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The Hidden History of Tiger Woods

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, we grow up like our daddy after all,” Paul Fregia, a former executive of the Tiger Woods Foundation, posits in a revealing ESPN article about the former greatest golfer on the planet. “In some respects, Tiger became what he loathed about his father.”

Earl Woods gave his son Eldrick  the name Tiger in honor of one of his close buddies, a South Vietnamese colonel, who served with him in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Earl’s reminiscences about Army life rubbed off on the young Woods, developing in him a keen interest in the military.

After his dad’s death Tiger’s preoccupation with the military, particularly Navy SEALS, intensified. More and more Tiger read about all things military related such as gear, training routines, weapons and strategy, which led to a VIP tour of the Coronado BUD/S compound (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training), where he joined recruits engaged in Navy SEAL training.

According to ESPN senior writer Wright Thomson, SEAL training involves the toughest military training in the world. Classes begin with about 200 students and a mere 15% or less make the grade. Tiger spoke to one class and told them that he dreamed of being a SEAL when he was young.

Although class 259 loved his  advice about mental preparation and focus, they were skeptical when Tiger said he would have been one of them if he hadn’t pursued golf. SEALs witness Olympic medalists, Division I football players, and top ranked triathletes surrender to the arduous training, Thomson points out. Apparently, the 40-year-old golfer’s assertion didn’t make them instant believers.

Tiger recounted that Earl use to say that he would be either a golfer or a special operations soldier. “My dad told me I had two paths to choose from.”

One Navy Seal trainer remarked, “I definitely think he was searching for something…. Most people have to live with their regrets. But he got to experience a taste of what might have been.”

Tiger definitely impressed a few of the elite SEAL members after Woods learned how to clear a room, work corners, and figured out lanes of fire while in training. “He can move through the house,” Ed Hiner, a retired SEAL who led recruit training, observed, “He’s not freaking out. You escalate it. You start shooting and then you start blowing s— up. A lot of people freak out. It’s too loud, it’s too crazy. He did well.”

Another trainer gave Woods high marks after putting him through a combat stress shooting course, which included hauling a 30-pound ammunition box, doing overhead presses with it, countless pushups, hill charging, and shooting mixed in. Although Tiger had difficulty slowing his heart rate down enough to hit the targets, he aggressively attacked the course. “He went all out,” the SEAL said. “He just f—ing went all out.”

The same trainer challenged Woods to a driving contest for his signature to be written on his Taylor Made golf bag, which Tiger’s contract with Nike prohibits him from doing. Tiger agreed to the wager, as trainees and SEALs  gathered around a shooting range. The instructor went first nailing his ball about 260 to 270 yards.

Tiger took the Taylor Made driver from his hands and surprised every one by getting on his knees and then swinging the driver and hitting the golf ball like a baseball bat. He easily out drove the Seal stirring up a good laugh by the both of them.

“Well, I can just shoot you now and you can die,” the trainer joked, “or you can run and die tired.”

Nevertheless, Tiger following the footsteps of his father with his penchant for extramarital affairs shines a light on Earl’s darker influence. Undeniably, it’s at the heart of Tiger’s destruction of his reputation and arguably short circuited one of the greatest PGA careers in the history of the sport.

Tom Callahan’s book about Earl and Tiger, His Father’s Sonchronicles the women in Earl’s life. At one of Tiger’s tournaments in South Africa, Callahan writes that several escorts made it to Earl’s room during the event. He also claims that a “cook” at the 2001 British Open provided sexual favors for Woods Senior,  prompting him to remark, “She sure knows how to keep that potato chip bowl filled up.”

“Tiger’s mad at me,” Earl told  Callahan, after he had gotten into some woman trouble. According to the author, Tiger had to pay to make it go away. The pair did not speak for a while near the end of Earl’s life. Ultimately, Callahan wrote, KuTida Woods, Tiger’s mom, persuaded Tiger to make amends, telling him, ”He’s going to be gone and you’re going to be sorry,” she told him.

Despite Tiger’s multiple affairs during his marriage with former model Elin Nordegren, Wright maintains that Tiger’s sexual bravado was perhaps compensation to his awkwardness around women.

When partying one night with Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan,  Tiger observed how smooth they were around beautiful women. Tiger asked them, ”What do you do to talk to girls?”  Looking at Tiger in shock they advised him to, “Go tell ’em you’re Tiger Woods.”

The bottom-line difference between Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, Thompson suggests, is that Jordan loves the fame and Tiger, although he loves chasing greatness, he hates all the surrounding circumstances fame and greatness brings.

Woods reminds Thompson more of Ted Williams than he does Michael Jordan. The Splendid Splinter started his post career memoir with the sentence “I’m glad it’s over…”

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