|Unlike Tiger, Thorpe talks a good game - 10/26/07|
By Bob Padecky, Press Democrat Columnist
He is without peer, rival, or any true competition. Tiger Woods stands alone, up there, like King Kong but without any airplanes around him. Tiger's only challenger is himself, and he should be a heck of a carrot at the end of the stick. Should be easy to sell minorities on golf if Woods is what's being sold. He has everything. He IS everything. He lacks for nothing.
That's the problem, the distance between Tiger Woods and the rest of the world's golfers, or the rest of the world for that matter. When was Tiger's last problem? His fingernails were a little long? Tiger's so far removed from nearly everyone's perception of reality.
"This is the first thing they say: 'I can't be like Tiger Woods'," said Jim Thorpe, the first round co-leader of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship Thursday.
"They" are minority kids. Thorpe, a black man, speaks to minorities all the time while on the Champions Tour. Of course it doesn't matter to the kids that no one else, even Woods' fellow PGA pros, can be like Woods either. Woods is a bully, not of intent, but of accomplishment, and Thorpe has a difficult time getting kids past that.
"Does Tiger intimidate the kids?" I asked.
"Sure, but he intimidates the guys he plays with," said Thorpe, 58. "Heck, he intimidates me. See how he looks? He's cut like a rock. He's (torso) big as a tree."
With an image larger than life. But would Thorpe give up the hunt to bring minorities into golf? He's made it an obsession, as he has two careers now, one on the Champions Tour and one as recruiter. And Thorpe has never backed off from intimidation.
"I was one of 12 kids," said Thorpe from Roxboro, N.C. "My daddy worked in the fields. He never cashed a check for more than a $100. I worked for 75 cents an hour bagging groceries. Made another 75 cents an hour priming tobacco (preparing product for shipment). I knew at 15 I didn't want to spend the rest of my life priming tobacco. I wanted to be a golfer. I became disciplined, focused."
Tuesday Thorpe spent time talking to some inner-city kids about discipline and focus and he didn't spoil them with small talk and when-I-was-a-kid stories that would put them to sleep. He wanted to get their attention. He did.
"I'm going to tell them the truth: 'You guys are born with a handicap, drugs and that stuff . . . By putting tattoos all over your body, having babies out of wedlock, disrespecting your mom and dad, not getting the right education, then you're putting yourself behind the 8-ball.'
"I saw one kid and said, 'You see that tattoo you have there? If you walked into my office looking for a job, I would turn you around and send you out.' . . . YOU, running with the pants around your butt, pull those up! That's stupid man, no one wants to give you a job looking like a thug."
Spare the rod, spoil the golfer. Spare the kid, Thorpe said, and he'll dip into a big bucket of excuses.
"You got to stop blaming the system," Thorpe said. "Anybody can attack the system. I was born black and it didn't stop me. I've made more than $13 million on the tour, more money than I ever could have imagined."
It hasn't stopped Thorpe being what Woods is not, an active campaigner for minority youth. Thorpe does what Woods has been criticized for not doing, actively recruiting, stumping, talking to anyone at anytime who would listen.
"Tiger is too busy to do anything," Thorpe said. "Tiger is like a god. He's probably the most recognized person on the planet. But I have been involved with a lot of inner city golf programs for years. I have seen a lot of young talent out there. And I don't know what happens to it."
They have nowhere to go; not a lot of golf courses in the downtowns of big cities. They don't have the money for clubs, shoes, greens fees; grabbing a basketball or football involves far less overhead, not to mention space. And they don't have, quite frankly, Jim Thorpe, speaking a mile a minute on their behalf.
Uncommon talent, by itself, does not integrate. If it did, because of Woods, golf might be 70 percent African-American as it is in football. Instead Jim Dent and Thorpe are the only African-Americans on the Champions Tour. Woods, of mixed race, is the only on the regular Tour.
What golf needs is an accessible Tiger Woods. What golf gets is an accessible Jim Thorpe. The message is no less meaningful, just less heard.