Where the bunkers are made of concrete
Tiger Woods goes to boot camp, paying homage to his dad and toughening himself mentally
FORT BRAGG, N.C.
When chanting green-shirted grunts ran their daily four miles last week, the guy in the lead wasn't a top sniper or a bellowing sergeant major. Instead, his camo-shirt name tag read "Pfc. Woods," the world's greatest golfer, come to Fort Bragg for a taste of his father's training here 40 years ago and a fresh draft of discipline in his career.
Tiger Woods has said if he hadn't become a duffer, he'd have been a Green Beret like his dad. So a few days after a disappointing finish at Augusta National, the 27-year-old golfing phenom and multi-Masters winner arrived on the North Carolina pine plains not to compete at Pinehurst 2, but to attend a mini-Boot Camp on the chief training fields of the 82nd Airborne and a plethora of special forces - a personal sojourn to learn what his father underwent as a Special Ops recruit here in the mid-1960s.
To be sure, a few soldiers were ambivalent about the cult of celebrity as bullets flew in Iraq. But most troops here picked up on something deeper from "Tiger's visit," as it was dubbed: a show of solidarity from someone who has put military-style psychological training to peacetime use.
Others theorized that Woods was taking a much-needed break from the links to regain his concentration and spark after a slump. With a children's golf clinic, war-theater exhibitions, hands-on training, and beer bashes with soldiers, it had the feel of a USO event - a morale-booster for the troops.
"[Tiger's boot camp] is a nice thing, it makes the soldiers feel good, and it doesn't hurt anyone - I don't see anything at all wrong with it," says Bob Simon, a philosophy professor who studies values in sports at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.
During his week at Fort Bragg, a huge, drab compound home to 47,000 US soldiers, Tiger saw firsthand the training his dad had talked about. Tiger fired "weapons systems." Tiger hovered in a wind tunnel that simulates a free-fall parachute jump. When Tiger ran with that phalanx of 400 grunts, they asked him to slow down to keep the column in order.
"He'd make quite the soldier," says Sgt. Maj. Gary Kolinofski, a gravelly-voiced veteran soldier commandeering a golf cart between press conferences.
Tiger pulled rank on his nervous sports agent: After tandem-jumping from 13,500 feet with the base's Golden Knights, he got back on the bright C-31 Fokker - the one President George H. W. Bush jumped from in 1997, becoming the first former president to have parachuted - and went up again.
"I wasn't scared," he said at a Friday press conference on Fort Bragg's Stryker Golf Course, in perfect golfing weather. "It was so much fun!"
It may have been here on the base, said Tiger's dad on Friday, that the world's greatest golf career began, with strategies and techniques the elder Woods learned as a Special Ops soldier in the 1960s.
"I used prisoner-of-war interrogation tactics, deprivation techniques [on Tiger] - you name it, I used it, although I always gave him an out," said the elder Woods.
Tiger's steely glance, his dad claims, is a rifleman's glare.
Even today, the Special Ops training parallels Tiger's game. "The training is very similar, except for jumping out of a plane," he said. "I have a better understanding of what I need to get tougher."
Still, Tiger dismissed any real comparison between himself and the Fort Bragg regulars: "I shoot a small ball into a little cup 400 yards away," he says, "and these guys go out and put their lives on the line."
Indeed, Tiger's boot camp was a week-long VIP camp where he slept in a private room at the general's quarters - an impossibility for all but the most privileged Americans. The military routinely handles VIP visits to boost morale and public relations; this one was unusual only the visitor's renown.
"It wasn't as personal as we had hoped, but the soldiers loved it," says Staff Sgt. Eric Hendrix, who spent much of the week at Tiger's side. "He's a gentle soul, a genuine nice guy."
Of course, a few thought the hoopla was hokum: "I'd rather be some place else right now," one said with a shrug.
On his last day, Tiger finally picked up a club to give pointers at the military golf course as Warthogs and F-18s flew over. Among the curious were two ex-soldiers - Bob Hood and Barry Chestnut - whose retirement plan is to hit the links daily.
"I came to teach Tiger a couple of things," grinned Mr. Hood, a lanky links-man in full golf duds.
Off-base, the clamor was more about the boot camp's effect on Tiger's games. Was he taking a break? Or coming here to regain composure?
To the titillation of of Golf Magazine readers, Tiger may have picked up a few real pointers - like a new awareness of his left-eye dominance revealed by a gunnery sergeant.
"That's going to help him on the golf course," Earl Woods said.
Some sports-ponderers wondered whether Tiger's journey into his dad's old territory may be part of a new phase in the young golfer's life.
"He's 27, he's won a lot of Majors, he's got a beautiful fiancée, maybe he's appreciating other things in his life," says Gregg Steinberg, a golf psychologist and author of "Mental Rules for Golf." "In the short term, it might cause him a distraction, but in the long term, it might be giving him balance to a longer career."