Woods' toughest challenge may prove to be parenthood

April 06, 2007|By JOHN EISENBERG

AUGUSTA, Ga. — AUGUSTA, Ga.-- --To get a glimpse of his future, Tiger Woods just had to glance behind him during the first round of the Masters yesterday at Augusta National.

Playing in the group behind him was Brett Quigley, a 37-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., who had qualified for the Masters for the first time but almost had to withdraw because his first child had the audacity to be born early Wednesday, a little more than 24 hours before he was scheduled to tee off.

As it happened, Quigley flew home in time for his daughter's birth at 2:55 a.m., and then flew back in time to play yesterday, but his harried trip was, if anything, a cautionary tale about what happens to your life when children arrive.

There's no greater joy, but as any parent knows, you should get used to having your own plans disrupted, and in many cases, your concentration shattered. Quigley said it was "hard to leave" and come back to Augusta after the birth, and given what he had been through, it was no surprise that he bogeyed the first hole and shot 76 yesterday.

Woods, playing directly in front of Quigley, didn't have nearly as much on his mind and shot 73 on a day when a steady wind toughened scoring conditions, but fear not, his beloved permanent distraction is coming. He is due to become a father this summer; his wife, Elin, is six months pregnant with their first child.

Renowned for his single-mindedness and focus, Woods, 30, could find fatherhood a more daunting challenge than any of his tour rivals.

Too many athletes are too casual about parenthood's obligations, but Woods, raised by devoted parents, figures to dive in with feeling and genuine zeal. This inevitably raises questions. Will he be able to prepare and focus for tournaments with the same tenacity? Will collecting major titles still be as important to him?

"As important? I don't know," Woods said earlier this week. "But certainly it will be more difficult to try and prepare. Because obviously we're going to have a little one, and it's our responsibility to try and raise it as best we can, and that's going to require a lot of energy. I've never gone through it before, so I don't know how my preparation or my playing schedule will change.

"Obviously our whole priority [will be] to raise our child. That will be our No. 1 priority."

How did No. 1 golfers before Woods fare at this point in their careers? Jack Nicklaus seemingly wasn't affected. He started a family in 1961 at age 21, before he had won a major title as a pro. Within two years, he had collected Masters, U.S. Open and British Open titles.

Tom Watson also seemingly survived the onset of diapers and sleepless nights. He won three majors before he started his family at age 30 in 1979, and then won five majors after that.

"I don't think it changes [your golf] much," Phil Mickelson, a father of three, said about parenthood. "You just have to have better balance of your time."

It will be an adjustment, though, perhaps the toughest Woods has faced. He has played through numerous challenges to his mental state, including his father's death last year. But if he had seen the supremely contented look on Quigley's face after yesterday's 76, he would have seen the embodiment of the changing priorities he will soon experience.

"I'm sure I wasn't as sharp as I would have been if I had stayed here [and missed his daughter's birth]," Quigley said, "but it doesn't matter. I hate to say that, but it was so peaceful out there [on the course]. What an incredible day."

Hundreds of fans and fellow players congratulated him as he made his way through his round. He was still wearing his hospital bracelet and operating on just a few hours of sleep.

"Five or six times out there I was on the verge of tears," Quigley said, because he was thinking about his wife, Amy, and their daughter, Lillian Sage Augusta. (Yes. they added the second middle name because of the timing, Quigley said, claiming Amy said "they had to do it.")

He probably isn't going to make the Masters cut, but he couldn't care less, partly because he is just glad to have played in the Masters after a decade on the PGA Tour, and partly because he now has two girls to go home to.

"I've already changed two diapers," he bubbled.

It's hard to imagine the ultra-serious Woods making similar comments, but make no mistake, we're about to see another side of the best golfer on the planet.

Will it open the door for others? Mickelson smiled when he was asked if he could envision a scenario in which Woods' competitive drive waned.

"No, but I hope it does," Mickelson said. Then he added, "But I don't see that happening."


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