Tiger Woods's Helping Hand

The first hint that a force of nature was about to wallop the Tour came courtesy not of the Mike Douglas Show but of a film session in a tidy Stanford dorm room in 1996. Woods had invited his teammates over to watch golf, but they soon learned he had more than that in mind.

"He had this huge library of tapes," says Dave Garcia, who works in corporate finance in the Silicon Valley and was a senior when Woods was a sophomore. "He had the '91 Ryder Cup, the '93 Ryder Cup, all the majors. He'd rewind, fast-forward, slow-mo, point out everything that was wrong with everyone's swing. His attention to detail was just amazing. These were guys like Faldo, Lehman, Norman, and I'm thinking, Tiger, what are you talking about? These are the best in the world! I knew he was playing a different game than the rest of us."

Woods reminded us again of that fact when he defeated Stewart Cink in sudden-death at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. Woods' fourth victory in his last four starts came on the 10-year anniversary of his turning pro. GOLF MAGAZINE caught up with his old teammates and coach, plus the Cardinal's new coach and even an incoming recruit, to see what they make of his success.

"Notah [Begay] probably rubbed off on Tiger," says former Stanford golf coach Wally Goodwin. "[Begay] had the best short game I've ever seen."

But it's what Woods gave back in two years that impresses.

"He changed my life," says Goodwin, now the University of Northern Colorado golf coach. "I was in the fast lane for years, and then Tiger came to school and I couldn't find a lane fast enough. He had to be the most highly-publicized athlete ever to go off to college. I remember the press conference we had. It was the first we'd ever had for an incoming player. But in the time he was there, he only snubbed one writer, down in Albuquerque, and we did it as a team. We were all tired and didn't want to wait around an hour while he was interviewed. Eventually it got completely out of hand. People would just show up on campus and seek him out."

Woods is part of the reason why former teammate Joel Kribel, who had a cup of coffee on the PGA Tour in 2002, is still trying to get back to The Show. Beating the bushes has traditionally been a solitary, desperate business, but thanks to the Nationwide Tour, the promise of bigger paychecks ahead, and a Nike endorsement contract that paid him six figures, it's not so terrible anymore, and Kribel has held onto his dream without resorting to ramen noodles and supermarket samples.

"I'd have gotten a deal with somebody," he says, when asked what would have happened had Woods not enticed the mighty Swoosh to commit to golf. "But it might not have been as good as the Nike one. He's done a lot of good things for a lot of people."

One of those people is Joe Bramlett, a bi-racial Bay Area high school standout who will go to Stanford this fall. At 14 he became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, but he ran into trouble when he missed the cut at the 2003 Junior World tournament in San Diego. That meant he would not be eligible to play in the '04 Junior World. Enter the Tiger Woods Foundation golf team, a dozen or so minority players of all ages, including Bramlett, who through their participation can gain exemptions into certain tournaments.

"You have to apply for the team," Bramlett says, "and they decide based on golf accomplishments, academics and leadership."

Bramlett not only got an exemption into the '04 Junior World, he finished second. Because of his ethnicity and his affiliation with the Foundation, he is frequently asked about Woods, but says he considers it a compliment. He's got a photo of Woods on the wall of his room, and is thrilled to be on deck to play where Joe and his dad, Marlo, watched the great one compete.

Stanford has felt Woods' influence in other profound ways, says new golf coach Conrad Ray. "We're starting to see recruits who were 7, 8 or 9 when they first picked up a club because of what Tiger was doing," says Ray, who was one of Tiger's Stanford teammates. What's more, Ray adds, the college game's most fertile recruiting territory has switched coasts, from Florida to California.

Do we owe it to the Tiger Effect? It hasn't hurt. Thanks in part to the Woods after-glow, and Bramlett, Stanford's latest recruiting class has been touted as one of the strongest in the country.

Strong? It's hardly the first time that adjective has been used in connection with Woods. "The one thing that stands out in my memory," says former teammate Casey Martin, "is that he was very committed even as a freshman to lifting weights and working on his body."

Sometimes Woods returns to the Stanford campus, as he did during the American Express Championship at San Francisco's Harding Park last fall, when he zoomed down the Peninsula to put on a clinic at the Stanford driving range for Ray and his team. "We have these basket targets at 70 yards," Ray says. "He hadn't really warmed up and on his first ball he flew over it, barely. The second one hit the front edge of the basket on once bounce. Then he made three in a row."

Sometimes Woods simply shows up to attend a basketball game at Maples Pavilion, for despite his short time there, he's still true to his school. In concert with Tom Watson and other alumni, Woods helped shoot down a proposal to bulldoze significant portions of the Stanford course and practice area to make room for new university housing.

Simply put, Woods has bolstered Stanford golf unlike even Watson did two decades before, and it speaks to his awesome influence that he did it in half the time.

 

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