- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2001

This is probably the first column I have ever written about sports, and it may well be the last. Nobody can be interested in everything. And I long ago learned that despite the great American tradition to the contrary sports just arent for me. Politics is my beat, and the only thing in sports I give a hoot about is who gets to throw out the first ball that opens the major league baseball season.

But rules are famous for their exceptions, and I find myself in the grip of an enthusiasm that demands expression in a column. I am absolutely intoxicated with Tiger Woods.

Even among sports, golf ranks low on my list. I have occasionally thought there might be something to be said for tennis, in which graceful athletes exhaust themselves in a one-on-one combat that requires not only physical skill but what might be called a spatial intelligence that can bring observers to their feet roaring approval or elicit noisy chuckles over a deftly placed return. But chasing a small white ball around a golf course, taking turns with opponents who chase theirs, is my idea of nothing to do. As for baseball, I will admit to a sort of negative passion a lifelong distaste for the New York Yankees. I would root for the Moscow Mules against the Yankees.

So Tiger Woods impinged on my consciousness only slowly. The media began reporting on the achievements of this young man, and slowly I found myself responding with what had to be called interest. And as he began knocking over the records, one by one, I was amazed to discover how much I cared whether he would win the next big tournament. Finally, this past weekend, when he came from behind to win the Augusta Masters, I felt a joy I had simply never experienced before.

Why does Tiger Woods do this to me? I think it began when I noticed his response to the adulation that was beginning to lap at his feet. Or rather his lack of response. Many great athletes are vainglorious braggadocios who can forget, or stomach, Mohammed Ali´s insistence that "I´m the greatest"? Others Ted Williams, for example are quiet demonstrations of the killer instinct, proclaiming their perfection by their steely silence.

But Tiger Woods is as far as you can get from being a braggart. And his killer instinct, such as it is, is merely the byproduct of the necessity to leave his opponents, metaphorically speaking, dead. Instead, Mr. Woods´ personality is characterized by an intense, unremitting concentration. He simply does, with every stroke, the best he possibly can. And his best is awesomely good. One gets the impression he would play just as hard, and just as well, if there were nobody else out there on the golf course but Tiger.

In other words, the summarizing quality of Tiger Woods is excellence, uncontaminated by lesser characteristics. The perks of fame, as far as one can tell, simply don´t interest him. When President Clinton invited him to the White House, in the natural political hope that a bit of the young man´s charisma would rub off on him, Tiger quietly declined so quietly nobody was able to draw a political moral from the tale, or infer that he regarded himself as in any way superior to the president. When journalists sought to enlist him in the ranks of those who are forever battling against the alleged oppression of America´s blacks, Mr. Woods noted that his own ethnic background contained a little bit of just about everything, and again declined.

In short, he is or at least he appears to be a genuinely modest young American male with no hang-ups that he needs to take out on the public, and one great desire: to play the best golf that he possibly can indeed, if possible, the best golf that anybody has ever played.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., in defending the practice of law as a career, once said that "in the law as well as elsewhere, a man may wreak himself upon life, may drink the bitter cup of heroism, may wear his heart out after the unattainable." That "elsewhere" comprises many things, including golf as Tiger Woods has shown us.

William Rusher is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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