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Tiger Woods and Joe Grohman are shown at the Western Hills golf course during summer 1994. It was a regional qualifier, before Woods went on to win the U.S. Amateur. It was the last time Grohman caddied for him.

By RYAN HAYNER

Contributing Writer

PLATTSBURGH -- With a wife and baby to support, Joe Grohman put his pro-golfing career on hiatus and started looking for a club job.

It took 42 phone calls, but the former Plattsburgh High School standout finally secured a job at Navy Golf Club in Cypress, Calif.

That job gave him an opportunity to repay a favor from an old mentor.

As a young golfer and self-described "Air Force brat" growing up in Plattsburgh, he was the beneficiary of help from Chief Master Sgt. Jim Hickey, who provided him with course time, supplies and advice.

There was a catch. One day, when Grohman was in a position to help others, he had to pay it forward, Hickey said.

MOVE OUT WEST

Grohman had won local championships and had a successful stint on Plattsburgh High School's golf team, including 1980, when the team went undefeated, won the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference and took second in states.

After his junior year, Grohman jumped on an opportunity to move to California with his mother and stepfather.

He was MVP at Cypress College and played for Cal State Fullerton briefly before turning pro.

SOMEONE TO MENTOR

The club had only one regular junior golfer, which didn't give Grohman much chance to mentor. Although he was disappointed, one was better than none.

When he met that lone junior, the teen was receiving instructions from Earl Woods, a retired officer who had befriended Grohman when few others would.

The junior had his head down, focused on his practice, and to Grohman he seemed to be ignoring Earl's instructions. He told the junior he needed to listen.

Earl busted into laughter, and the junior gave Grohman a "what the heck are you talking about?" look.

"Joe," Earl said. "Haven't you met my son Tiger yet?"

That lone junior golfer's name was Eldrick -- better known as "Tiger" -- Woods.

Grohman hadn't yet heard of the golf prodigy, who at that time was 13 and had several Junior World Golf Championship titles under his belt. He got to know him a lot better when the three played a round of golf together. It wasn't pretty.

"I'm getting assassinated out here," Grohman told Earl.

"That's who Tiger is; he's an assassin within the ropes," Earl replied.

FEELING PROTECTIVE

There was little doubt in Grohman's mind -- this would be his chance to repay Hickey.

He gave Tiger the same support Hickey had given him -- course time, range balls, anything Tiger needed -- and told him that when he was older he would need to pay it forward as well.

There was one difference, though. Hickey never had to protect Grohman from discrimination; Grohman would have to do that with Tiger.

"I hadn't been exposed to discrimination until I moved to California," Grohman said. "I did everything I could to protect this poor kid because it just made no sense."

Tiger was once told he had to carry a receipt when he played, though nobody else was required to.

He was wrongly blamed for hitting balls from the driving range at houses and kicked off the course -- a week after winning the U.S. Amateur.

Grohman had to bite his tongue. The Woods family didn't want to create any commotion or cause any distractions.

Grohman occasionally caddied for Tiger and did his best to help him through difficult times.

"It was sad," Grohman said. "He never bothered anybody and worked his tail off."

WORKING WITH THE BLIND

Tiger would not be the only recipient of Grohman's help. He uses Tiger's story when he works with inner-city youths in Los Angeles. A picture of Tiger and him together gives Grohman instant credibility.

In 2001, he was invited to a trip with the Los Angeles Foundation for Junior Blind for a clinic on helping the blind get into golf. Grohman was so deeply affected by this experience that he set a date for them to come to his course, and ever since he has held an annual golf clinic for the junior blind.

"They're just like you and me; they're normal, regular kids that just can't see," Grohman said. "They're just wonderful, awesome kids."

Through his book, "How to Golf: Beginners Guide," Grohman is able to help people learn the sport without being there in person.

In the foreword, Earl Woods wrote: "Finally! A book written to and for the specific use and needs of the beginning golfer.'"

Grohman, now 43, has made good on his promise to Hickey. With more free time on his hands to focus on his game, he is aiming at getting on the pro tour.

Instead of watching his friend Tiger play -- this weekend at the Masters, for instance -- Grohman would like to be playing with him.

But that won't stop him from helping others. That comes first, he said.

"It feels really good. I feel blessed really. I try to do what good I can do."

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