October 28, 2016

Tiger Woods: Champion of the unexpected

October has been a momentous month for Tiger Woods, thus it’s only fitting we point a spotlight on the man of the hour. As his educational nonprofit, the Tiger Woods Foundation, celebrated its 20th anniversary with an inspiring celebration at the New York Public Library, Woods unveiled the next chapter of his storied career with the arrival of TGR. A centralized parent brand that will join and strengthen Woods’ current and future endeavors, TGR marks a broadening of scope for the professional golfer and philanthropist. Along with news of the rebrand, Woods announced the foundation’s exciting partnership with educational powerhouse Discovery Education. The union will propel Woods’ goal of helping millions of kids worldwide through an expansive new digital platform. It’s clear from what’s ahead, Woods has set the bar high for his second chapter. And in a sit-down interview, he candidly reminds us that while golf is his passion, helping the world, one student at a time, is his lifelong mission.

For the month of October, we’re featuring you as our Champion of the Unexpected. Who has been a champion or mentor in your life, and what impact did that person have on you? 

Well the champion or mentor that has been most impactful in my life has been my father. He was not only my father but my best friend, a leader, a confidante, and eventually the president of the foundation. He wore a lot of different hats, but you know more than anything, the bond and communication that we had was something that I am so eternally grateful for.

Last month, you and your foundation tragically lost one of your D.C. students, Marcus Edwards. I know you reached out to your staff and Marcus’ mother and offered your support. But in these difficult times, what words of advice can you offer young kids who feel like they don’t have opportunities beyond their neighborhood? 

Well, the advice I have is that there are so many opportunities available, but you have to go ahead and put yourself out there to receive them. As an athlete, and as a competitive athlete, putting myself out there is something I have to do. Putting myself out there on a world stage is even harder. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. I have to have a lot of faith and trust in myself and my ability. But that is something that’s earned through hard work. I have gained a lot of confidence, not only as a player, but in other aspects of my life, from hard work I put in.

I often go back to what my father taught me. In fact, I still hear him, almost daily, say: ‘You get out of it what you put into it.’ If you do the work, you are going to get results. If you don’t work hard, you are not going to get the results. But more importantly, you don’t deserve them because you didn’t go out there and earn them. And it’s amazing in life that there are so many people out there willing to help if you have the courage to go ahead and seek help.

You didn’t grow up with a lot of money or in the best neighborhood. Do you think your life could have gone in a different direction? What allowed you to surpass the obstacles that you grew up facing? 

One: I got very lucky to have two loving parents. Two: There were two rival gangs at my high school and it could have gone a lot of different ways. The two leaders of the two gangs came up to me and cornered me. And I was thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m about to get into a fist fight.’ But that didn’t happen. They said ‘hey if anyone messes with you, you let us know. Because we know you are going to make it out.’

It gives me chills to this day. They could have beaten me to a pulp. I could have fought back, but two against one. They could have changed my life for the worse, but instead they supported me. They saw something in me — they saw that I could help. Consequently, fast forward, here I am bringing a learning lab right into Anaheim, right into the same area where I went to high school and grew up. They changed my life in a positive way. I’m lucky. I’m really lucky.

Over the last 20 years, you and your foundation have given so much to underserved kids. But when you look back, what do you feel you have gained from the students and scholars? Have they left a mark on you in some way, big or small? 

What I’m taking out of it is love and pride. I love to see what all these kids are able to accomplish. And I take great pride in providing an opportunity for them to do that. I am just so excited for these kids to come out of their shell and become the people they never thought they could be. And then to have them go back home and show their families, siblings and other people in the neighborhood what is possible.

Once they come back and teach their community exactly what is possible, everything literally changes. You start to see multi-generational change. And that to me is how you change the world. You can throw money at a lot of different projects but in the end it comes to teaching one child at a time. It’s all about helping these kids accomplish their dreams and aspirations. I realized once that happens these kids always come back home and teach folks what they did and how they did it. This literally changes the world, one person at a time.

How proud are you of the students and scholars who are part of your foundation?  

Oh my God, I am not a crier as everyone knows. I don’t cry. But hearing their stories first hand and watching them speak, how can you not? To see the impoverished lives that some of these kids came from and to know how they grew up — and then to see what they have accomplished — I am filled with so much pride. The fact that they are able to go off to college, and then go off to med school, or go off to law school or work at NASA. I mean, are you kidding me? They never thought it was really possible, but they made it happen. And again, it’s our job to provide them with that opportunity and that type of support and guidance. And I think we’ve done that. But I also think we have a blueprint in which we can replicate that on a much greater scale. And that is exactly what we are doing.

I know your father was a large influence in your life. What do you think he would say about the foundation turning 20? 

I think my dad would be very proud of what we’ve done. My dad was very sick when we opened the learning lab, and I had to push him around in a wheelchair. He got to see it as an empty husk, and then he got to see it with the kids in it. To see him light up and see how proud he was, that meant a lot to me. Fast forward a couple months ago to a townhall I held with all my staff at the learning lab in Anaheim. I had my son Charlie come out with me and see what his grandfather and daddy had built and to see the learning lab, to see where I grew up, where I played golf. To see all of that. He couldn’t believe how small my bedroom was. He couldn’t believe how small my backyard was. He just couldn’t believe where I came from.

But why I say that is because my dad would be very proud to see how I’ve been able to have a family and then show my family what we’ve created. And Charlie, when I was giving my speech, took out my phone and was filming it and he turns the phone around and says, ‘My daddy is so cool.’ And then turns it back around and continues to film me. I take a lot of pride in that. I’m very proud of that. It is literally multi-generational. The things my dad taught me I have passed on not only to my kids, but it’s reflected in what we’ve done with the foundation and the environment that we have created. It started when I was a child.

My dad and I always wanted to create a space where our kids felt like they were part of a family. We wanted to give them the tools to not only hang and compete, but to surpass and to lead. To participate is one thing, and it’s great, but to then take over and to be a leader and be the pace setter in these schools, in these classrooms in these neighborhoods. Now that’s taking it to a whole other level. The kids that I have seen and talked to, that’s what they are so excited about. They didn’t think that was possible.

On and off the course, what is your proudest achievement?

On the course, it’s been being able to win as many tournaments as I have in a short span. But off the golf course, it’s easily by far been the amount of kids we have impacted. I’m so proud that we’ve been able to reach as many kids as we have and have been able to give them the opportunity to do something that they did not believe themselves was even possible. To see the self-revelations and their confidence grow, that’s incredible to me. What the whole staff at the foundation has been able to create with the curriculum has been second to none.

In support of the foundation’s ‘Unexpected Champions’ campaign, you recently took a photo with a sign that said “Unrelenting.” Why did you choose that particular word, and how does it represent you?

Because I am. I am always trying to get better and in order to do that you have to have that mindset of being unrelenting. I don’t settle. Let’s take it to the next level. It fits me to an absolute T on and off the golf course.

Champions of the unexpected for 20 years.