ROCHESTER, New York – By the time Tiger Woods was 4, he had already appeared on The Mike Douglas Show, already been featured in Golf Digest, and had already shot 48 in a nine-hole round.
Woods' son, Charlie, is now 4.
But that's just it: The most famous golfer of all time is not putting any pressure on his son (or daughter) to play golf, or any other sport, for that matter.
"Whatever he decides, he decides," Woods said at the Oak Hill Country Club, site of the 95th PGA Championship, on Tuesday when asked about Charlie. "If he did decide to play golf, so be it. If he decides to play another sport or not play any sports, as long as he's happy and enjoys his life, I'm there to support and guide him in his life."
It's a refreshing answer from Woods, who is one of the most driven athletes on the planet. And it's a glimpse into a side the public rarely sees. The births of daughter Sam, now 6, and son Charlie were like Orlando's version of the Royal Baby, with reporters gathered at Winnie Palmer hospital to await word from the Woods family. That seems like a long time ago, back when Woods was married and on a bullet train to 18 major victories. So much has happened since then, much of it difficult for a family dealing with extreme scrutiny.
On Sunday, though, Charlie leaped into Woods' arms after his dad won his 79th career PGA Tour event and hugged him tight as his father made the walk to the clubhouse. Cameras zoomed in on the embrace, and Woods proudly said it was the first time Charlie had seen him win a tournament. It was a sweet and poignant snapshot of a famous man who is still a mystery. It was also a reminder that while Woods has been rebuilding his own game and life over the past four years, he's also been diligently protecting the privacy of his children. Phil Mickelson is golf's most famous dad these days, but Woods' guarded nature doesn't make him any less genuine about the love he has for his kids. Asked Tuesday about Hunter Mahan's recent decision to walk away from a big paycheck to see the birth of his own daughter, Zoe, Woods said simply but eloquently, "That's the most beautiful day you can have in your life, is to be there to witness the birth of your child."
Woods opened up Tuesday about his own father, and the misconception that Earl, the military man with a strong golf game of his own, pushed his only son like a drill sergeant.
"People think he pushed me into golf, and it was the exact opposite," Woods said. "He was trying to get me not to play it. Go play baseball. OK, I'd go play baseball. I pitched. I can't wait to get out of this so I can go play golf. I would run track and cross-country and I would run home fast to get to the golf course."
Woods is smart enough to realize you can't force your own ambition onto your children. They will love whatever they will love, and the best parents nurture that love rather than redirecting it.
"I fell in love with golf at an early age," Woods said Tuesday. "That was just my deal. I think the reason I did fall in love with it was because my dad kept it fun and light, and I just enjoyed being out there. That's what I want to do with Sam or Charlie; if they play golf, no lessons."
No lessons, no pressure. That might seem odd considering Woods is a workaholic; his life is one big golf lesson. But he's right: It's only a chore if it's imposed, otherwise it's a choice.
Whatever Charlie's choice is will be his dad's choice, too.
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