In the Woods household, mum 'Tida' knows best

Tiger Woods hugging his son Charlie Axel while his mother Kultida looks on after he won his fifth Masters and 15th golf Major at Augusta on April 14, as daughter Sam waits to join in the celebrations.
Tiger Woods hugging his son Charlie Axel while his mother Kultida looks on after he won his fifth Masters and 15th golf Major at Augusta on April 14, as daughter Sam waits to join in the celebrations.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • "Frantic, Kultida ran from the house, yelling What happened? What happened?", read an excerpt from the 2018 biography Tiger Woods written by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.

"As Tiger was placed on a gurney and rolled toward an ambulance, he momentarily opened his eyes and tried to speak. His lips moved, but there were no words. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, as if he were dead. Elin screamed and Kultida wept."

Nine-and-a-half years on from that Thanksgiving Day night in Florida, Kultida wept again.

This time, they were tears of joy. When her son Tiger walked off the 18th green at Augusta National two Sundays ago after his memorable Masters triumph, she was there with her grandchildren and his girlfriend, Erica Herman, to embrace him.

Having stood by her boy through the dark times, Kultida "Tida" Woods now radiated pride and emotion seldom visible during any of Woods' previous 14 golf Major victories. It was noticeable that it was her he hugged before Herman.

While his father Earl died in 2006, and a wife, girlfriends, coaches and caddies have come and gone, Tida has been the one constant in Tiger's life. The 74-year-old remains, along with long-time agent Mark Steinberg, the biggest influence on him.

How do we know? Because Tiger says so. In 2017, he told an interviewer: "Mum was, and still is, strong and feisty. As we said in our family, my mum was the hand, and my dad was the voice. I could negotiate with him, but not with my mum. There was no middle ground with Mum.

"My dad may have been in the special forces, but I was never afraid of him. My mum's still here and I'm still deathly afraid of her. She's a very tough, tough old lady, very demanding."

Earl's domineering presence and readiness to tell the world about his role in his son's rise to greatness meant this was often overlooked.

Tida, though, did more to shape his personality, telling an interviewer in 2009: "I am a loner, and so is Tiger. We don't waste time with people we don't like. I don't have many close friends. Never have. I am independent and strong-willed. That way, you survive."

It would be wrong to call her own or Tiger's upbringing dysfunctional, but neither had a normal childhood.

Born in Kanchanaburi in Thailand to a father who was an architect and a mother who was a teacher, Tida was the youngest of four children.

Her parents divorced when she was five. Over the next decade, her life was split between boarding schools and the homes of her parents, both of whom now had second families.

It wasn't the existence of an only child - like Tiger - but it was certainly a lonely one.

"I always had to make my own thing," she recalled.

In 1966, aged 21, she met Earl, who was stationed in her country with the US armed forces. He divorced his first wife in 1968 and the couple married the following year in Brooklyn, New York. Their only son was born in 1975.

Three months after that hysterical scene described by Benedict and Keteyian, when Woods drove his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree as he attempted a speedy getaway from his Florida home and his nine iron-toting wife Elin Nordegren, the golfer held a press conference watched by millions.

It was the first time he had spoken since the incident which led to an avalanche of lurid tales revealing his serial infidelity. With Tida in the front row, he owned up to a sex addiction condition for which he was receiving therapy.

There was a photo taken from that TV confessional which showed Tida with her arms crossed and her gaze fixed on the floor. You can't work out if her discomfort was prompted by her son's actions, that the PR game impelled him to bare his shame with the rest of the world or the knowledge that the sins of the father had fallen upon the son.

Though never divorced and often seen together at tournaments, Earl and Tida went their separate ways almost as soon as Tiger turned professional in 1996.

Her husband's womanising was becoming too public and too prolific to bear any longer. Earl's sister, Mae, would comment: "Oh Lord, if he had been my husband, I'd have shot him."

Tiger was 18 when he became aware of his father's philandering and must have been sensitive to the humiliation this would have caused his mother.

When he was exposed for the same thing, we can be fairly sure he would have feared Tida's disappointment as much as his wife's anger.

By this point, Elin and their two young children, Sam and Charlie, had moved out of the family home and divorce quickly followed.

Since then, as matriarchs often do in such circumstances, Tida has assumed the role of a part-time surrogate parent to Sam and Charlie. She lives not far from his home on Jupiter Island, Florida, in a 15,000 sq ft property he bought for her.

At the Masters on April 14, her son wore red, as he always does in the final rounds of competitions. Last year, he was asked why he had adopted that colour and tradition.

"My mum says that my power colour is red. And so, in junior golf, I won a golf tournament wearing red. She said, 'See, I told you. Red'. So, the very next tournament what did I do? I wore blue. I won. Again, I told her, and I just kind of made fun of it. Poked at her a little bit. I think I lost the next two out of three tournaments wearing blue. Switched to red and I went on a hot streak. And, well, I kept it."

That might sound like sporting superstition to most of us. In the Woods household, you can bet it's further confirmation that Mum knows best.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2019, with the headline 'In the Woods household, mum 'Tida' knows best'. Print Edition | Subscribe