THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - Tiger Woods has already established himself as arguably the greatest golfer in history, but he fervently hopes his legacy will focus instead on his contributions to society.
He created the Tiger Woods Foundation with his father Earl shortly after turning professional in 1996, paving the way for the first Tiger Woods Learning Center where children can develop life skills.
Around 16,000 students have gone through the center since it opened in Anaheim, California in February 2006 and Woods plans to open a second one in the Washington D.C. area within the next five years.
“Golf is something I do selfishly for myself,” the American world number one told Reuters in an interview.
“I have a competitive side and that’s how I express it.
“But, as far as my tombstone is concerned, hopefully it will read something more of what I am trying to do for kids. That would be so much more ultimate than winning any golf tournament.
“The joy I get from winning a major championship doesn’t even compare to the feeling I get when a kid writes a letter saying: ‘Thank you so much. You have changed my life.
“Or: ‘I have turned my life around because of you. I was in a gang and now I’m not in a gang and now I’m going to college. No one in my family has ever gone to a college and now I’m the first one to do it.’ That, to me, is what it’s all about.”
Woods, who won his eighth title of the year at the Target World Challenge on Sunday, said he would have jumped at the chance of going to a learning center as a youngster had the opportunity arisen.
“It would have been incredible,” the 31-year-old American added with his trademark flashing smile. “I didn’t even know how to turn a computer on at that age.
“It’s amazing to have these kids at the leaning center write programs and teach you things. I had a sixth-grader teach me about forensic science, and I had never heard of forensic science until (television program) CSI came out.
“To see these kids and the enthusiasm they have for school, you don’t normally see that until you get to college. But these kids create their own curriculum and it’s pretty cool to see them that excited and that enthused about learning and developing their own future.”
Woods, who became a father for the first time after the U.S. Open in June, has already earmarked a spot at one of his learning centers for his daughter, Sam Alexis.
“We certainly foresee that happening,” he said, referring also to his Swedish wife Elin. “It will be fun to see Sam develop and our kids in the future, how they develop with the opportunities that Elin and I didn’t have.”
Having benefited from a loving, tightly knit home environment with his mother Kultida and father Earl, Woods has tried to replicate some of that experience at his Anaheim learning center.
“As a child, the family that I had and the love I had from my two parents allowed me to go ahead and be more aggressive, to search and to take risks knowing that, if I failed, I could always come home to a family of love and support,” he said.
“And that allowed me to take more risks on the golf course, with studies or whatever else it may be. I always felt like it was okay and that encouragement helped a lot.”
A winner of 13 major titles who trails only Jack Nicklaus (18) in the all-time listings, Woods has often said he craves the anonymity now denied him.
Asked what he most missed about being a child, the 31-year-old replied: “That is probably it, anonymity.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford