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Excellence, Not Race, Inspired America

Column by David D. Hsu
Editor in Chief

On Sunday, another golfer won another golf tournament. Yet everyone knew it was not just another golfer and not just another tournament.

Tiger Woods won the tournament known simply as "The Masters." The attention he has received since then has been unmatched by any other athlete in recent memory.

I have never been a golf fan myself. I've always pictured it as a sport where a bunch of old businessmen with poor fashion taste drive around in little carts. I may also be a little bitter. My first - and only - attempt to play a round of golf resulted in my getting kicked off the course after botching the first hole. But Iadmit I couldn't help but follow the Masters after Woods blazed into the lead. So why were so many people normally indifferent to golf attracted to this one tournament?

Well, whenever Woods is mentioned, chances are that his age or his race will be mentioned soon after. And somewhere along the line, some sports columnist or pseudo-historian will draw parallels to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in professional sports 50 years ago. With Woods' mythical name and his African- and Asian-American background, it's easy to see how people can become so enamored with one athlete.

Even so, the significance of Woods' victory has very little to do with either his race or his age. His accomplishments have not yet approached Robinson-like proportions. True, he was the first black and the first Asian to win the Masters, but no one can say Woods faced the same obstacles that Robinson faced in the 1940s and 1950s, before the civil rights movement. Unless Woods starts speaking out on social issues, he is not going to be the next humanitarian, as his father suggests.

Many feel that his age is his other big accomplishment. Woods is 21 years old, same age as me. Looking at his six-figure purse kind of makes me wish that I had pursued a career in sports rather than study chemical engineering. But in spite of the small earnings of most 21-year-olds, there's nothing extraordinary about Woods' age. Teenagers are prominent in many sports, ranging from gymnastics to ice skating to basketball.

Whenever I hear about the latest teenage phenom, I expect to see either a spoiled child or a kid with an obsessive parent. Jennifer Capriati jumped into the tennis scene, but then her career turned to pot, literally. College dropouts pull down multimillion-dollar NBAcontracts before they even prove themselves. Or worse, a child's genius can lead into a type of Bobby Fischer-like breakdown.

And so, when I first heard of Tiger Woods, I, as many did, expected the same: all hype and no substance. When Woods turned pro and landed a lucrative Nike contract, it only served to confirm my doubts. But his performance at the Masters proved me wrong. Woods is not just another young athlete.

It was nothing less than Woods' excellence, not his race and not his age, that captured America's attention. He dominated the competition, setting a scoring record and finishing 12 shots ahead of the runner-up, analogous to someone beating Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one. For once, the public could see someone do something so well, while having fun doing it.

In a way, Woods accomplished nothing less than the American dream, a dream that has often been drowned out in a cynical world. We all wish, at some time or another, that we can possess genius, if for only an instant - we wish we could sink every three-pointer or ace every test or play any song perfectly on the piano. Well, Tiger did it, and everyone enjoyed the beauty of his talent vicariously.

Maybe Tiger Woods will become the greatest golfer of all time, and he'll be credited with breaking remaining racial barriers. Or maybe this Masters will be the only tournament he wins. But it doesn't matter. Sometimes just one moment of brilliance is enough to inspire.