Tiger reveals race trauma

TIGER WOODS has broken his silence about the terrifying racist attacks he suffered as a youngster.

Woods' reticence to exploit his status as the world's most famous sportsman by speaking out on issues to do with race has, in the past, made him a target for criticism.

Ironically, one of the golfer's principal detractors was his close friend Charles Barkley, the former basketball star who has become a commentator on sport and social issues. Now Barkley has persuaded Woods to contribute to his book on race in America titled "Who's Afraid Of A Large Black Man?"

Barkley's series of interviews with leading figures from the worlds of politics, sport and entertainment - including former President Bill Clinton, the actors Samuel L Jackson and Morgan Freeman, and rap singer Ice Cube - has been published in the United States just as 29-year-old Woods is preparing for tomorrow's US Open at Pinehurst.

Much of the fascination in Woods lies in the fact that he is of mixed race his father Earl being black and his mother Tilda hailing from Thailand who has succeeded in a sport previously dominated by white players. Yet little is known of his early brushes with racial prejudice.

Woods, who spent his formative years in Cypress, California, has finally opened up to Barkley with this shocking tale: "I became aware of my racial identity on my first day of school, on my first day of kindergarten.

"A group of sixth graders tied me to a tree, spray-painted the word 'nigger' on me, and threw rocks at me. That was my first day of school. And the teacher really didn't do much of anything.

"I used to live across the street from school and kind of down the way a little bit. The teacher said 'okay, just go home'. So I had to outrun all these kids going home, which I was able to do.

"It was certainly an eye-opening experience, you know, being five years old."

Woods honed his golfing skills at the Navy course close to where his father, a Green Beret, was stationed. He tells Barkley that there was a minimum age limit of 10 to play the fairways and greens.

"For some reason all the white kids who were 10 and under were allowed to play, though I wasn't. I had people who were older and I don't know if they were servicemen or retired or active or just guests... I don't know who they were use the N word with me numerous times."

Later, as one of America's top up-and coming golfers, Woods was still not immune to prejudice. He said: "Right before the 1994 US Amateurs, when I was 18, I was out practicing, just hitting pitch shots and some guy just yelled over the fence and used the N word numerous times at me. That's in 1994."

Three years later, Woods' colour and family background became a subject of a media frenzy when he claimed his first major title with his historic win at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.

It is a tradition of the tournament that the winner chooses the menu at the next champion's dinner. Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champion, called 21-year-old Woods "that little boy" and urged him not to offer fried chicken or collard greens "or whatever the hell they serve."

There was public outcry over the racial nature of the jibe and Zoeller was forced to issue several apologies. Woods' reaction, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, was to reveal that it bothered him when he was called an African American. Having researched his family history Woods said he was one-fourth black, one-fourth Thai, one-fourth Chinese, one-eighth white and one-eighth American Indian.

"Growing up," he said, "I came up with this name, I'm a 'Cablinasian'."

That sense of self-identity has shaped Woods' attitude to race and racism, and helped him decide how best to use the millions of dollars he and his sponsors pour into the Tiger Woods Foundation.

"When I was little, it was about trying to help people who were black. As I've grown up I've come to the decision that I don't want to take that particular approach anymore.

"I want to help everybody. So my foundation will be done with that in mind. I don't care who you are, what race you are, or what your ethnicity is... I will be a leader for everybody. Not just one group.

"I don't want to limit myself, and I won't be pigeon-holed."

Woods was asked yesterday about the fact that nine years on from turning professional he is still the only African-American on the US tour.

"I thought there would be more of us out here, but then again it's a matter of getting enough players. You've got to have a base big enough. At the junior level there are some with some talent, but as you continue to play throughout golf and continue to move up in levels the process of screening kind of weeds them out."

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