Father's love driving force

June 15, 2006|By RICK MAESE

Mamaroneck, N.Y. -- Tiger Woods always seemed destined for something great, something much bigger than a person or a game or a 500-yard hole that doglegs right. His father memorably told Sports Illustrated that Woods would "do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity."

A bit more grandiose than just blasting out of the sand to save par, don't you think?

But what was that something? How would Woods transcend sports? By attracting more young people to the game? Becoming a role model for minorities? Having his image synonymous with the Swoosh?

Woods takes aim at a third U.S. Open title when he tees off today in the tournament's opening round at Winged Foot Golf Club - the greatest player taking on one of the greatest courses. Though 48 tour victories and 10 major wins are certainly impressive, a trophy doesn't really affect humanity.

But there is something that distinguishes Woods from so many athletes, and by now I fear it hits our ears like a broken record, which really is too bad.

"The love that we shared for one another and the respect that we had for one another was something that's pretty special," Woods said this week of his father, Earl, who died six weeks ago. "It really is."

You've heard similar pronouncements from Woods since we first met the father-son team more than a [Please see MAESE, 8E] decade ago. So rather than examine Woods' comments, let's think about what we hear from other athletes. Has any high-profile athlete ever spoken so lovingly and tenderly of his father?

Not really. What you often hear are athletes talking about their mothers, about buying them that first house, about moving them to a new neighborhood. But their fathers? Not so much.

We're not talking about a sports problem, but a societal one. And it pains me to see an athlete who was raised by just his mother grow up to father children by different women in different cities, somehow thinking fatherhood is tied to a monthly check and his anytime minutes.

The problem is cyclical. If you were to poll inmates in a jail or prison, you'd find a lot of young men who grew up without fathers, men who are now forcing their own children to do the same.

This cycle has repeated itself too many times. Someone needs to let young boys know - heck, let grown men know - what the role of a father should be. As with so many social ills, the sports arena can be the perfect classroom. And Tiger Woods is in position to be a great teacher.

He knows what it meant to have a father around every day. Sentimental, sappy and infinitely important.

"To have had my dad in my life and have him be that supportive and that nurturing, it's pretty cool," Woods said earlier this week, "because obviously there are times when I would have easily gone down the wrong path, but Dad was always there."

Dad was always there. That's something every young boy and girl should be able to say, and something every adult man who grew up with a different reality should want to hear.

Earl Woods was always there. When his son played his first U.S. Open in 1995, the golfer was just a lanky 19-year-old who could shoot his weight and still post a decent score. Dad was there, chatting on the putting green, walking the course, watching from the back of the interview room. Sometimes golf was the topic of conversation, and sometimes it was just the stage for conversation.

Woods wrote in the foreword of his father's book: " ... golf for me was an apparent attempt to emulate the person I looked up to more than anyone: my father. He was instrumental in helping me develop the drive to achieve."

There's a new Nike commercial that plays like an unlocked time capsule. It features intimate photographs and grainy video footage of Woods and his father. The two golfing together, laughing together. Their arms often draped around each other.

It could be any father and son and the images would be moving. But it's Tiger, and it's Earl.

Woods hasn't played publicly since the Masters more than two months ago. After his father died, he didn't pick up a club for a month. And then when he did start swinging again, Dad was still there.

As is tradition, the final round of this year's U.S. Open will take place on Father's Day. It's a day that was important to the Woods family. When the golfer was younger, he would shoot an early round with his dad before the pair would come home and watch the Open together.

It will always be a part of U.S. Open lore. But the day is bigger than golf, just as Tiger Woods is bigger than golf.

Of all that Woods has already accomplished in his career, nothing impresses me more than what he managed in his personal life, long before he got paid a single dollar to swing a golf club.

I don't really care if Woods attracts more inner-city youths to the neighborhood municipal course; I don't care if he sells 1,000 Nike sun visors; and I don't care if he's more recognized than McDonald's Golden Arches.

But I'm beginning to agree with his father's bold prediction: Tiger Woods can have a profound impact on humanity. And if he does, it will have nothing to do with his golf swing and everything to do with the man who taught it to him.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog

Today-Sunday, Mamaroneck, N.Y. TV today: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., ESPN; 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., chs. 11, 4; 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., ESPN.

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