After his third straight U.S. Amateur win, Tiger Woods turned pro and won two Tour events in 1996. Sports Illustrated named Woods its Sportsman of the Year and sent Gary Smith to write the story.
After answering several questions, Woods seemed to go on autopilot. So Smith turned to Tiger's father, Earl.
"Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity," Earl Woods said. No kidding? Smith was understandably skeptical, so he followed up: Would the kid do more than Buddha, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela?
"Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them," Earl said.
And there it was — the 2,000-pound quote. Earl was dismissed as an overheated papa, but the dreamers among us held out hope.
In a 2000 article on slate.com, Robert Wright put Gandhi and Tiger's discipline and focus in the same realm, but with a qualifier: "Gandhi was devoted to human understanding and world peace. Tiger is devoted to being the best ball-whacker ever. But give him time."
Nine years later we can only take Tiger's intentions at face value. His foundation, launched in 1996, has impacted more than 10 million young people with its learning center and character-development programs. Woods is also active in the military community, having launched an official Tour event in July 2007 — the AT&T National — to bring attention to causes affecting soldiers.
When he agreed to speak at the inauguration festivities in January, there was a feeling that Tiger might venture outside his political comfort zone. But he didn't. He mentioned, not for the first time, that he is the son of a soldier. He added that soldiers do a heroic job and we're all in their debt. And then he introduced the U.S. Naval Glee Club. Although he'd said in an earlier interview that the election would have pleased his father, Woods didn't mention Obama by name.
We keep waiting for Woods to stick his nose into a thorny issue, but politics is messy. Being an agent of real change is messy. Woods is a neat freak. He is cautious with his image, and he refused to publicly favor a presidential candidate — even after the election. The next provocative thing he says will be his first.
At least one publication has surmised that Woods would make a good president, but we've seen enough to retire that idea. The disconnect between expectations and reality was our fault, albeit with an assist from Earl. Tiger himself said he wanted to be the best golfer, not a poster for Apple's "Think Different" campaign.
Yeah, Earl got it wrong. Oh, well. Oasis once said they'd be bigger than the Beatles …