Tiger Woods - the new black pied piper - by Abdullah Ahmad



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Tiger's victory was remarkable as it was historic for two reason: first he has - in one "Masters" or championship popularised golf among other minority children. Before, golf was seen as a game only for elites. More importantly he holds golf clinics for inner-city children thus making it accessible to all who want to learn the game.

Today the United States is filled with Tiger followers, drawn from all races, colours and stripes.

During the four-day tournament, his fans, almost all Whites, cheered him on at every hole, after every stroke and putt. When Tiger sunk his final putt on the 18th green at Augusta on Sunday. April 13 - winning the Masters by 12 strokes - there was a pandemonium among young and old!

Tiger, who is part black, part Chinese, part Thai and Charokee Indian, and the only child of a retired army colonel, collected $486,000 (RM 1.2 million) for the Augusta victory. He now earns US$12 million (RM 30 million) a year as a pro-golfer. This amount stands out even among today's megarich sportsmen.

Tiger is only 21 and golfers, I am told don't reach their peak until their thirties. A pro golfer's career can last until a player is well into his sixties. Time magazine's April 21 issue named Tiger as on of America's 25 most influential men; its rival, Newsweek, on the same date, chose Tiger as one of 100 people to watch as America prepares to pass through the gate to the twenty first century, thus joining the membership of the New Century Club.

Secondly, Tiger has now joined the ranks of retired General Colin Powell, Jackie-Robinson (he broke colour bar in baseball in 1947), Muhammad Ali, and Arthur Ashe, amongst others, as the legendary heroes and icons of Black Americans.

President Bill Clinton paid tribute Tiger saying that Robinson and Woods reflected "the two great ingredients of a good society" - the willingness to end discrimination and the ability rise above it. Tiger decline the invitation to meet Clinton in New York (Clinton was watching the baseball game between the New York Mets and Dodgers at the Shea stadium) saying he needed time "out of the limelight".

It does appear that there is no holding this black Tiger back - a child prodigy who has been appropriately compared with a young Mozart. According to his biographers, Tiger had a competent looking golf swing when he was 11 months old! He first broke 50 for nine holes when he was already holding exhibitions of his prowess at five.

He aspires to "be the best", which means surpassing the greats. The likes of Nicklaus, whose record of 18 major wins until the emergence of Tiger was thought to be insurmountable. If Tiger sustains his present form and, better yet, enhances it, he may well be the first sportsman of any colour to be a billionaire.

Who are the other megarich athletes? The current "King" is Michael Jordan, 34, the Chicago Bulls basketball star who earns US$ 38 million (RM 96 million) a year, L.A. Laker Shaquille o'Neal, earns US$ 23 million (RM 70 million) yearly. As a pro, Tiger has earned more than US$1 million (RM 2.5 million) in prize money and US$ 500,000 in appearance fees.

Arnold Palmer, the golf legend, earned US$16 million (RM 40 million) last year, tennis great Andre Agassi (he married his long-time lover, Brooke Shields recently) earned US$ 15.8 million (RM 39.5 million), Nicklaus US$14.3 million (RM 36 million), and Dallas Cowboy Superstar Emmit Smith made US$ 16.5 million (RM 14.3 million) in 1996.

Tiger plans to start a Tiger Woods Foundation that will create opportunities for youngsters to play golf, and according to Time, golf is still the most restrictive of major American sports. Tiger is challenging golf in much the same way that Arthur Ashe challenged tennis.

Time quoted Tiger as saying: "Golf has shied away from racism far too long. Some clubs have brought in tokens, but nothing has really changed. I hope what I am doing can change that."

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