- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

ORLANDO, FLA. (AP) - Tiger Woods called it his greatest achievement.

And he wasn’t even holding a golf club.

Next door to the public course where he played more golf than he can remember, a few miles from the middle-class home where Woods grew up in Southern California, he cut the ribbon three years ago on his $25 million Tiger Woods Learning Center.

There is a driving range behind the 35,000-square-foot building, and now about 100 kids show up each Saturday for a golf clinic.

Woods, however, remains more interested in what goes on inside the center.

“I want kids to be able to have a better life because of their brain and their intelligence and their ability to use that to help others,” Woods said. “And if they want to play golf, then sure, we have the means to help them through our foundation. But I’d much rather see them become leaders of tomorrow than see kids just hit a high draw and a high fade.”

Woods is expected to top $1 billion in career income sometime this year. He could probably help plenty of aspiring pros, if that’s what Woods thought was important.

Instead, his charitable work is devoted to education.

“I reach out each and every day with my foundation,” Woods said. “We don’t focus on golf, because that’s not the sole purpose in life.”

Greg McLaughlin, the president and CEO of the Tiger Woods Foundation, said it has contributed about $35 million to communities across the country through grants and scholarships since its inception in 1996.

The Tiger Woods Learning Center already has served 25,000 youngsters in three years.

Woods’ foundation initially concentrated on junior golf clinics as a way to teach kids to work hard and dream big. Woods himself went to Oklahoma City one month, Denver the next, Chicago, Philadelphia. He would walk down the practice range, sometimes on public courses in the urban part of town, showing kids how to grip the club and celebrating the good shots.

Even then, Woods felt something was missing.

“You feel like a three-ring circus,” Woods once said. “Here today, gone tomorrow, on to the next city.”

Perhaps he knew that he could never give them what Woods had as a kid _ a desire to play, a place to play, supportive parents.

“Tiger Woods being on tour was absolutely wonderful,” said Pepper Peete, director of The First Tee in Jacksonville whose husband, Calvin Peete, won more PGA Tour events (12) than any black player until Woods came along.

“But keep in mind that Tiger had someone around him that kept him driven and focused,” she said. “It was just like an Olympic gymnast or a figure skater. He was very blessed and fortunate he had that person, and that he loved golf.”

If not for an Army buddy taking Earl Woods to Dyker Beach Golf Course in Brooklyn, he might not have ever taught his son to play. Earl Woods said he was hooked the first time he set foot on a golf course and passed that on to his son.

“I got lucky that my dad was addicted to the game,” Woods said. “Too, he had access to the game. That’s not easy to do right now.”

Despite his emphasis on education, Woods still includes golf as part of the foundation and the learning center.

Golf still defines him.

Any student enrolled at the Tiger Woods Learning Center is taught the basics of golf. Clinics are held twice a month. His foundation has a national team that was awarded 18 exemptions to the Junior World Championships, where Woods cut his teeth in golf.

“My dad always thought it was important to play kids from around the world,” Woods said. “That’s when I truly understood the game is played differently around the world. These kids (from his foundation) are not exposed to that. A lot of these kids are not country club kids. They would never compete on a world stage, so we give them that experience.”

The chief criteria for making his national team is not a stroke average, rather a 3.2 GPA and 40 hours of community service.

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