Tiger on the Tee

updated 09/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/23/1991 01:00AM

HE'S TOO YOUNG TO GET A LICENSE, but he drives better than most adults. At 15, Eldrick "Tiger" Woods is the most celebrated young golfer in the country. A prodigy since he was 3 (when he outputted Bob Hope on The Mike Douglas Show), he became in July the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Junior Amateur, and its first black champion.

Raised in Cypress, Calif., Tiger was swinging a club before he could walk. Tiger's father, Earl Woods, had his son hitting practice shots in the family garage by the time he was 6 months old. "He walked over, got his little putter, set up, waggled just like I did and hit the ball," Earl Woods recalls. At 2, Woods shot a 48 (on a nine-hole course), and by 14, he had won five age-group world titles. As it became clear that Tiger's future would revolve around the game, his dad began planning to help the family meet the yearly costs of having Tiger compete in tournaments (about $20,000). "I lived minimum, saved maximum, and now it's all being poured into him," says Earl, 59, a former Green Beret.

That was the easy part. Harder was the racism that Tiger, now a sophomore at Western High School in Anaheim, Calif., sometimes encountered. Recently, for instance, he and Earl played a Chicago course that ordinarily bars blacks, Jews and women. "People just stared at us," says Tiger. Says his mom, Kultida, 47, who was born in Thailand: "I tell him, 'Racism is not your problem, it's theirs. Just play your game.' "

Tiger intends to do just that. "I'm not out just to be the best black player," he says. "I want to be the best golfer ever."

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