ATLANTA » Tom Callahan first met Earl Woods in 1996 at the Greater Milwaukee Open, and he spent the next 10 years listening to stories and gaining insight. Few others had such access and trust.
The hard part was convincing his agent and a publisher that a book on the late father of Tiger Woods was worth writing.
"Nobody wanted me to do this book," Callahan said. "They figured, ‘Who cares about Earl Woods?’ "
Of all the books involving the world’s No. 1 player, this might be the most compelling.
"His Father’s Son," published by Gotham Books, is scheduled to go on sale Oct. 28. Golf Digest, for whom Callahan is a contributing editor, plans to publish excerpts in its November issue.
Callahan devotes the first half of the book to Earl Woods — his Kansas roots, the prejudice he faced as the only black baseball player at Kansas State; his military career; his first marriage, which produced three children; meeting his second wife in Thailand.
The second half is about Tiger Woods.
At times, the lines are blurred.
Callahan portrays Earl Woods as a womanizer, minus the names or the details. In one chapter, he writes about Tiger being furious with his father toward the end of his life. Earl implied that Tiger had to buy him out of what Callahan described only as "some kind of sexual jackpot." It was Woods’ mother, Kultida, who served as peacemaker, urging her son to forgive his father.
Callahan was well into writing the book on Nov. 27, when Woods ran over a fire hydrant outside his Florida home, and soon lurid details of his sexual escapades began gushing out in the media.
"The funny thing is, it didn’t change the book that much," Callahan said. "The original outline was 40 chapters. I ended up with 31. Nine that were lost were melted into other chapters in the first half. I waited half a book to get to Tiger. I didn’t want people to be impatient."
His publisher asked if Callahan was going to contact some of the women linked to Tiger.
"I said, ‘No, I don’t care about them,’ " he said. "Leave that to the floozy books."
This book was always about the intricate relationship between a father, who didn’t touch a golf club until he was 42, and a son, who has dominated golf at every level.
Callahan was fond of Earl Woods. The intention was not to bash either father or son, although he doesn’t duck any of the dirt.
He writes of the father’s philandering: "Any woman who ventured within fifty feet of Earl was a potential plaintiff." And of the son’s extramarital affairs, "Golf never needed a shower more than it did after Tiger Woods careened off a fire hydrant into a tree, shaking loose a multitude of cocktail waitresses, lingerie models and porn actresses, none of whom accused him of gentleness."
Callahan’s research includes interviews with Earl Woods’ sisters, neighbors from his childhood home on Yuma Street in Manhattan, Kan., his first wife and their three children.
His greatest resource, however, was Earl.
In his book, "In Search of Tiger," Callahan details his trip to Vietnam to find the soldier after whom Earl named his son — Col. Nguyen "Tiger" Phong, who died in April 1976. After learning of his fate, Callahan arranged a tearful meeting with the Phong and Woods families.
He knew the father so well that Callahan often went to the house where Earl stayed at majors to watch Tiger on television. In one scene, Callahan describes how Earl would doze off between shots, but eerily woke up when his son was on TV, sometimes offering instruction. He later claimed Tiger could hear him when he played.
"Come on, Earl. Stop it," Callahan tells him.
Earl laughed for about 20 seconds and said, "You don’t mind if I believe it, do you?"
"He told a lot of stories," Callahan said. "All of them weren’t true. They weren’t total lies, they were just a little untrue. The only thing he didn’t exaggerate about was Vietnam."
Callahan talked to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, but the most intriguing interview was with Ernie Els, who spoke fondly about the time Tiger sought his advice on turning pro, and was bluntly honest about the future.
The interview took place Wednesday of the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year, which Els won for his second straight victory. That was about the time Woods announced he would be returning to golf at the Masters.
Els predicted a good week at Augusta National for Woods, but not a green jacket.
"I think he’ll contend," Els said that day. "I think so. He’s that good. But win it? No. There’s a guilt. There’s a conscience. I still say you can’t play your best golf without self-respect."
Callahan also includes several recollections from Royce Woods, the daughter from Earl’s first marriage. Woods made good on a promise as a kid and bought her a house in northern California. She lived with her dad when Tiger was young, and cared for Earl in his final days.
"I asked him once," Royce said in the book, "’Don’t you ever want to do a little dirt, Tiger? Be a little bad? Spray graffiti paint all over a wall at school, or something?’ ‘You know, I probably would,’ he told me, ‘if I didn’t know I was going to be famous someday.’ "