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Everybody Wants a Piece of Woods

August 1, 2000

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Seven-year-old golfer Jamal Gaddis became famous overnight. Not for his game, but because his friends found out he was chosen to play on the same course with Tiger Woods.

``They were all like, `Wow, man, how’d you get to do that?‴ Gaddis said. ``They all wish they were me.″

Gaddis was one of 125 kids selected to be part of the clinic the Tiger Woods Foundation put on Monday.

``This is the biggest thrill of my life,″ said Richard Linehop, 13, of LaPlace. ``He’s everything I want to be. He’s really good at golf and he’s rich. That’s what I hope to do.″

While adults across the city tried to beg, buy or browbeat their way into the clinic, Woods closed the events to the public.

To discourage those hoping to get too close to him, Woods was flanked by his own security men, beginning with a dinner and auction Sunday night that benefited the Tiger Woods Foundation.

On Monday, more than 50 New Orleans police circled the golf course where the clinic was scheduled. Only those with credentials _ golfers, guests and media _ got through the roadblocks and past the fence.

There was little doubt that Woods’ mind was on his work, not his stardom.

By 9:30 a.m., Woods was on the course with 25 youngsters, well away from the reporters and fans.

``I got to see Michael Jordan when he was in New Orleans, now I get to see Tiger Woods,″ said Julian Polk, 11, who has played golf for three years. ``Jordan used to be my favorite in the world. Now, Tiger is.″

Heavy rain and lightning cleared the course about an hour into Woods’ first session. While the kids waiting their turn scrambled for cover with their parents, Woods and the 25 youngsters he had been working with huddled under a tent.

``We had a Q&A session in the tent,″ Woods said. ``They asked a lot of good questions.″

The queries ranged from the British Open to the benefits of meditation. And when the event was forced from the course to the Municipal Auditorium, where 3,500 school kids waited for Woods, the scope widened to include such things as his monthly income, his religion and if he thought there should be more opportunity for female golfers.

``The kids are pretty intelligent,″ Woods said. ``It’s just that a lot of time they’re just too shy to let that inquisitiveness come out. And when you make them feel comfortable, it’s amazing how they relax and everything just flows.″

For an hour, Woods made his audience of youngsters, parents and others comfortable. He fielded questions easily, mixing laugh lines with inspirational messages about what it takes to combine athletics and studies, why rules are important, and how to make the most of life.

Then, taking a golf ball from a kid in the audience, Woods wrapped up the day by repeating his trick of bouncing the ball on the face of a golf club.

``What do I get out of this?″ Woods said. ``Tremendous enjoyment. There’s no dollar amount that you can put on a kid’s genuine smile.″

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