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Publicity doesn’t sway Woods from kids

SHARE Publicity doesn’t sway Woods from kids

NEW ORLEANS — Security was tight enough for a presidential visit — streets closed off, police patrolling the grounds, plainclothes officers on watch.

Tiger Woods hit New Orleans for a clinic for 125 kids, and everyone wanted to see him. Calls flooded the mayor's office, the groups sponsoring the clinic and television stations, most begging for tickets.

Woods only wanted to see the kids.

"I think anyone that's connected to it in anyway has been hearing from everyone they ever knew," said Dan Happoldt of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. "He doesn't want to diminish the experience for the kids, though."

Woods turns even the rich and powerful to putty. They long for a wave, a word, a wink or even a glance. On Monday, the New Orleans police chief shouldered past news photographers to take pictures of Woods. City councilmen worked their way past the barricades for a chance to see him. Local celebrities gawked like kids.

To discourage the hordes, Woods was flanked by his own security men beginning with a dinner and auction Sunday night that benefited the Tiger Woods Foundation. On Monday, more than 50 New Orleans police circled the golf course where the clinic was scheduled. Only those with credentials as golfers, guests and media got through the road blocks and past the fence.

There was little doubt that Woods' mind was on his work, not his stardom.

By 9:30, Woods was on the course with 25 youngsters, well away from the reporters and fans.

"I got to see Michael Jordan when he was in New Orleans, now I get to see Tiger Woods," said Julian Polk, 11, who has played golf for three years. "Jordan used to be my favorite in the world. Now Tiger is."

Heavy rain and frequent lightning cleared the course about an hour into Woods' first session. While the kids waiting their turn scrambled for cover with their parents, Woods and the 25 youngsters he had been working with huddled under a tent.

"We had a Q&A session in the tent," Woods said. "They asked a lot of good questions."

The queries ranged from the British Open to the benefits of meditation. And when the event was forced from the course to the Municipal Auditorium where 3,500 school kids awaited Woods, the scope widened to include such things as his monthly income, his religion and if he thought there should be more opportunity for female golfers.

"The kids are pretty intelligent," Woods said. "It's just that a lot of time they're just too shy to let that inquisitiveness come out." And when you make them feel comfortable, it's amazing how they relax and everything just flows."

For an hour Woods made his audience of youngsters, parents, and others comfortable. He fielded questions easily, mixing laugh-lines with inspirational messages about what it takes to combine athletics and studies, why rules are important, and how to make the most of life.

Then taking a golf ball from a kid in the audience, Woods wrapped up the day by repeating his trick of bouncing the ball on the face of a golf club.

"What do I get out of this?" Woods said. "Tremendous enjoyment. There's no dollar amount that you can put on a kid's genuine smile."