Bemidji woman recalls fond memories of dating Tiger Woods in college

Golf is not all of what Tiger Woods is about. Neither is infidelity, according to Irene Folstrom, his college girlfriend, who has come out to defend him.

Irene Folstrom
Irene Folstrom

Golf is not all of what Tiger Woods is about. Neither is infidelity, according to Irene Folstrom, his college girlfriend, who has come out to defend him.

Folstrom, 35, of Bemidji, a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe member who grew up in Cass Lake, dated Woods for a year and a half when they were students at Stanford University.

"I only have amazing recollections of our time together and him as a person," Folstrom said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening. "I am not completely sure what went wrong, but I know fame and fortune can have a lot to do with somebody's downfall."

Folstrom, who will be interviewed by a TV crew this morning for a segment on "Inside Edition," dated Woods for a year and a half, until Woods left Stanford at the end of his sophomore year in 1996 to turn pro, while Folstrom continued her studies.

"This may surprise some people," Folstrom wrote in an essay that appeared on, "but Tiger was a great boyfriend."


Folstrom hasn't seen Woods since the late 1990s, but like many others, she was shocked to hear of his affairs.

"The Tiger I knew was loyal, devoted and self-controlled," she wrote. "I'm not naïve, but I can say with certainty that he was faithful during the time we dated. The speculation that he's being treated for sex addiction is surprising because he enjoyed a normal sexual relationship."

When they were dating, Folstrom had no inkling of the fame Woods would reach. "I'm just a girl from the Northwoods," she said. "I knew he would be a good golfer, and being an athlete myself, I really appreciated that (Folstrom was a stellar athlete for Cass-Lake Bena High School).

"But we were like 19 and 20 -- who thinks that far ahead?"

Folstrom said there has been speculation that she was asked to speak out on behalf of Woods or that she is being compensated for doing so.

"I did this all on my own," she said, joking that if she'd been paid, she'd have a new truck and snowblower in her yard.

Folstrom, who spoke with Sports Illustrated and People magazine after receiving multiple calls from media outlets, chose to come forward with her support after seeing the harsh treatment toward Woods in the media after he announced he had had multiple affairs during his marriage to Elin Nordegren, with whom he has two children.

"It really made me angry," she said. "Any of my friends, my close girlfriends, will say that I am so devoted and loyal and will stick up for any of them no matter what. It just really got to me."


Folstrom decided that she needed to return at least one of the phone calls from the media.

"I truly believe that I made the right decision," she said. "I spoke up for my friend and I will continue to do so."

Folstrom said it's an interesting coincidence that she started writing her book, "Phoenix," just before the Woods story broke last year.

"My book is about redemption and picking yourself back up and moving on in life," she said. "Tiger has clearly made mistakes, but we all do, in some way, shape or form. I have made many, many mistakes on my own."

Folstrom attended Stanford from 1993-1997 and earned her law degree at Cornell University. She spent four years working on national legislative issues for the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C.

She ran for the Senate DFL endorsement in 2006 in District 4. Mary Olson of Bemidji won the endorsement and subsequently defeated incumbent Republican Carrie Ruud. Folstrom bowed out at the endorsing convention.

Folstrom also ran for mayor of Bemidji in 2008, losing in the primary.

She and her husband, Brett Masayesva, have two young sons, Victor and Max.


A new chapter

What's happening now is just one chapter in Woods' life, Folstrom said.

"He needs to work really hard with Elin and his children. I know that he'll do that," she said, adding that she believes he will return to his success in golf as well.

"When he comes back to the circuit, I hope the other golfers have sewn up their money bags, because when he comes back, he'll be stronger than ever," she said.

Folstrom hopes the public will be supportive as Woods enters his next chapter.

"Obviously Tiger has made some big mistakes, but he's apologized and seems to be trying to heal himself and his family," she wrote in the essay. "I hope the public will forgive him because he deserves a second chance. He's a good person with a caring heart."

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