THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Tiger Woods said the death of Nelson Mandela was “a sad day for many people,” especially those who had the chance to meet him.
That moment was 15 years ago for Woods when he was in South Africa for the Million Dollar Challenge.
“It’s sad for everyone who got a chance to not only meet him, but I’ve been influenced by him,” Woods said Thursday after the first round of his World Challenge. “I got a chance to meet him with my father back in ’98. He invited us to his home, and it was one of the inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life.”
Woods did not go into details of stories about Mandela that he has told many times over the years.
At the British Open this summer, when Mandela’s health was failing, he told of walking into a living room in Mandela’s home and feeling a presence he couldn’t describe.
“It still gives me chills to this day, thinking about it,” Woods said in July at Muirfield. “A gentleman asked us to go into this side room over here and, ‘President Mandela will join you in a little bit. And we walked in the room, and my dad and I were just kind of looking around. And I said, ‘Dad, do you feel that? And he says, ‘Yeah, it feels different in this room.
“And it was just like a different energy in the room,” Woods said. “We just looked at each other and just shrugged our shoulders and whatever. And maybe, I’m guessing probably 30 seconds later, I heard some movement behind me and it was President Mandela folding up the paper. And it was pretty amazing. The energy that he has, that he exudes, is unlike any person I’ve ever met. And it was an honor to meet him at his home. And that’s an experience that I will never, ever forget.”
Woods later paid his respects on Twitter.
“Pop & I felt your aura went we met, I feel it today & I will feel it forever. You have done so much for humanity…” said one tweet from Woods. It was followed by, “You will always be in my heart Mr. Mandela.”
Woods, the first player of Black heritage to win the Masters in 1997 with a record-breaking performance, was in the middle of overhauling his swing in the fall of 1998. The week after Thanksgiving, he played the Casio World Open in Japan and then made his first trip to South Africa.
“I had read all the information about him,” Woods told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview. “If you’re a minority, you’ve read up on what he did. To go through what he did for 27 years and come out and be as humble as he was, and then run the country … how tough a person do you have to be to do that?”
Woods returned to South Africa five years later for the Presidents Cup, a time when there was uncertainly whether Americans would travel such a long distance in November for the event. Woods never gave it a second thought, telling the AP he surely would have gotten a phone call from Mandela.
“How can you not want to do anything for that man?” he said.
Mandela met with Woods, Ernie Els and the rest of the players that week at the Presidents Cup, and he attended the opening ceremony.
Woods was informed of Mandela’s death after finishing his round at Sherwood Country Club, and before he spoke to reporters.
“He certainly had an impact on my life and certainly my father’s,” Woods said. “When he came out (of prison), the country could have fallen apart. It could have gone a lot of different ways, and he led it to where it’s at now. And the world is going to miss him.”
For Mandela to spend 27 years in prison and emerge without hatred is what Woods found difficult to fathom.
“I don’t think any of us probably here could have survived that and come out as humble and as dignified as he did,” Woods said. “And to lead an entire nation and to basically love the world when he came out, I think that’s a testament to his will and his spirit and who he was.”