updated 03/09/2010 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/09/2010 AT 2:30 PM ET
“I support him 100 percent,” says Irene Folstrom, who says she dated Woods in the mid-1990s when they were undergrads at Stanford University. “Of course, he was unfaithful and he has his faults, but he is really a good person.”
Folstrom, 35, who lives in northern Minnesota, hasn’t spoken to the golfer in more than 10 years, but says she has kept up with mutual college pals who report that Woods is focused on winning back wife Elin Nordegren. “He is willing to do whatever it takes to salvage his marriage and his reputation and his professional life,” says Folstrom. “He is focusing on his family, his marriage and his children.”
Maintaining that the golfer was faithful to her when they dated, Folstrom says she was taken aback when she heard of his multiple affairs.
“It was a complete surprise because the Tiger I know would never have done anything like this,” she says. “He has so much self-control and is so disciplined. When he married Elin, I thought he would settle down … I don’t know where it fell apart.”
Awkward and Dorky
By Folstrom’s account, Woods was anything but a ladies’ man back in college. “He definitely was a dork,” she recalls with a laugh. “He was kinda scrawny and wore thick glasses. He didn’t really have a lot of female attention.”
But he did exhibit the focus that has made him a champion. “He had an immense amount of self-control,” she says. Often, she says, he’d be up at 6:30 a.m., hitting balls before class. “He was never a party animal, never reckless,” she says. “He was always very guarded of himself and his friends. He kept his circle very tight and that’s the way it is right now.”
She says the two stopped dating when Woods left Stanford at the end of his sophomore year in 1996 to turn pro. Folstrom finished her studies and later moved back to northern Minnesota, near the Ojibwe Indian reservation where she grew up.
Though she is dismayed by Woods’s behavior in his personal life, she predicts that the determination she saw in him during their college days will be in full display once he returns to the golf course.
“This will only make him stronger,” she says. “He is an ironman. He gets thru adversity. Those other players, they better watch out.”