|PAYING TRIBUTE TO DAD: Tiger Woods speaks to the crowd as the statue of him and his late father, Earl, stands in the lobby. Woods spoke about how the statue symbolized his father’s unconditional support and the messages he hopes to teach his daughter, Sam.|
ANAHEIM, California (AP) - The unveiling of a statue at the Tiger Woods Learning Center turned into a family photo on Monday, and a reminder for Woods about the powerful bond between a father and a child.
Behind him was a bronze of Woods wrapping his arm around the shoulder of his late father, Earl Woods, the backbone of a foundation that led to a 35,000-square-foot educational center next to the golf course where they grew up. The center has been open just under two years and already has reached more than 16,000 kids.
Woods and his mother, Kultida, posed with 7-month-old daughter Sam. As photographers moved into position, Sam leaned back in her grandmother’s arms and stared up at her father, bringing a wide smile from the world’s No. 1 golfer.
“Ever since the day he passed, I have yet to go a day without thinking of my dad,” said Woods, whose father died in May 2006. “Now that I’ve had Sam, it’s amazing how I keep reflecting on things he taught me. I can’t wait to pass that on. That’s one reason I worked so hard on my foundation to expand this. He was all about helping others.”
The 8-foot bronze was designed by Elliot and Ivan Schwartz of Studio EIS, and it will remain in the lobby of the learning center.
Earl Woods was dying of cancer and could not be there when former U.S. President Bill Clinton joined Woods at the grand opening of the learning center in February 2006. Woods said his father only saw the $25 million center once, a few months earlier during the holidays.
That night at their home in nearby Cypress, he said his father thanked him for allowing him to see the center.
“I told him, ‘Thank me? You were the inspiration for it. Without you and your guidance, I would have never gone down this path,”’ Woods said. “I feel, and my mother feels, there’s no better way to honor what he’s done than to create a statue like this.”
Woods said the statue symbolizes the support that led to so much success – 61 victories on the U.S. PGA Tour going into the 2008 season, along with 13 majors and the career Grand Slam twice over.
“It brings back my childhood, what he’s meant to me in my life, not only from a golf standpoint,” Woods said. “He was always there. That’s basically what it symbolizes. He always had my back. If I failed, I could always come home to love.”
Woods also announced an online contest through the Tiger Woods Foundation for children around the world to share what he called their “Fist Pump Moment” on video and e-mail.
The entries submitted to tigerwoodsfoundation.org will be voted on by Web site visitors, with prizes going to the highest-ranked submissions. Prizes will include iPods, Tiger Woods ‘08 EA Video Games and gift cards.
Woods made the fist pump popular, starting with his three straight U.S. Amateur titles, the final putt at Augusta National in 1997 for a record-setting victory that made him the youngest Masters champion, and countless occasions throughout his career.
Asked about his first “fist pump moment,” Woods recalled vividly details of a round from 21 years ago, the first time he beat his father.
He was an 11-year-old playing with his father at Navy Golf Course, when Earl Woods was playing off a 1 handicap. Woods said he birdied the 16th hole to get back to even par for the round, tied with his father. Both parred the 17th.
“Eighteen is a par 5, and we both got on in regulation,” Woods said. “He missed a 20-footer, and I made a 15-footer, uphill, left-to-right. It came out of me. That was my first fist pump. I started upper-cutting the air. It was the greatest thing I ever did in my life, beating my dad. I remember going to the 19th hole to celebrate and to rub it in.”
Woods said he would tie the “Fist Pump Challenge” into the Earls Woods Scholarship program, offering children around Washington, D.C., and Orange County, California an opportunity to compete for scholarship money through the online contest.
“There are kids around the country and around the world having these little moments they can celebrate,” Woods said. “I would like to have them share that with all of us, so they can communicate their experiences with each other. That’s what my father would instill in them – keep pushing forward, keep trying to make a difference.
“I know he’s not here to experience this, but he embodies everything about this foundation. That’s why we’re celebrating this moment, for all he’s done to help others and inspire kids to chase and accomplish their goals.