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Run, Tiger, Run

If the golf thing doesn't work out for Tiger Woods—or even if it does—here's another career idea: He can run for president of the United States of America. Putting aside for the moment whether Woods actually entertains such an ambition, there's every reason to think that if he set his mind to the challenge, he could succeed. "Tiger would make a wonderful candidate," said Jack Kemp, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback who was Bob Dole's vice-presidential running mate in the 1996 election. "He's got a natural appeal, a great smile and a very effective personality. Also, he easily transcends the many differences in our heterogeneous society." In fact, Kemp said, one of the first things that Dole told him after they lost the 1996 election was that he wished Kemp had been Tiger Woods.

The list of attributes that Woods, still only twenty-eight, would bring to a political career is long and compelling. There's the charisma and telegenicity, which people either have or they don't, and Tiger does. He is already one of the best-known personalities not only in this country but around the world. No one the Gallup Organization has tested in the last ten years has had a higher favorability rating. His multiethnic background will become ever more of an advantage as, within the next ten to fifteen years, many states and all of the most populous cities in the U.S. become "majority minority," or less than 50 percent non- Hispanic white. He has personal wealth that Fortune magazine estimates is already nearly $300 million and that will only grow bigger with time (always useful in politics). And in the Tiger Woods Foundation, which focuses on improving the lot of at-risk youth, he has a natural vehicle for creating goodwill and good works. As a paragon of personal discipline and a role model for achieving success through talent and persistence, he has few peers.

Link all those advantages to Woods's famous intensity, and it's scary to contemplate. Think back for a moment to the almost supernatural flame in Tiger's eyes coming down the stretch during his major runs from 2000 to 2002: the fist pumps, the birdie stalks, the irresistible will to win. Then imagine that degree of focus leveraged singlemindedly on the goal of winning a political election.

Ladies and gentlemen: President Tiger Woods.

Obviously a thousand things would have to go right for this scenario to pan out. First and foremost, he would have to want to seek office. Second, sometime relatively soon, he would have to begin strategically positioning himself within the political universe. He would need to learn the ins and outs of political maneuvering and start to publicly articulate convictions about some social or policy issues of particular concern to him. Third, sooner or later he would need to affiliate with a political party and turn away from golf to commit himself entirely to public service. (This may be the biggest challenge of all for Tiger.) Fourth, as with any political career, he would have to have a bit of luck.

It also wouldn't hurt, although it wouldn't be strictly necessary, if before he jumped careers he got his game back on track and won a dozen or so more majors. Just as icing on the cake. Might this happen?Might Woods actually forsake golf someday for a career in politics?That's certainly not a possibility Woods himself is talking up. Through his handlers, Woods declined comment for this article, but in an interview several years ago he was asked if he might want to be president some day. "I'd rather go out there and play golf," he said. "And when you're president, it's kind of hard to get away and play a nice round of golf." The answer was tossed off (and ignored the fact that most recent presidents have played golf), but perhaps significantly he didn't out-and-out reject the idea.

Over the years, Woods has diligently maintained apolitical stances on issues of substance, such as the matter of whether Augusta National should admit female members. (His take was that membership was for the club to decide, not him.) But this does not necessarily mean Woods is without conviction. Possibly it means only that for now he deems it best not to make waves. Avoiding controversy is an implicit condition of his many lucrative endorsement deals. Strictly in terms of income, Woods is less a professional athlete than he is an employee of Nike, Buick, Accenture, American Express (which owns this magazine) and several other large, controversy-avoiding global corporations. And not just any employee, but the high-profile public face of those companies.

What may or may not be going on inside Tiger's head is another matter. But a few clues scattered across the years at least point to the possibility of future political engagement. Most famous are the outrageous, imprudent, but impossible to ignore remarks that Woods's father, Earl, made to a Sports Illustrated reporter back in 1996. "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity," Earl said. More, the reporter asked, than Nelson Mandela or Ghandi or even Buddha?"Yes," said Earl, "because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he's playing a sport that's international. Because he's qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He's the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don't know yet exactly what form this will take, but he is the Chosen One. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power."

Even if one assumes that Tiger rolled his eyes upon hearing those comments, like any embarrassed son would, his father's vision for him may still exert an influence. And Tiger has already done some things that reveal a genuine social concern. In any kind of remotely philosophical interview situation—such as question-and-answer sessions at corporate outings, his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997 and his interview with this magazine for a cover story two years ago—Woods repeats the tale of his life's most significant moment: his meeting in 1998 with South African leader Mandela. The Tiger Woods Foundation, which Woods and his father established in 1996, is not the usual sort of activity that rich young athletes lavish their time and money upon. And there are other odd events that surface from time to time: his 2004 clinic on board an aircraft carrier (hitting balls into the sea); his participation this spring in four days of military basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and his 1997 meeting with the prime minister of Thailand, the native country of Woods's mother, Kutilda.

Using fame as a stepping stone to public office is hardly new. George Washington was not only the first U.S. president but also, by virtue of his battlefield prowess during the Revolutionary War, far and away the most famous man in the colonies. Generals in general were the country's biggest celebrities back in the nineteenth century—the pro athletes of their day. Dashing Andrew Jackson, known as Old Hickory, enjoyed rock-star-like renown after beating up on the British in the War of 1812 and won two terms in the White House as a champion "of the people." Zachary "Old Rough and Ready" Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant also won the presidency almost entirely because of their battlefield fame.

By the early twentieth century, however, sports stars (along with movie actors) began to overtake generals as the country's most famous citizens, and President Woodrow Wilson was among the first to recognize their political potential. The demands of the presidency are so difficult, he said back in 1908, "We shall be obliged always to be picking our chief magistrates from among wise and prudent athletes—a small class." In Wilson's era, the wildly popular and well-educated Bobby Jones may have fit the bill best, but Jones, though a lawyer, showed little interest in politics. To date, no professional athlete has made it to the White House, but New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, who played on two NBA championship teams with the New York Knicks, ran a credible campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, and former quarterback Kemp campaigned for the Republican nomination in 1988 and 1996. "My sports background posed a challenge," Kemp told T+L GOLF. "On the one hand, it gave me great name recognition. On the other hand, people were always saying: 'Kemp?What does he know about anything?Isn't he just a football star?' There was a lot to overcome."


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