By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007
At what exact moment did Tiger Woods officially become a Washingtonian? Was it when Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter raised their heads from a murmured conversation outside the Senate chamber to watch him stride through the halls of the Capitol? Was it when Steny Hoyer slapped him on the back like an old pal? Or was it when Nancy Pelosi's son barged into a photo op, getting between his mother and the greatest golfer in the world in her own office? "Okay, I know when I'm not wanted," Madame Speaker said, and for once stepped out of the picture.
Woods came to Washington yesterday to formally announce his role as host of a new PGA Tour tournament, the AT&T National on July 5-8, an event that will bring top-flight golf back to the nation's capital. In addition, Woods announced a long-term philanthropic commitment that will tie him to this area for years to come.
The tournament will serve three purposes for Woods: It is his homage to the armed forces and to his father, Earl Woods, a former Green Beret, with free admission for active service members and a Pro-Am event held on July 4 in his father's name. It is a political springboard for the expansion of the Tiger Woods Foundation, his youth charity. And the funds he raises will be used to build a Washington area Tiger Woods Learning Center, an educational project that teaches schoolchildren about career options. "I think it's a perfect fit," Woods said.
The creation of a marquee PGA Tour event for the nation's capital took place in just two weeks, thanks to a fortunate convergence of an available date, commercial sponsor and the interest of Woods, who specifically pushed for Washington as the locale, according to PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. The result will be a coveted invitational, with a purse of not less than $6 million, rich corporate backing in AT&T and the promise of a strong field, all of which should make it "one of the most prestigious events on the PGA Tour and in all of golf," Finchem said. Of Woods's participation, Finchem added: "He's somebody who has changed the face of golf. To have his direct involvement is unique for the Washington area."
The hectic pace with which the event came together continued yesterday as Woods made an exhausting round of calls that took him from a news conference at the National Press Club, to a meeting with congressional leaders, to the Red Cross headquarters for an evening cocktail party, with only a brief break for a bag lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel.
"The golf side is the easy part," Woods said.
For the most part, Woods carried off his new role as benefactor suavely, dignified and at ease in a charcoal suit. At 31, Woods is no longer a golf prodigy, but a burgeoning businessman and expectant father, whose wife, Elin Nordegren, is due to deliver in early July. Woods called his commitment to the tournament and the expansion of his foundation part of a personal transition from prodigy-dom to maturity.
His father, with whom he launched the foundation, died of cancer last May. It was Earl Woods who pushed his son to establish an educational organization 10 years ago. Woods hopes to grow the foundation from its current state as a one-building learning center in Anaheim, Calif., into a national program, and then a global one.
"The person who I started the foundation with is no longer here, and all of a sudden I'm going to become a father myself," Woods said. "What we're trying to do with the learning center on the Eastern Seaboard, and then on a global scale, it's all gaining momentum. And I just wish my dad could see all this."
Attending Woods's news conference in the front row was Mayor Adrian Fenty, who took a seat just as a banner unfurled showing the Woods Foundation logo, as well as the logo of AT&T. The corporate backing promises the tournament will be one sporting event that doesn't cost the city money, or require a new stadium.
"Not that I know of," Fenty said. "Maybe I should leave while I'm ahead."
From the National Press Club, Woods made his way in a sedan to Capitol Hill, where he had appointments to visit with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Pelosi, as well as across-the-aisle admirers such as John Boehner, the House Republican leader. Woods was taken aback at the level of enthusiasm with which he was greeted as he moved across town. "I'm actually shocked," he said. "I'm shocked at the energy behind it. These guys are pretty busy, they got a lot going on. For them to come out and show this kind of energy is pretty special actually."
On the way to the Capitol in his car, a hungry Woods said, "When can we eat?" He rummaged in a bag in the front seat and seized a cereal bar, and tore open the package. As he ate, Woods explained what lured him to Washington: The capital offered a host city with stature and connections, he suggested, but more than anything, it had an irresistible patriotic draw. Woods's father served two tours in Vietnam.
"Our commander-in-chief says go, and you go," Woods said. "That's what you do as a serviceman or servicewoman, you do your duty and do your job, and whether you're praised for it or not, that's your job and your occupation and that's what you chose."
Father and son started out their charitable enterprise by doing junior golf clinics together when Woods was just a prodigy, he reminisced. But one day he had enough of clinics. "I feel like I'm a circus," he told his father. "I'm here for one week and then gone for 51. We need to have something that kids can touch, bricks and mortars." Woods told his father that he wanted a building, a learning center, in which kids could explore far-flung careers. "I had this whole idea, this whole plan laid out," Woods remembered.
"All right," Earl said. "Go make it happen."
The Tiger Woods Learning Center, a $25 million project, opened in Anaheim in February 2006. It was launched with $6 million of seed money from Woods, and was stocked with computer equipment and other learning tools. Woods, who spent two years at Stanford, contends that education is his second great interest in life. When his playing days are over, it will be his chief one, he said.
"Without a doubt, when I retire that's all I'm going to do. I was raised in a household in which, if I did not have my homework done, I could not go play or practice, or go play with my friends," he said. "I couldn't do any of those activities unless I had my homework done. It was always school first."
The car arrived at the Capitol, and Woods, coatless, climbed out into a light snow. "This isn't Florida," he said, hunching as flakes fell on his shoulders, and gazed up at the white marble edifice.
Woods made his way inside, surrounded by a phalanx of publicists, aides and security guards. At first, he passed through the building almost unnoticed by sightseers and schoolchildren, who were preoccupied by the bronze and marble statuary and oil portraits of founding fathers. He was half way across the Rotunda when a schoolboy suddenly realized who had just passed him by.
"Tiger Woods is here," the boy said.
"Oh, sweet," said another.