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Recruiting Starts Early….Just Ask Tiger

GolferBy Neil Hayes

After watching a 13-year-old Tiger Woods dominate a junior tournament in Southern California, an influential teaching professional sent a letter to Stanford golf coach Wally Goodwin describing a prodigy the likes of which he had never before seen.

Goodwin wrote Woods a letter

Goodwin wrote Woods a letter dated March 28, 1989.

ofessional sent a letter to Stanford golf coach Wally Goodwin describing a prodigy the likes of which he had never before seen.

“Here at Stanford, I’m finding that it is never too early to get the word out to exceptional young men,” Goodwin’s letter began.

Few recruiting stories are alike. Scores of players in various collegiate and professional sports halls of fame were lightly recruited. Many of the most sought-after recruits have watched their dreams fade. Accepting an athletic scholarship does not guarantee success. That’s why it’s so important to find the right fit academically and athletically.

A prime example involves the most sought-after high school golfer ever.

Woods was the greatest junior player in history before he graduated from Western High School in Anaheim, California, in June of 1994. Recruiting in college golf wasn’t as competitive then and it is today. In fact, most coaches did little recruiting at all, comprising their teams out of whatever talent arrived on campus at the beginning of every school year. But this was different. This was Tiger Woods. National golf powers such as Oklahoma State, Texas, UNLV, Arizona State and Florida were among dozens of schools pursuing the country’s most famous high school athlete.

Those coaches didn’t know that of the ongoing correspondence between the Woods and the Stanford coach that began five years earlier.

“Dear Coach Goodwin,” Tiger replied in a letter dated April 23, 1989. “Thank you for your recent letter expressing Stanford’s interest in me as a future student and golfer. At first it was hard for me to understand why a university like Stanford was interested in a thirteen-year-old seventh grader. But after talking with my father I have come to understand the honor you have given me …”

After signing the letter, Woods listed his height and weight — five feet, five inches, 100 pounds.

Although it would soon become one, Stanford was far from a collegiate golf powerhouse when Woods was being recruited. But it met all the requirements Woods and his parents sought. They valued academics and Stanford was then and remains one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. It was a seven-hour drive from his childhood home.

Excellence was the norm on campus, which gave Woods much-desired autonomy. He was a national celebrity already, but living in a dorm down the hall from another freshman who was building a computer from scratch in his spare time put things in perspective. Woods wasn’t the only person at Stanford who was gifted in his or her chosen field.

UNLV and Arizona State had better facilities. Woods stayed in a luxury hotel room when he visited UNLV. He slept on a futon on the floor of a dorm room when he made his recruiting trip to Stanford. But Goodwin had planted the seed in 1989. Then and now, Stanford felt right to Woods.

Ironically, Stanford’s golf team surprisingly won the NCAA Tournament the year before Tiger arrived. They were expected to repeat after the most decorated amateur in history replaced Stanford’s weakest player but wound up finishing second to Oklahoma State in what may have been the most dramatic NCAA tournament to date and the first in history to be decided in a playoff. Although Woods turned professional after his sophomore season, his frequent sightings at Stanford football and basketball games through the years are a testament to his love of the school.

Although it may not be true for everyone, for Woods, at least, the first impression was the lasting one.

Neil Hayes is the author of When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football’s Longest Winning Streak and the co-author of The Last Putt: Two Teams, One Dream and Freshman Named Tiger.

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About the author
Aaron Sorenson