A parent’s conflict: raising a child to be Tiger Woods without being ‘like’ Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods was just two years old when he appeared on the Mike Douglas Show in 1978. Not only did this mark the start of a life in the limelight, it set a precedent for the parents of future golfing prodigies. 

When Earl Woods was coaching the young Tiger he established two practice rules, the first being that Tiger couldn’t speak during practice rounds. The second, that there were no rules. This minimalist approach to ethics may well cultivate a champion, but at what cost? Moral bankruptcy would be the obvious answer.

Does a better example of contradictory parenting exist? Perhaps not, but then again few fathers produced a son like Tiger Woods; a global superstar with 14 Major Championships.

“The toughest part was not talking, although if looks could kill, my pop would not have made it through my formative years.”

Tiger Woods

(Source/NY Daily News).
(Source/NY Daily News).

The problem for Tiger was that Earl raised his son to believe that the only person he could and should trust was him—and then he betrayed him by repeatedly cheating on his mother. This sense of betrayal must have stuck with Tiger for the rest of his life.

Thrusting a child into competitive sport is a dangerous practice, especially when the growing pains of adolescence go unaddressed. This focus can have damaging consequences for a child’s cognitive development.

“A parent’s role has to be to regulate and, when necessary, hold back that tide until it becomes age-appropriate, and thereby preserve precious qualities of childhood such as innocence, pleasure in mundane things, friendships and even long hours of boredom.”

Peter Stanford, The Independent.

A superstar at 13, Jennofer Capriati became the youngest ever player to reach the top 10 at age 14 years, 235 days. However, citing burnout, Capriati took a 14-month break from competitive pro tennis. Her personal struggles during this time (including arrests for shoplifting and possession of marijuana) were well-documented by the press.
A superstar at 13, Jennofer Capriati became the youngest ever player to reach the top 10 at age 14 years, 235 days. However, citing burnout, Capriati took a 14-month break from competitive pro tennis. Her personal struggles during this time (including arrests for shoplifting and possession of marijuana) were well-documented by the press.

Meet Jaden Soong, a 7-year-old people are calling the next Tiger Woods. Talking to Jaden’s father is a reassuring experience for the cynical amongst us. For him, the most important thing is that his son learns to be a good kid, a sentiment echoed by coach James Jordan.

“He naturally has the talent to be a great golfer so what comes along with that is just making him a great kid in life.”

Asked about his favourite golfer Jaden’s answer won’t surprise you: “Jordan Spieth,” he replied shyly. This is what you want to hear.

Spieth not only accepts the obligations outside the ropes that come with his job, he goes out of his way to meet—and exceed–what is expected of him. Woods was never that way.

I hope Jaden will prove that a parent can attempt to raise a superstar without trading morality for success. Tiger has only himself to blame for his actions, but the impact of Earl’s skewed ethical teachings should not be underestimated. And this is the tragedy. Thankfully this authoritarian style of parenting is all but redundant in the modern game–as the current crop of young talent can attest.

Putting life first is now the dominant ethos. Whether it’s Rory McIlroy playing football, Justin Thomas enjoying a beer, or Jordan Spieth picking a holiday over a tournament, balance is key. Following this mantra is what Jaden Soong is all about, and we hope this pays dividends. If the affable 7-year-old we spoke to is anything to go by, it already has.