It's actually a little disappointing, when you first meet Woods, how sedate he is. It's like landing a blind date with Cindy Crawford only to discover that she lives for the music of Menudo. Sitting across from me in a straight-backed chair, Woods returned my gaze with unexcitable half-lidded eyes and patiently answered questions. Yes, he said, he was pleased with his performance at the Masters, and no, he didn't find it surprising that seven of the next eight finishers in that tournament hailed from overseas. "It used to be you thought of all the great players coming from the United States, but that's not true anymore," he said. "I think it's pretty neat to see golf broadening its horizons."
It took several back-and-forths before something unexpected emerged. I asked him to name his favorite place to play golf abroad, expecting to hear Scotland or perhaps Ireland, but he responded, "For me, I love going to Asia. I have a wonderful comfort within me when I visit there, specifically Thailand. That's where my mom is from, and whenever I land there, in Bangkok, it's like I'm home again."
Tiger's father, Earl, met Tiger's mother, Kultida, when he was a Green Beret lieutenant colonel stationed in Thailand. Though Tiger grew up in Southern California, Kultida made sure he was exposed to his Asian roots and took him on his first visit to her homeland when he was eight. Though the monthlong trip involved playing a lot of golf with top brass in the military—even at that age, his legend had spread—Woods vividly remembers his initial experience of Thai culture. "It was just my mom and I on that trip, and it was neat to have her show me the things that are part of my heritage," he said, warming to the subject. "We were visiting her family, where she was raised. I got to meet her parents when they were still alive. I remember so much of it."
Woods didn't return to Thailand until he was eighteen, but Asian influences permeated his upbringing. "I think people have a misunderstanding of my family," he said. "People think it was my dad who disciplined me, who was the one who was always so hard on me, insisting I do things by the letter. It was actually my mom. My dad was very lenient. I was always trying to get my dad on my side. I'd say, 'Dad, can you help me out here?Mom's being like this or like that.' But it was my mom who was always so by-the-book. She's the one who taught me how to be disciplined."
Woods laughed and said it was primarily a matter of cultural difference. "If I didn't say, 'Yes, sir. Yes, ma'am' or 'Thank you, sir. Thank you, ma'am,' I got smacked right on the back of my head."
"By your mom?"
"Oh, yeah. Without a doubt. She was the one, because in Asian culture you have to show respect to a person who's older than you, and if you don't do that, it's seen not only as disrespect to that person and to yourself but to your entire family. That is something that we don't have here in the United States."
Another important thing Woods received from his mother was an indoctrination in Buddhism. He said that when he was young she passed along the religion's essential teachings and instructed him how to practice meditation. "I can still do it," he said, "and I do it every once in a while just to make sure I can."
When asked how significant Buddhism was to him these days, he gave the question a little thought. "At this point, it's not something that follows me around in life where I do it every day," he finally said. "I think now it is one of those things that's of unwritten significance. I'm not really aware that I'm actually doing it—but it's definitely a part of who I am."