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Tiger Woods Makes Golf Cool for Kids

October 23, 1996

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Thirty-five years ago the fairways shook beneath the thundering feet of Arnie’s Army. Today the new wave of fans sweeping golf courses could be called Tiger’s Teens.

The sudden success of the 20-year-old Woods in his first two months as a professional has focused attention on golf in a way unseen since Arnold Palmer proved the perfect partner for golf’s marriage with the relatively new medium of television.

The difference this time is that Woods _ barely removed from being a teen-ager himself _ is drawing teens and preteens to the game in astonishing numbers.

Suddenly, kids see golf as cool, not as an old-fogey game played by badly dressed, elderly men.

``Man, it’s just incredible that he’s been able to do so well,″ 13-year-old Nick Perez said Wednesday as he watched Woods play a practice round for the elite Tour Championship at Southern Hills Country Club.

``I’ve been following him the whole day,″ said Perez, who was attending his first professional golf tournament.

The thousands of new fans _ mostly thirtysomething middle-class Americans enjoying post-World War II affluence _ who surged to golf in the late 1950s and early 1960s, were drawn in part by the dash and daring of Palmer.

The hard-charging, good looking Palmer plucked a cigarette from his mouth, flicked it to the ground, hitched up his pants and unleashed a wicked, awkward swing that ended with a ducking, wincing squint.

The power of his game and passion of his play electrified the galleries.

This new wave of fans is drawn by a Woods whose perfectly crafted, graceful swing routinely powers the ball 40 yards farther than anyone else. He stalks the course locked in an icy stare of concentration that suddenly transforms into the fist-pumping, shouting enthusiasm of a kid when a key putt drops.

``He’s just so cool,″ said 12-year-old Derek Dickson, attending the tournament with his school’s 30-member golf club. ``It’s really neat that someone his age can beat everybody.″

And that is exactly what Woods has done.

Since turning professional Aug. 27 after winning an unprecedented third consecutive U.S. Amateur Championship, Woods has played in seven PGA Tour events, winning two, finishing third twice, fifth once and 11th once.

The only event in which he did not have a chance to win was his very first tournament, when an exhausted and somewhat overwhelmed Woods finished 60th.

He has won $734,794 in just seven events _ ranked 23rd on the PGA Tour money list against players who have played as many as 29 tournaments.

This week he faces his strongest opposition yet when he tees off Thursday in the Tour Championship, the season-ending event limited to the top 30 money winners on tour.

For the first time as a pro he will take on Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.

If Woods should win this week it would be his third victory in four weeks _ only one player has won five times in an entire year since 1980 _ and he would have to be considered a serious contender for player of the year honors, a staggering achievement for someone who has played only two months.

While it is too early to gather numbers on whether more youngsters are playing golf or watching it on television, all it takes is a quick look at the crowds to see the impact of Woods.

Dozens of young faces press against the gallery ropes, small hands offering pens to Woods and pleading for an autograph.

``He just walks past and says, `After the round,‴ explained 13-year-old Jeremy Wright of the Metro Christian Academy school golf club. ``I’ll get his autograph when he comes off the 18th green.″

Woods, whose father is black and mother is from Thailand, is very aware of his role as a pioneer in a game that is overwhelmingly white on a professional level.

``If I keep progressing in golf I could help golf bring more minorities into the game and make it more diverse,″ Woods said after practice.

``But also there is the impact on kids. I think that has been my biggest impact. I love doing clinics for them. All you have to do is look into the crowds to see how many more of them there are out here.″

Other players have noticed the effect of Woods.

``Most of us messed around with other sports in high school,″ PGA Champion Mark Brooks said. ``Tiger has focused only on golf. If he gets other kids to do that it will have a tremendous impact on the game.″

Joshua Steveson, an 11-year-old member of the Metro Christian Academy, shook his closely cropped blonde hair and gave clue to another reason Woods may be drawing young fans to the game.

``Just think of all the money he’s made,″ Steveson said. ``Just for playing golf.″

DIVOTS: When Tiger Woods qualified for the Tour Championship it not only helped ticket sales but it also created some headaches for the PGA Tour. A rush of last-minute credential requests from newspapers and magazines from as far away as London had tour officials juggling space in the media center to try to squeeze in more people. ... Johnny Miller is the newest member of the golf Hall of Fame, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced Thursday. ... Greg Norman finally arrived Wednesday, saying he missed the pro-am because of problems with his private jet.

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