Earl always supported Tiger

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

There is a story that Earl Woods told on occasion that probably describes best his relationship with his famous son. The narration sometimes varied but the essence remained true.

"When Tiger left for Stanford, he had never had a drink in his life," Earl said in a 2001 interview. "He came home at Thanksgiving and I was in bed watching TV and drinking a Pepsi.

"Tiger said, 'What are you drinking, Pop?' I told him and he said, 'Give me that.' He went and fixed himself a drink and one for me, too. He then came back in the room and said 'Pop, let's go for a walk.' We walked down to the little park down the street and Tiger said, 'I just wanted to share this first drink with you. This is the first drink we've ever had, the two of us.'

"And we sat there and talked and talked and talked. One of the most beautiful moments of my life."

It is just a tiny snapshot of one of sport's all-time famous father-son relationships, a relationship that no doubt will live on for Tiger despite his father's death yesterday, at the age of 74, after a long battle with cancer.

BEST FRIEND

"My dad was my best friend and greatest role model," Tiger Woods said in a statement published on his web site. "He was an amazing dad, coach, mentor, soldier, husband and friend. I wouldn't be where I am today without him."

Long before Tiger was born, Earl had lived an amazing life. As a kid growing up in the 1930s and '40s in Manhattan, Kan., he was the first of his colour to play on white baseball teams in the area.

His mother's desire that he get an education overrode his father's wish that he play professional baseball in the old Negro Leagues.

"I knew that it was a dead-end street because there was nothing for me in baseball after college," Woods said in a 2002 interview with The Observer. "Because of my race, I wasn't eligible to play in the major leagues."

A catcher, he was the only black player on his Kansas City State University team and the only black in the Big Eight.

Road trips were lonely affairs for the teenager because he couldn't stay in the same hotels with his teammates. Graduation provided no escape from segregation. He joined the army and his first posting was in Columbus, Ga.

"There was one incident I'll never forget," Woods told The Observer. "Four of us were walking down the street, two black and two white, just window-shopping, enjoying ourselves when all of a sudden the police came up and threw us against the wall, handcuffed us, put us in the paddywagon and drove us to jail.

"We were fined for disturbing the peace -- $32.05. Blacks and whites weren't supposed to mix in public. That was our crime."

As a career soldier, Woods rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and had two tours of duty in Vietnam in the elite Green Beret unit. It was there that he fought beside a brave soldier named Vuong Dang Phong, a fierce fighter who Earl nicknamed Tiger.

Divorced from his first wife, Earl met Kultida Punsawad in Bangkok, Thailand. They were married in 1969 and when their only child, Eldrick, was born on Dec. 30, 1975, Earl insisted he be called Tiger, to honour his army buddy.

LEGEND

Much has been said and written about Earl Woods as a domineering "stage-father" who pushed his son into golf, riding him mercilessly. Most of it is untrue.

As the legend goes, Tiger used to sit in his high-chair in the family garage watching his dad practise golf, hitting balls into a net. When Tiger was 10 months old, Earl put a tiny putter in his son's hands. The boy grabbed a ball and whacked it into the net.

At two, he was featured on the Mike Douglas Show. By the time he was four, Tiger was playing real golf on real courses. The rest is history.

"It was never a matter of forcing Tiger," Earl said. "Everything came from him. I tried to interest him in other sports. I introduced him to baseball and he said no thanks, because it interfered with his golf. In cross-country, he joined the school team and within two weeks he was No. 2 man on his team. But he quit that because it interfered with golf. He chose golf. I never pushed him."

He was just there for his son, always.


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