Tiger Woods Makes Golf Cool for Youngsters
TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Thirty-five years ago the fairways shook beneath the thundering feet of Arnie’s Army. Today the new wave of fans sweeping over golf courses could be called Tiger’s Teens.
The sudden success of the 20-year-old Woods in his first two months as a professional has focused attention on golf in a way unseen since Arnold Palmer proved to be the perfect partner for golf’s marriage with the relatively new media of television.
The difference this time is that Woods _ barely removed from being a teen-ager himself _ appears to be drawing teens and pre-teens to the game in astonishing numbers.
Suddenly, kids see golf as cool, not as an old-fogey game played by elderly men in ugly plaid pants.
Nick Perez, 13, was watching Woods play a practice round Wednesday for the elite Tour Championship at Southern Hills Country Club. It was the first time Perez had attended a professional golf tournament.
``Man, it’s just incredible that he’s been able to do so well,″ Perez said. ``I’ve been following him the whole day.″
This new wave of fans is drawn by a player whose perfectly crafted, graceful swing routinely powers the ball 40 yards farther than anyone else’s. Woods stalks the course wearing an icy stare of concentration, then erupts with the fist-pumping, shouting enthusiasm of a kid when a key putt drops.
``He’s just so cool,″ said 12-year-old Derek Dickson, attending the tournament with his school’s 30-member golf club. ``It’s really neat that someone his age can beat everybody.″
And that is exactly what Woods has done.
Since turning professional Aug. 27 after winning an unprecedented third consecutive U.S. Amateur Championship, Woods has played in seven PGA Tour events, winning two, finishing third twice, fifth once and 11th once.
The only event in which he did not have a chance to win was his very first tournament, when exhaustion from all the attention contributed to a 60th-place finish.
He has won $734,794 in just seven events _ ranked 23rd on the PGA Tour money list against players who have played as many as 29 tournaments.
When he tees off today in the Tour Championship, the season-ending event limited to the top 30 money winners on tour, he will be playing against Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, two of the top names on the PGA Tour, for the first time.
Woods, whose father is black and whose mother was born in Thailand, is well aware of his role as a pioneer in a game that is overwhelmingly white on a professional level.
``If I keep progressing in golf, I could help golf bring more minorities into the game and make it more diverse,″ Woods said after practice.
``But also there is the impact on kids. I think that has been my biggest impact. I love doing clinics for them. All you have to do is look into the crowds to see how many more of them there are out here.″
While it is too early to tell whether more children are playing golf or watching it on television, all it takes is a quick look at the crowds to see Woods’ effect.
Dozens of young faces press against the gallery ropes, small hands offering pens to Woods and pleading for an autograph.
``Most of us messed around with other sports in high school,″ PGA champion Mark Brooks said. ``Tiger has focused only on golf. If he gets other kids to do that, it will have a tremendous impact on the game.″
Joshua Steveson, an 11-year-old member of the Metro Christian Academy, shook his closely cropped blonde hair and gave a clue to another reason Woods may be drawing young fans to the game.
``Just think of all the money he’s made,″ Steveson said. ``Just for playing golf.″