He was still in the crib when the sight of his father knocking golf balls into a net fascinated him. At 2, he putted with Bob Hope on the Mike Douglas Show. At 3, he shot a 48 for nine holes. He was not an ordinary kid with an interest in golf. He was a natural, a prodigy.
He was Tiger Woods.
At 23, Tiger Woods is the top-rated golfer in the world, and he leads the PGA in scoring and all-around play. He doesn't always win, but he's invariably the one to watch. With Woods, you always feel there's the possibility of something remarkable happening--a soaring drive, a miraculous save, some brilliant and unexpected stroke that causes you to rethink the laws of physics. Woods plays golf the way Mozart made music: as if on a divine mission.
"I believe Tiger was blessed with a God-given gift," says Golf Digest senior writer Pete McDaniel, who has been covering Woods since 1994 and who co-wrote Training a Tiger: A Father's Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life (HarperCollins) with Earl Woods. "I admit to being somewhat biased," McDaniel continues, "but I also happen to think I'm right.
"Tiger's creativity as a golfer is unbelievable," says McDaniel. "He has a mind's eye like no one else. And not only is he able to see how to make a difficult shot, but he also has the ability to pull it off. Time and again, I've seen him extricate himself from a situation that looked simply impossible. He also has enormous faith in his abilities. Tiger will learn a new shot one day and have the courage to attempt it in competition the next."
Yet Woods is more than a guy with an uncanny knack. From the beginning, he seems to have understood the weight of his predicament. He's never been just a good golfer--or even a really, really good golfer. He's a standout, a breakaway, an exception to the rule. Not just young, but amazingly young. Not just a talented kid, but a person of color . . . in a traditionally uncolored sport.
Which raises the question, What do you do when the odds are against you, the pressure is on, and all you really want to do is play through? If you're Woods, you go to work. Instead of relying on sheer genius to carry him forward, Woods has been tireless about improving his game. "I'm not saying his [brilliance] is all hard work," says McDaniel. "I could train forever and never even approach his level of ability. But he works very hard to perfect the gifts and talents he's been given. He doesn't take anything for granted."
And Woods accepts that genius is more than a gift or a tool; it's also a responsibility. In 1996, he established the Tiger Woods Foundation to get inner-city kids involved in the game of golf, to support educational and employment opportunities for disadvantaged communities, promote parental involvement in children's lives, and advocate racial harmony and inclusiveness.
This work is obviously important, but perhaps no more important than Woods' continuing determination to play out his own success. Whatever rewards that success brings--celebrity, money, status--maybe none of it matters more than what Woods personifies: Accepting the gifts, life's gifts. And doing everything in your considerable power to honor them.