Earl D. Woods; Father, Mentor of Golf Great

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 4, 2006

Earl D. Woods, 74, the fairway father who stoked his son Tiger's ambition as a master golfer and was fond of making bold pronouncements that the athlete would one day outdo Buddha, Gandhi and Mandela in world influence, died May 3 at his home in Cypress, Calif. He had prostate cancer.

A retired Army lieutenant colonel, Earl Woods served with the Green Berets during the Vietnam War and said he used prisoner-of-war interrogation techniques to sharpen his son's focus on the game. This included dropping golf clubs to break his son's concentration in the middle of a swing or shouting obscenities.

"He'd stop, turn around and grit his teeth," Col. Woods told People magazine. "I'd say, 'Are you posing or are you going to play? Why don't you play the game and stop being the little pretty boy.' "

He said he began to back off when his son was hardened to his satisfaction and then encouraged him to be "a good person," not just a star golfer.

Col. Woods said he first became aware of his son's potential when, at 10 months, Tiger could mimic his father's golf swing. Believing his son could be the "first black intuitive golfer ever raised in the United States," he became his son's chief promoter and had 2-year-old Tiger show off on such national television programs as "The Mike Douglas Show" and "That's Incredible!" and play in exhibitions with Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus.

Media attention grew with Tiger Woods's victories, notably when in 1997 he became the first black man to win the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Just 30 years old, he has won 10 major championships, fourth behind Nicklaus, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones.

Tiger Woods has accumulated more than $70 million in career earnings and corporate endorsements. His father, however, was known for the most extravagant endorsements of his son.

He told Sports Illustrated magazine that Tiger was "the Chosen One" who by virtue of his mixed race -- Col. Woods was black, his wife Asian -- "will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity."

He added that when his son met the South African leader Nelson Mandela, "It was the first time Tiger met a human being who was equal to him, who was as powerful as Tiger is. . . . Mandela told Tiger that he had a lot to give the world. He saw himself in Tiger."

In contrast to his father, Tiger Woods has been aggressively subdued in manner, silent on politics and protective of his private life. This reserve has protected his endorsements and made him, in the eyes of many, a starkly different figure from outspoken sports greats and social movers of the past, such as Muhammad Ali.

Earl Dennison Woods was born in Manhattan, Kan., on March 5, 1932. Orphaned by his early teens, he attended Kansas State University on a baseball scholarship -- his father had hoped he would play in the Negro Leagues -- and became one of the first blacks to play baseball in the Big Eight Conference.

When the team traveled, its members had to stay at separate hotels because of Jim Crow laws. Life after graduation was not much easier, Woods recalled. He joined the Army but was sent to Columbus, Ga., on an early posting.

He told the Associated Press: "Four of us were walking down the street, two black, two white, just window shopping, enjoying ourselves, and all of a sudden the police came up and threw us against the wall, handcuffed us, put us in the wagon and drove us to the jail. We were fined for disturbing the peace -- 32 dollars and five cents. Blacks and whites weren't supposed to mix in public, that was our crime."

After doing Army public affairs work in Brooklyn, N.Y., he signed up for the Special Forces. He went on to serve two tours in Vietnam, during which time relations with his first wife, Barbara Hart Woods, and their three children grew strained.

While stationed in Thailand, he met the woman who became his second wife, Kultida Punsawad. Their only child, Eldrick, was born in 1975 and nicknamed Tiger after a South Vietnamese army officer who saved Col. Woods's life in combat.

After his 20-year military career, Col. Woods settled in the Orange County community of Cypress and became a materials manager for McDonnell Douglas. He retired in 1988 and looked after many of his son's interests and philanthropies, including the Tiger Woods Foundation that provides educational grants.

With Pete McDaniel, he wrote "Training a Tiger: A Father's Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life" (1997).

The elder Mr. Woods stayed in the old family home in Cypress and courted media attention. His wife moved into a gated community in nearby Tustin, Calif.

She survives, as does Tiger Woods, of Windermere, Fla.; three children from his first marriage, Earl Woods Jr. of Phoenix, Kevin Woods of Los Angeles and Royce Woods of San Jose; a sister; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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