Earl Woods, 74, Tiger’s Father Inspired Golf Champ

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The New York Sun

Earl Woods, the father of top-ranked golfer Tiger Woods and the man who introduced his son to the sport he’d come to dominate, died yesterday of prostate cancer. He was 74.


Woods, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, died at his home in California, Tiger Woods said in a statement.


Woods nicknamed his youngest son after a South Vietnamese army colonel he met during a second tour of duty in the Vietnam War and helped the child discover golf when he was 10 months old.


“I just unstrapped him out of his high chair,” Earl Woods said in a February 2001 Golf Digest interview. “He picked up a putter, put a ball down, waggled and hit a ball into the net. First time.”


Since then, Tiger Woods, whose given name is Eldrick, has won 10 major tournaments, trailing Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18. His first major title came at the 1997 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, where he became the first black person to win the event.


Earl Woods also broke down racial barriers. A former baseball catcher at Kansas State University, he was the first black player in the Big 12 Conference. The school’s golf course management and research foundation named its youth golf academy in honor of him.


In 2005, Earl Woods traveled to Augusta, Ga., for his son’s most recent Master’s victory, but was too sick to make it to the course.


Earl Woods was born in Manhattan, Kan., on March 5, 1932. He went to Kansas State on a baseball scholarship, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1953 and joined the U.S. Army.


While serving his second tour of duty with the Army’s Green Beret Special Forces unit, Woods was an adviser to Vuong Dang “Tiger” Phong, a deputy province chief with the South Vietnamese army. He credited Phong with saving his life on several occasions.


Woods used prisoner-of-war interrogation techniques he learned to toughen his son’s mental focus.


Woods, who also had diabetes, underwent heart surgery in 1996. He said he thought he died during that procedure and saw a bright light at the end of a tunnel before being revived.


“It scared the hell out of Tiger,” Earl Woods said in a February 2004 Golf Digest interview. “Me, all I felt was a momentary pang of regret that I was back in the hospital. That tunnel was so peaceful, just like people describe. I haven’t feared death since.”


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