[This story initially appeared in ESPN the Magazine’s Fame issue (May 9, 2016).]
Ten years ago, Tiger Woods sat in his boyhood home across from his father’s body, waiting on the men from the funeral home to arrive and carry Earl away. It was around 3 in the morning. Outside this bedroom in Cypress, California, the mechanism of burial and goodbye sputtered into action, while inside, Tiger and his half sister, Royce, floated in those gauzy first hours after a death, when a loved one isn’t there but doesn’t quite seem gone either. About an hour earlier, Earl had taken two or three final breaths that sounded different from the ones that came before. Tiger got the call and came straight to Cypress, passing the Navy golf course where he learned to play, turning finally onto Teakwood Street. His dad never sold the house because he liked the easily accessible nostalgia. If Earl wanted, he could go see the Obi-Wan Kenobi poster still hanging on Tiger’s closet door, or find an old Nintendo or Lego Star Destroyer. Earl died three steps from his son’s old room.
Royce says she sat with her father on the bed, rubbing his back, like she’d done the last few hours as he faded.
“You’re waiting for him to wake up?” Tiger asked.
“Yes,” Royce said.
“I am too.”
Three days later, on May 6, 2006, the family gathered at a private air terminal in Anaheim to take Earl’s remains back to Manhattan, Kansas, where he grew up. Tiger’s mom, Tida, and his wife, Elin, sat together in the Gulfstream IV, facing each other, according to Royce. Elin did college homework, which she often did during any free moment, in airplanes or even on fishing trips, working toward her degree in psychology. Tiger’s half siblings came along; Royce and Earl Jr. sat at a table, and Kevin sat across from them on a couch. There were six passengers total, and Tiger plopped down in his usual seat, in the front left of the plane. He put the urn holding his father’s remains directly across from him — Royce…