A Tiger Woods book worth reading

Tom Callahan first met Earl Woods in 1996 at the Greater

Milwaukee Open, and he spent the next 10 years listening to stories

and gaining insight. Few others had such access and trust.

The hard part was convincing his agent and a publisher that a

book on the late father of Tiger Woods was worth writing.

”Nobody wanted me to do this book,” Callahan said. ”They

figured, ‘Who cares about Earl Woods?”’

Of all the books involving the world’s No. 1 player, this might

be the most compelling.

”His Father’s Son,” published by Gotham Books, is scheduled to

go on sale Oct. 28. Golf Digest, for whom Callahan is a

contributing editor, plans to publish excerpts in its November

issue.

Callahan devotes the first half of the book to Earl Woods – his

Kansas roots, the prejudice he faced as the only black baseball

player at Kansas State; his military career; his first marriage,

which produced three children; meeting his second wife in

Thailand.

The second half is about Tiger Woods.

At times, the lines are blurred.

Callahan portrays Earl Woods as a womanizer, minus the names or

the details. In one chapter, he writes about Tiger being furious

with his father toward the end of his life. Earl implied that Tiger

had to buy him out of what Callahan described only as ”some kind

of sexual jackpot.” It was Woods’ mother, Kultida, who served as

peacemaker, urging her son to forgive his father.

Callahan was well into writing the book on Nov. 27, when Woods

ran over a fire hydrant outside his Florida home, and soon after

lurid details of his sexual escapades began gushing out in the

media.

”The funny thing is, it didn’t change the book that much,”

Callahan said. ”The original outline was 40 chapters. I ended up

with 31. Nine that were lost were melted into other chapters in the

first half. I waited half a book to get to Tiger. I didn’t want

people to be impatient.”

His publisher asked if Callahan was going to contact some of the

women linked to Tiger.

”I said, ‘No, I don’t care about them,”’ he said. ”Leave that

to the floozy books.”

This book was always about the intricate relationship between a

father, who didn’t touch a golf club until he was 42, and a son,

who has dominated golf at every level.

Callahan was fond of Earl Woods. The intention was not to bash

either father or son, although he doesn’t duck any of the dirt.

He writes of the father’s philandering, ”Any woman who ventured

within fifty feet of Earl was a potential plaintiff.” And of the

son’s extramarital affairs, ”Golf never needed a shower more than

it did after Tiger Woods careened off a fire hydrant into a tree,

shaking loose a multitude of cocktail waitresses, lingerie models

and porn actresses, none of whom accused him of gentleness.”

Callahan’s research includes interviews with Earl Woods’

sisters, neighbors from his childhood home on Yuma Street in

Manhattan, Kan., his first wife and their three children.

His greatest resource, however, was Earl.

In his book, ”In Search of Tiger,” Callahan details his trip

to Vietnam to find the soldier after whom Earl named his son – Col.

Nguyen ”Tiger” Phong, who died in April 1976. After learning of

his fate, Callahan arranged a tearful meeting with the Phong and

Woods families.

He knew the father so well that Callahan often went to the house

where Earl stayed at majors to watch Tiger on television. In one

scene, Callahan describes how Earl would doze off between shots,

but eerily woke up when his son was on TV, sometimes offering

instruction. He later claimed Tiger could hear him when he

played.

”Come on, Earl. Stop it,” Callahan tells him.

Earl laughed for about 20 seconds and said, ”You don’t mind if

I believe it, do you?”

”He told a lot of stories,” Callahan said. ”All of them

weren’t true. They weren’t total lies, they were just a little

untrue. The only thing he didn’t exaggerate about was

Vietnam.”

Callahan talked to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, but the most

intriguing interview was with Ernie Els, who spoke fondly about the

time Tiger sought his advice on turning pro, and was bluntly honest

about the future.

The interview took place Wednesday of the Arnold Palmer

Invitational earlier this year, which Els won for his second

straight victory. That was about the time Woods announced he would

be returning to golf at the Masters.

Els predicted a good week at Augusta National for Woods, but not

a green jacket.

”I think he’ll contend,” Els said that day. ”I think so. He’s

that good. But win it? No. There’s a guilt. There’s a

conscience.

”I still say you can’t play your best golf without

self-respect,” Els said. ”Obviously, Elin married the person she

believed he was. If he sincerely wants to become that person, good

on him. I’ll support him. Absolutely. That’s what I’ve done my

whole career, supported him. But, to be honest, I wonder where he’s

going to put his energy now? Into fitness? … Tiger’s going to be

a very lonely guy, I think, unfortunately.”

Callahan also includes several recollections from Royce Woods,

the daughter from Earl’s first marriage. Woods made good on a

promise as a kid and bought her a house in northern California. She

lived with her dad when Tiger was young, and cared for Earl in his

final days.

”I asked him once,” Royce said in the book, ”’Don’t you ever

want to do a little dirt, Tiger? Be a little bad? Spray graffiti

paint all over a wall at school, or something?’ ‘You know, I

probably would,’ he told me, ‘if I didn’t know I was going to be

famous someday.”’