Wednesday, April 16, 1997
Tiger's win links
history with future

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The day after Tiger Woods conquered the Masters was the day before the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball.

It was a perfect day to dream and remember. There were just enough clouds in the bright blue sky to pin hopes for the future and reflect on the past.

Johnny McFarlin dreamed and remembered as he walked from the clubhouse of Avon Field Golf Course. Holding his 15-month-old grandson, Jevon Copeland, he ducked as the little guy took wild practice swings with a yellow plastic seven iron.

''He's going to be a golfer like Tiger,'' said the grandfather who had just finished a quick nine holes before working the night shift at Busken Bakery.

Throughout his 61 years, Johnny has played in a segregated game. Growing up in Alabama, he saw blacks sneaking onto courses or playing in fields. In Cincinnati, he sees segregation ''in the absence of black golf pros.''

Calling Tiger Woods' victory at Augusta ''a Godsend,'' he likened it to an event that occurred when he was 11 years old, Jackie Robinson's first big-league game.

Johnny played baseball as a kid. But before Jackie Robinson, he never dreamed of playing in the big leagues.

''Where I came from you couldn't even make-believe you were a policeman. You couldn't have dreams like that.''

But after Jackie Robinson, it was OK to dream. And now comes Tiger Woods.

In Avon's parking lot, Percy Marshall Sr. handed out dreams from the trunk of his Cadillac.

Over the years, the 84-year-old retired laborer has gathered 3,800 used golf clubs from local courses. He stops at places like Avon Field - where he hit two holes-in-one in 1992 - and gives the clubs ''to street kids who need their minds soothed. Golf gets them off the streets and keeps them out of trouble.''

Eddie Russell dreamed of being a professional golfer and playing in tournaments at Cincinnati's country clubs. He had the skills to play and the will to win. But he could not beat discrimination.

''They'd change the tournament rules at the last minute,'' he said as he lined up a putt, ''and give lame excuses.

''I just wish they would have come out and said, 'It's because you're black.' I could have dealt with that better.''

He tapped the ball and the putt broke to the right.

''Doggone it!'' Eddie muttered.

After sinking a 2-footer, he tried to remember the name of the Cincinnati country club that kept him out of a tournament because he brought a caddy who was as black as he is.

''That was a long time ago,'' Eddie said and gave up trying to remember. ''That's spilt milk you can't lick up.''

As he prepared to tee off, George Wilson talked about watching Tiger Woods' victory on TV.

The Project Succeed Academy teacher saw most of the final, record-setting round in the hospital. He was visiting an old friend and former Cincinnati Royals teammate, Oscar Robertson. Days earlier, the Big O - pro basketball's former all-time assists leader - had recorded the greatest assist of his life by donating a kidney to his daughter, Tia.

''Oscar and Tia were watching Tiger on the hospital TV,'' George Wilson said. ''I was with them until the 13th hole.''

Oscar urged him to stay. But George wanted to celebrate at home.

''When I came home, my wife was watching the game on TV. Now, she doesn't watch golf.

''So, for the first time, we sat down and watched golf together.''

After Tiger Woods sunk his final putt, he thanked his parents. Then he thanked the black golfers who came before him.

That got to George Wilson and he started to cry. ''I looked over and my wife was crying, too.

''We cried because of what he said. His words showed the character of this man.''

Sunday's victory at Augusta was one of those rare moments in time when long-held, hard-fought dreams come true. And not just for the man of the moment.

Tiger Woods won for a circle of people linked by a common dream. He took the determination of his predecessors and drove it a country mile. To future generations, he provided a source of inspiration that's bright, polished and smiles on everyone.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.