Tiger Woods Hits Links With Servicemembers and Former President
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 4, 2007 Just after dawn broke this morning, a soldier and an airman teed off with Tiger Woods and AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson in the inaugural Earl Woods Memorial Pro-Am. Near the 16th hole, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara joined the foursome.
Former President George H. W. Bush greets Tiger Woods at the 16th hole during the inaugural Earl Woods Memorial Pro-Am Tournament, part of the AT&T National PGA Tour event, July 4, 2007, at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD. Woods donated 30,000 tournament tickets to military personnel to attend the event honoring soldiers and military families.
Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Sgt. Maj. Mia Kelly and Air Force Sgt. Andrew Amor joined Woods and Stephenson for a round of 18 holes here at Congressional Country Club, a day before Woods and 119 other professionals will play the first of four rounds of the AT&T National golf tournament.
“I got some talk time with Tiger, and we didn’t just talk about golf we got to talk about others things too,” said Amor, who has golfed for 20 years, and currently is a two-handicap. The airmen earned his spot on the foursome after winning the Andrews Air Force Base championship.
Kelly said she was nervous at the golf round’s outset, but grew comfortable playing before the thousands of spectators who followed Woods and the foursome across the course.
“Once we actually started playing,” Kelly said, “you just kind of tune out the rest of the crowd and the bottom line is, you’re playing your own game. If you play badly, you play badly; you just do it in front of lots of people.”
Kelly called Woods’ support for troops sincere, more than merely a spectacle. “I think he’s one of the most important sports figures out there because he actually cares about the military, and he’s genuine about it,” she said. “I think it’s awesome.”
Woods told reporters yesterday that the practice round and various amenities offered to servicemembers is his way of saying thanks to the men and women in uniform. Today’s pro-am is named in honor of Woods’ late father, Earl Woods, who wore the Green Beret for 12 years as a Special Forces soldier during his 20-year Army career.
“I know I can’t serve with them, but I just want to say, ‘Thank you’ in some way, and this is our way of being able to do that,” Woods said.
During the golf events, which run July 3-8, Woods and tournament sponsors will give 30,000 tickets to U.S. military personnel. Many servicemembers took advantage of the complimentary tickets to attended today’s practice round.
“With Woods’ being a military brat, and his dad being a Green Beret, it’s just awesome that he’s giving back to the community, and it shows the value and how much he appreciates us,” said Army Cadet Young Joo, one of many military members who received a complimentary ticket. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve never been to a golf event and this is just amazing to watch.”
“And the sergeant major looks awesome,” Young added while he watched Kelly loft a chip shot near the pin. “Army strong hooah!”
In the spirit of Independence Day, the yellow flags that normally mark the hole’s position were replaced with posts bearing American flags. Boundary ropes were draped with banners reading “Support Our Troops” above a yellow ribbon.
Thousands of spectators followed the foursome as it made its way across the pristine fairways and tightly kempt greens, roaring when Amor and Kelly hit marksmen strokes. The golfers both agreed that today’s event marked the best July 4th they’ve ever experienced.
“There’s not a whole lot that can top this,” Kelly said.
“And I don’t even need the fireworks,” Amor added.
Perhaps the servicemember who received the day’s biggest reaction, however, was Army Sgt. Michael Woods, no relation to Tiger. Fifty-two military members caddied for golfers on the 7th hole, and of those, Michael was paired with Tiger.
“I found out at 5:15 this morning that I would be on this hole with Tiger Woods,” Michael said.
The soldier-caddie carried Tiger's clubs across the 7th hole’s fairway, but as Tiger approached his putt, which lay about 10 yards from the cup, he handed his club to the shocked Michael.
“He asked me to put the bag down and called me to him, and he asked me, ‘What do you see?’” Michael recalled. “And I said, the green leads to the right so you should hit it to the left. So he said, ‘Here you go.’”
With thousands of eyes glued to him, Michael approached the ball. Without a single practice swing, the caddy sunk the putt and the crowd erupted.
“I was shocked that he called me down there. I’ve been playing golf a little bit and I’m trying to get pretty decent at it, and that was probably the best putt shot I’ve ever seen in my life,” Michael said about his handiwork.
While the foursome played the 16th hole, former President Bush and the former first lady, Barbara Bush, drove onto the fairway in golf carts. The 41st president took a couple practice drives with the foursome, and walked with the players as they completed their round.
Kelly said it was an honor talking with former president Bush, and said she would like to play golf with him some day. “I met him a long time ago back in 1989 when he was still in office,” she said. “I loved him then; I still love him.”
Bush’s presence did not make Amor more nervous, he said. On the contrary, the president eased the tension.
“He lightened up the moment,” Amor said. “The crowd was into it.”