That may come as a surprise, because a lot of people wouldn't allow for a natural progression. They think that sports stars come as a totally made package. When they are old enough for us to read about them, they should be mature enough to act and think as a 40-year-old acts and thinks.
But it doesn't happen that way - thank goodness. Children are born, they start school, they progress to high school, they say the wrong things and make silly mistakes while they are trying to become adults. Suffice it to say that some adults are still doing those same things. But gifted kids sometimes do them at the same time that they have developed athletic skills that are better than many grown-ups.
Tiger Woods is an example of that. For most of his life, he's been able to hit a golf ball better than most of us. The athleticism didn't wait. The social skills did. They came along faster than most 24-year-olds, but there was still a period of bumbling, of saying the wrong things at the wrong time and acting like a 16-year-old who was expected to be 40.
Of course, most of the problems have been in the eye of the beholder. Tiger, you see, was made to walk a much straighter line than usual because of his race. Few will admit it, but that's why so much was made of so little. He was darker than most of the gents. So he had to be better, more soft-spoken, give more credit than credit was due to more golfers. He couldn't say he won while he didn't have his `A-game,' because that was the extreme insult. That's really the mark of a good golfer, many say, that one has the brains to think himself around the golf course when he can't really play himself around it. But not in Woods' case. No sir. Of course he didn't have the brains. The only way he could possibly win must have been because he had superior athletic skills. Wasn't it?
'You can be yourself,' Tiger says. 'That's something a lot of people don't realize.'
A lot of people don't realize it because they are too busy being busybodies. Or maybe they are just tired of the hype. Tiger certainly had a lot of it coming in, hype that he certainly had nothing to do with. And undoubtedly the wealth has gone way beyond anyone's expectations, but is he wrong to take it? Are film actors or rock stars wrong to take it? Woods actually can quantify what his endorsement means in the way of increased sales to his corporations.
But Woods agrees that when he first became a professional, he wasn't always, shall we say, polished.
'When I first came out on tour, I had been at Stanford with all these brilliant people, all these Olympians, and people telling me, `Everything you do is special?'' he says. 'And I'm thinking, `Right.' I was very uncomfortable.'
Woods is honest as well as direct. Too honest, as a matter of fact. When he says, 'In 10, 15, 20 years, some kid is going to come along who blows me out of the water,' - yes, he said that - you wonder just who that could possibly be. It hasn't happened yet in our lifetime. Maybe in 15, maybe in 20 years, but does that sound like someone who is full of himself?
He expresses himself very well in press conferences. The occasional bad-shot temper tantrums aside, his conduct on the golf course is exemplary. He is popular with his fellow players. He is intelligent and he has a personality. The years are molding him just fine and he's growing into quite a young man.
I first saw him as a 15-year-old and I felt then he had a slight case of exaggerated self-worth. He was playing his first junior amateur title - he would go on to win - and he might have swaggered a bit much for my liking. His sports psychologist was his caddie and his father was always between him and the press. It didn't engender real good vibes. But hey - he was a kid, and kids nowadays do a lot worse.
Later, I covered a U.S. Amateur where his deportment wasn't exactly my cup of tee. He was a little flip with his answers and standoffish. I didn't find a whole lot to like then, either.
But even then he was still a kid, for Chrissakes. I believe he was 18. He was still full of spunk, and maybe he let it show just a little too much.
By the time he was 22, though, there was absolutely no reason not to like him. Today, if you can find something wrong with that personality, you have to be awfully thin-skinned. He expresses himself wonderfully well. He is, as they say, wise beyond those tender years.
If you sit through an interview, a press conference, today, how can you not like him? He dissects a round as well as anyone. He is totally candid, totally frank. His answers are thoughtful and to the point.
He isn't a kid anymore. He's a young man, as good a person as he is a golfer.