AUGUSTA, Ga. -- To my great-grandchildren:
I am writing this with sore legs and a sweat-soaked shirt, neither of which can stifle my urge to run across a closely cut lawn while pumping my fist.
Please don't find me a sentimental old fool. But I have just spent an afternoon walking with history.
It is a history you have certainly already seen in books, but I was there. I bumped against it and shouted for it. I melted in its heat and shivered at its triumph.
Just as somebody once told me about Babe Ruth, dear children, I want to tell you about Tiger Woods.
You know by now that he was the greatest golfer who ever lived.
Today, through a meandering old woods known as August National Golf Club, he first set foot on the edges of that superlative.
Today, April 8, 2001, he won the Masters Golf Tournament to become the first golfer to hold the titles of the four modern major championships at the same time.
And, as you surely know now, it hasn't been done since.
Maybe you have even read about what Woods achieved today, after shooting a 16-under-par 272 and finishing two strokes ahead of David Duval. How he talked about putting all four major trophies on his coffee table. How he hugged his dad.
But still, you must wonder. A golfer? A national hero was once a golfer?
Now that people are now hitting balls for miles off the moon, what is the big deal about hitting a crooked 300-yard drive?
And all this fuss over somebody who is just 25 years old? How can somebody make an lifelong impact while virtually still a child?
I'll admit, I was thinking about this too, until I watched Tiger Woods walking down the 18th fairway today into a thunderous standing ovation that quieted even the birds.
Then, as I accidentally brushed my pen against a white shirt in front of me, while accidentally elbowing a woman to my left, steam rising from the mass of people in 85-degree heat, I had some thoughts.
Here was a black man, walking into the teeth of a nearly all-white crowd at an exclusive club that didn't accept its first black member until 1991.
And they were standing for him.
Including a guy man named Hootie.
"You're the greatest," said club chairman Hootie Johnson.
Here, also, was a young athlete with black shoes and a scowl, walking through a group of older colleagues in saddle shoes and shrugs.
And they were cheering him.
"Under these circumstances, with what he was trying to accomplish, to shoot 68 and win the golf tournament in the manner that he did, is outstanding," said Duval.
Here was a guy unafraid to be unlike anybody else in his sport, a guy who took those differences and turned them into fuel that burned him into another atmosphere.
You know what he said was his favorite shot today? It was a soaring, hooking tee shot on the dog-leg No. 13 that led to a birdie. It occurred just one hole after he botched a six-foot putt for a bogey that dropped him into a first-place tie.
You know why he liked the shot?
"It's a shot I've been practicing the last couple of months, knowing the fact that I'm probably going to need that shot," he said.
Tiger Woods made it cool to practice. He made it cool to work. He made it cool to care.
Do you know how many times I saw him smile at the crowd during today's round? Not once.
His playing partner, Phil Mickelson, a nice man who you'll remember as being famous for final-round putting yips, smiled and waved throughout.
Not Woods. He threw his putter on his bag. He flipped his putter behind him. He defiantly swooped his ball out of a cup after matching a Mickelson birdie.
He yelled at his shots -- "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
He yelled at the crowd -- "No cameras, amateur or professional!"
Tiger Woods made it cool to be in a zone.
Then he taught us when it was cool to step out.
After his final fist pump for his final birdie on the final hole that clinched the tournament, he suddenly took off his black cap and buried his face inside.
He later admitted he was crying.
"For some reason, my emotions started coming out and I started experiencing and reflecting on some of the shots I had hit," he said. "A lot of different things went through my head at that moment."
But then, he reminded us it was cool to be polite.
"I had to pull myself together, because Phil was finishing his round, and I had to congratulate him," he said.
Everything that Woods represents can be found in other sports, of course. But rarely in one person. And only in golf can these lessons be so clearly individual and openly inspirational.
He was the right person, in the right place, at a time in our sports evolution when we needed him most.
I know you have probably debated with friends about whether Woods' holding all four major titles -- Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA -- is the best individual sports achievement in history.
There was no debate today.
Walking with what seemed like 40,000 fans here -- the media is not allowed inside the restraining ropes, unlike at other tournaments -- it was impossible not to feel the celebration.
People were lined up 10 deep to see Woods tee off. People were jumping up and down behind long lines to see him putt. People were sliding down hills and hanging on to dogwoods just to watch him walk.
Woods paused several times to cover his sweaty face in a towel. Another time he held up a shot to chase away a bug.
His gallery, though, stayed hot and bothered, standing sweaty and motionless from shot to shot, never requiring a marshal to quiet them, huddled together to cheer the moment and the man.
Among those in the crowd were Woods' mother, Kultida, who somehow wedged her way in front of small trees or bushes to watch every shot.
The first family member Woods hugged afterward was his father, Earl, a loud man who celebrated his son's final putt by jabbing his finger into the air in a major-league "I told you so."
Everyone seemed to understand the history here today except, as usual, Woods.
After all, when he was asked what he would say to the late legendary golfer Bobby Jones, Woods replied, "Well, how did he come back?"
You may wonder, children, did Woods appreciate what he was doing? Did he enjoy it as we did?
Perhaps the answer is that such unprecedented focus on the course doesn't easily translate to romance in the interview room.
After spending an afternoon thinking only about the next shot, it may be difficult for Woods to place that shot in history.
But he does know this much: His buddy Michael Jordan won six major championships. On this day, Woods tied him.
"This will probably go down as one of the great moments in our sport," Woods admitted. "I cannot imagine accomplishing something greater."
I will end this note by reminding you that some people actually tried to downplay Woods' four consecutive titles because they didn't occur in the same calendar year, taking special pains to note that he did not win the elusive prize known as golf's "Grand Slam."
Like greatness ever needs a name. Like greatness ever needs to be anything other than something to embrace, something to share.
His name was Tiger Woods, and here's hoping his memory can touch you like his presence once touched us.
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- To my great-grandchildren: