Tiger Woods Honors Troops
July 12, 2007
By Tim Hipps
BETHESDA, Md. (Army News Service, July 12, 2007) - The world's top-ranked golfer frequently played U.S. Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation courses as a youngster.
"Yeah, I certainly did," said Tiger Woods, who paid tribute to troops throughout the inaugural AT&T National PGA Tour event July 3-8 at historic Congressional Country Club. "I played a lot of military facilities around the country.
"For one, they were cheaper, and I could get on as a dependent, which was kind of nice. The only thing that was frustrating is a lot of the bases had an age limit of ten. The military is very strict on age limits."
That indeed was a problem for Mr. Woods, who putted against Bob Hope on the "Mike Douglas Show" at age 2, shot 48 for nine holes at age 3 and was featured in "Golf Digest" at age 5.
"Once I turned ten and tried to play more golf around the country, that's when we would start playing other bases," Mr. Woods recalled of making the rounds with his father, Earl, who served 20 years with the Army before Tiger was born. "I just had a great time playing them. There are some great courses on bases."
Earl Woods became friends with Vuong Dang "Tiger" Phong, a Vietnamese Army colonel, while serving in Vietnam. He later tagged his son, Eldrick, with the nickname.
Little more than a year after the death of his father - his best friend, role model, mentor and hero - and little more than two weeks after the birth of his first child - a daughter named Sam Alexis - Tiger played host to the Earl Woods Memorial Pro-Am and AT&T National.
He dedicated both events to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
"Even though my dad was retired, I basically grew up on a military base," Mr. Woods said. "Just understanding the commitment that it takes each and every day for the servicemen and women, what they do for us, I just think that it was something that should be honored, and that's why we're doing it.
"If I didn't have that experience of growing up with a military father, I wouldn't think that I would understand the commitment and the things that they have been doing, and especially with what's been going on overseas, I think it's just a small way of saying 'thank you.'"
Mr. Woods, the world's No. 1 player consecutively since July 2005, donated 30,000 tickets for the tournament to active-duty military personnel. Admission prices were kept paltry by PGA Tour standards, with a weekly badge costing $65 and daily passes $20 and $25 - with free parking. Children 11-and-under also were admitted for free.
"I love what Tiger has done incorporating the military here," said Phil Mickelson, a two-time Masters winner who ranks second among active golfers with 31 PGA Tour victories. "It really is a cool feeling. I think it is such a great position to be in that Tiger's been in to be able to host an event and to be able to have such an effect on so many lives."
Sgt. Maj. Mia Kelly of Fort Belvoir, Va., and Master Sgt. Andy Amor of Andrews Air Force Base, Md., played in Woods' foursome during the Pro-Am on July 4.
Sgt. Maj. Kelly said Mr. Woods made her feel as though she was playing at Fort Belvoir Golf Club, her home course.
"He basically put all of us at ease," she said. "He talked to us just as if we were a normal foursome on a weekend playing golf. It was a fantastic experience. It seemed surreal.
"The amount of support that he has given to the military, not only through this tournament but all the other things that he has done with the military that have not been well-publicized, it has meant a lot to us men and women in uniform because it shows that people do actually care about what we do," Sgt. Maj. Kelly continued.
Sgt. Timothy Smith of Fort Belvoir served as Kelly's caddie during the Pro-Am and several Soldiers took turns caddying for Mr. Woods, who even allowed Sgt. Michael Woods of Fort Belvoir to make a birdie putt for him on the seventh hole.
"I think it means a lot to a lot of people," Sgt. Woods said of Tiger's military support. "This is our independence and the birth of our nation, so it was really cool that he put this event on and allowed the military to be a part of it. He is awesome. This is a day I'll remember forever."
As will 22 others who participated July 9 in the AT&T National Wounded Warriors Amateur Scramble for injured veterans of the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"To have a detachment come out from Fort Bragg is awfully special for me because that's what my dad did. And to see those guys out here on Wednesday just made it that much more special for me, because my dad would have just really got a big kick out of that."
At age 18, he became the youngest champion in U.S. Amateur history. Had his golf game not flourished at such an early age, Tiger said he would have pursued a military career.
"I told Dad, if I didn't make it in the first two years I would probably end up going into the military," he recalled. "I didn't know what branch, but I certainly would've wanted to get into the special operations community. I just thought: that seems to be more of a fit considering what I grew up with, and I certainly understood it and could relate to it."
(Tim Hipps writes for the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs.)