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A Gut Punch

Posted by johnnieraz on February 25, 2021 at 12:15 AM

By John Rezell

     As soon as I saw the headline, it hit me hard and deep. Tiger Woods crashed in an auto accident Tuesday morning and my heart skipped a beat.

     It's not that I'm callus, but very few athletes or celebrities will do that to me. Tiger Woods is an exception — for me, and millions.

     Tiger popped up on our radar screens at The Orange County Register very early in his life. He had graced our sports pages for years before I first interviewed him when he was the ripe old age of 14.

     The occasion, typical for Tiger, was record-setting. The Optimist Junior World Championship golf tournament annually brought the best young golfers around the world to San Diego to compete. That year Tiger won the 13-14 age group thus claiming his fifth title at the tournament, setting a record that would only increase in the coming years.

     I heard all the stories about Tiger from our reporters who spent time with him. His demeanor proved to be as impressive as his golf swing. You might think that winning for a fifth time — meaning he won every time he entered — might be a bit mundane for a kid getting regular exposure in newspapers and on TV.

     But no.

     When I asked him about winning his fifth title, he looked at me with the starry-eyed wonder I've seen on nearly every teenager who just finished accomplishing some sort of success. He shook his head as if it were his first title. And he simply said, "Wow."

     That year and the next I had the pleasure of following Tiger through the final round at the Optimist tournament, walking the course with his father Earl. Earl never tired of rehashing his stories for new reporters on the scene. His time in Vietnam. His buddy Tiger, his son's nickname namesake.

     Meanwhile we watched Tiger play golf like no one I had ever seen. In both those years when Tiger got into trouble, he didn't play it safe. He went for it. His confidence and aggressiveness — again, before he even owned a driver's license — could take my breath away.

     On Tuesday, Tiger did it again. Taking my breath away. He's done it countless times since that first meeting so many years ago. Although he faces a tough road of rehab ahead of him, I'm pretty sure he'll find a way to do it again.

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