Profile of a Champion: Changing His Stripes

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While not exactly withdrawn, the young Tiger had a serene concentration. "He was a very calm individual," says John Anselmo, 78, who began coaching Tiger when he was 10. "He seemed to understand everything in life. Everything we talked about he absorbed." Tiger dabbled in team sports, but "the only [other] sport I truly loved competing in was track and cross-country. For some reason I loved it--I'm sorry, I liked it. I loved golf." He was nearly as assiduous as a student. "I never had to ask Tiger to practice," says Earl, "and I never had to ask him if he had his homework done."

By the time he entered Stanford in 1994, Woods had won the first of his three straight U.S. Amateur titles, but there were volleyball players who were better known on campus. Woods loved it. "Anonymity was one of the best things about being at Stanford," he says. "I was sort of a lower-tier athlete." One college roommate, Yves Zinggeler, remembers that Woods "was a humorous guy who liked to have fun and go out on weekends"; he dated a couple of women, but "he wasn't a skirt chaser." He watched The Simpsons religiously and cued up videotapes of PGA tournaments. He made his bed, of course; but as a sophomore, when Tiger lived in a suite with Zinggeler and four other students, "he would get McDonald's and leave the remnants lying around all the time." And Tiger never paid his full share of the phone bill.

Still, he was a bighearted guy who offered friends his car keys and inquired about their classes and career goals. Though Woods, an economics major, left school after two years, he has promised his parents that he will get his degree. He told TIME that he is looking into finishing his undergraduate requirements through a University of California online-learning program. "I'd like to be able to do that," he says. "We'll just have to see if it's realistic or not."

After leaving Stanford, Woods electrified the PGA Tour. He joined the Tour in late August of 1996 and immediately won two tournaments that fall. He signed $60 million worth of deals with Nike, Titleist and others. And he became miserable.

At 20 he was suddenly living alone, in his own place near Orlando. "I feel completely overwhelmed," he told a Stanford friend after his first pro tournament. Just before the 1997 Masters, an article in GQ quoted him telling a stream of off-color, racist and homophobic jokes. Woods thought the remarks had been off the record. Once burned, he has been cool with reporters ever since.

Woods was unprepared for the crush of attention that accompanied his astonishing debut. He had difficulty making friends with other players. "He couldn't walk anywhere without being mobbed," says golfer Lee Janzen. "So he didn't spend any time in the locker room. Most of us didn't even get the chance to see him." The spotlight was blinding, Woods says. "It was a big change in my life. I turned pro, and suddenly, overnight, people knew who I was. I felt uncomfortable with it. There I was enjoying dinner with family and friends, and to have people run up to you and want to talk to you and have your picture taken or get your autograph--I didn't think it was right for people to do that."

There was also the unavoidable issue of race. It had been decades since race played so integral a part in an athlete's career. But here was an Afro-Asian American dominating golf, traditionally the whitest of games. "Tiger is totally aware of [race] because he's been taught from the get-go that he's got to be above reproach or he's going to get it," Earl says. "In our society, whites and non-whites have not been equal, and they aren't equal now. Do you realize there are people out there trying to dig up dirt on Tiger? Do you think they're out there trying to dig up dirt on Jack Nicklaus? Give me a break."

Tiger takes a more muted, progressive view of race relations--and of his own identity. "It is kind of neat to be able to be raised in two cultures and understand them both and fit in," he told TIME. "In this country I'm a minority, but around the world I'm treated a little bit differently. We would be ignorant to say racism doesn't exist. But I think things are changing, and changing for the good."

By the beginning of 1998, Woods was so fatigued that some associates worried about burnout. "I told him, 'You're not enjoying your life right now. You need to refocus,'" says Greg Nared, a friend who manages Tiger's business affairs for Nike. Just as he began to reinvent his golf swing, Woods redrew his inner circle--dumping his lawyer, his caddie and his agent. The new Team Tiger pared down Woods' commitments and began reshaping his image. "We had an in-depth discussion about humanizing him, changing the perception that he was out on an island and untouchable," says Steinberg. The early Nike ads, which depicted Tiger as foremost a racial pioneer, were replaced with spots that showed Tiger juggling a golf ball on a wedge and then knocking it into oblivion, to the rhythm of a salsa track.

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