth of Tiger's phone time could mean to a worthy cause. Then the subject gets around to the prophesizing of Earl Woods, who long ago felt he was training the Chosen One, the one who would do things for the world far beyond the limitations of golf.
It makes Burger think about the shot Tiger skipped off the cart path, under the trees and up the ramp of the 17th green at Valhalla, to save par on the 74th hole of the PGA. Maybe the kid can't walk on water, but he has mystical powers, the greatest smile in the world, an intelligence that the Washington operative sees as borderline genius, and what seems like an open passage to the world's heart.
"The guy's become bigger than life," he says. How big? What's his potential? Burger doesn't hesitate. "Could be as big as Martin Luther King," he says.
* * *
David Fay, executive director of the United States Golf Association, was in his office at USGA Headquarters in Far Hills, New Jersey, after Tiger Woods finished out his summer with victories at the NEC Invitational and Canadian Open. It was an election year, and that got people to thinking, provoked their consciousness, made them think ... what if? What if Tiger Woods ran for president? Would he not be a good candidate, maybe better than the choices? Stanford educated. Understanding of the corporate world. Able to make the tough decisions. A good delegator of responsibilities. If anything, he was overqualified for the office.
"He's clearly a special human being, and he's got talents that go far beyond doing tricks with a golf ball," said Fay. "It s a matter of how he wants to harness his energies or focus his energies. Can he make a difference in the global arena, in the human arena? I think he can."
Excerpted from Raising the Bar by Tim Rosaforte. Copyright © 2000 Tim Rosaforte. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.