Innate Focus Helps Woods Manage It All

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When he smiled, the eight still photographers on the edges of a packed room focused directly on the enamel of Tiger Woods's teeth, interrupting his words with the clamor of click-click-click-click, and the 16 television cameras honed in further. The smiles, each one of them, were wedged into a Tuesday at the AT&T National, and Tuesday at the AT&T National -- the tournament that bears Woods's name, the PGA Tour event for which he serves as host -- follows a night of board meetings and dinners, a morning filled by a golf clinic and a practice round, two hours of meetings with various media, all with a trip to visit veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center still to follow.

Somewhere in there, Woods will get around to doing what he's at Congressional Country Club to do. "Got to win a golf tournament," he said yesterday, alone in a board room on the second floor of Congressional's ornate clubhouse, the competition on the Blue Course still two days off. That would leave enough time to fit in a pro-am tournament at 6:30 a.m. today, an opening ceremony a couple of hours later, a few more meetings, and maybe even a practice session.

By this point in Woods's career -- in the midst of his 13th full season on tour, with 14 major championships and 67 tour victories behind him -- there is no point wondering whether he can handle the relatively mundane task of trying to win a golf tournament while he serves as its host. Of all the traits that have made Woods the world's best golfer and, indeed, one of sport's most recognizable celebrities, the ability to conduct business when it's time to conduct business, to socialize when it's time to socialize, and to play golf when it's time to play golf might be as important as any.

"I've never really had a problem with that," Woods said. "That's the thing. I know some people who have struggled with that. But I haven't."

Now, at 33, Woods has dealt with the pulls of celebrity for his entire adult life. There was a time, though, when he was a celebrity only in the golf world, and a minor one at that. When he enrolled at Stanford in 1995, he was not yet a corporation, but more of a curiosity, a kid who had appeared on "The Mike Douglas Show" and "That's Incredible," full of potential rather than accomplishment. So in college he could focus on the places college kids put their focus.

"You learn time management skills very quickly," he said, "otherwise, you're going to be gone." He separated golf from life and life from golf, even when golf seemed to be his entire life. Now, he applies that on a grander scale.

"He's very methodical," said tour veteran Notah Begay III, Woods's teammate and roommate at Stanford. "He's always been a great student, if you looked at his transcripts and stuff. Those kinds of skills were imparted on him through [his parents] Earl and Tida. So he has a great foundation to work from as far as being able to prioritize.

"And secondly, he has great people around him, and they do such a great job that once he defers projects or responsibilities to them, he doesn't have to worry about them."

Woods's empire is on full display at Congressional, and he even responded to one question during a 30-minute news conference by saying, "I haven't personally looked into it, but I'm sure our staff has." His agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG, and Greg McLaughlin, the president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, walked or drove with him everywhere yesterday, managing a tight schedule crisply and efficiently. This week is enormously important for the foundation, the charity that benefits from the tournament. So Woods is, this week more than others, here as the person who oversees 25 employees at his foundation, another 30 full- and part-timers who work at his Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif., not to mention another small staff at the Tiger Woods Corp.

Yet there is still this matter of the golf.

"Your preparation is a little bit different," Woods said. "Your rhythm is a little bit different. There's a lot more responsibilities this week. But then again, I've been used to it. . . . I've been doing it a while. I understand how to balance out my time, how to reserve energy and be ready to play."

Woods points out that he has, for 11 years, served as host for the Chevron World Golf Challenge, back in his native Southern California. That week, though, comes during December, golf's offseason, when he is not two weeks removed from his last major (the U.S. Open) and two weeks away from another (the British Open at Turnberry in Scotland, a course he has never played). This week is in the heart of the schedule, the only time Woods will play between the two major championships.

"This week," Woods said, "this is a pretty big week."

So Woods will handle its demands. The best part, he said, will be interacting with the members of the military, which he has honored since the AT&T National first came to fruition in 2007. Last year, when he was laid up following surgery to reconstruct his left knee and allow his broken left tibia to heal, he could not even appear at Congressional, instead watching, as he said, "on the couch."

It is when he's at home, in the Orlando suburb of Windermere, Fla., when Woods concentrates most on his off-course obligations, be they the foundation or his corporate responsibilities. They do not, he said, interfere with his preparation for major championships, with his golf. Now, though, home offers yet another potential distraction, because his daughter, Sam, just turned 2, and his son, Charlie, is nearly five months.

"Things just change," Woods said, smiling broadly. "A simple thing of going out to the movies or going out to dinner, it's a task now. We used to just go all the time, whatever, do whatever we wanted to do whenever we wanted to do it. But it's all good."

Those who know Woods well believe the entire package -- his ability to focus on golf when that's what's called for, and to deal with family and business when they need his attention -- has been built over time. Woods became a public figure when he was a teenager, and was a true celebrity at 21, when he won his first Masters. Earl Woods helped found the foundation and oversaw it for a time, but as Earl's health waned -- he died in 2006 -- Tiger had yet another entity for which to devote more time.

"There was a gradual evolution," McLaughlin said. "He came out on tour at 20, and his focus was on playing golf and winning tournaments. And then, I think it was probably a natural evolution that he's come really now to help direct the foundation. There was a transformation, certainly, when his dad became ill, and Tiger had to take more of an active role."

That, then, included the board meeting Monday night, then dinner with the board members and their spouses afterward. Yesterday afternoon, when his media responsibilities were finished, he went to Walter Reed, a reminder, he said, of something more important than golf.

"People forget we're at war," Woods said. "We're at war in two places. All these different things are going on, and there's really no appreciation for what they're doing for us. They're putting their lives on the line."

The veterans will again have Woods's attention today, when some participate in an opening ceremony that will involve a parachute team, a drill team, and two wounded soldiers. But come tomorrow, that attention will be on golf. He was asked if he felt lucky, to be able to seamlessly and naturally balance it all.

"I don't know any other way," he said. A few minutes later, he walked onto the next appointment, the next responsibility, smiling when appropriate.

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