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Go and find the world you want, Pern and John Ginella of Santa Rosa told their five kids. It's your life. You define it. You own it. You live it. Think outside the box? Heck, just get rid of the box altogether. Follow what makes sense to you, not to someone else. Mom and Dad didn't have to say it twice to Matt, their youngest.

"I love stories," said Ginella, co-host of a five-day-a-week morning television show on the Golf Channel, "and wouldn't it be something that the greatest story you've ever heard was the one about your life?"

It's as if Ginella, 41, is finding himself in the middle of his own movie, in the lead role, looking at himself in the mirror, blinking over and over in disbelief. Yes, that's me all right, he thinks to himself, the kid who graduated from Cardinal Newman in 1990, the kid who once thought the ultimate description of happiness would be working as the course superintendent at Oakmont. And the allure at the core of that image, lo these many years, drives Ginella still to this day.

"To see a sunrise over a golf course," Ginella said, "that's like church to me. It's peaceful. It's like . . . waking up in my own bed."

Ginella worked five summers at Oakmont, in the pro shop, raking grass and taking out garbage. Three of those summers came while he was at Newman, and two while at St. Mary's College before he graduated in 2005 with a degree in communications. Ginella liked the smell, the visual, the feel of it and he could have been happy staying there, very well could have stayed there, never gotten out of bed so to speak .<TH>.<TH>. if it wasn't for his voice, the one he found at the age of 10.

Starting at 10, and for four summers, Ginella at night would broadcast imaginary baseball games into a tape recorder. He'd make up everything; lineups, scoring, pitching changes, drama, weather, all of it. Even describing those flying hot dog wrappers so endemic to summertime Candlestick. The mock broadcasts always would be of a Giants-Padres game.

"And the Padres would always win," Ginella said. The next morning his dad would take the cassette tape with him and listen to it in the car on his way to work in San Francisco.

And, boom, therein was the perfect Ginella marriage. His voice describing his church and the people in it.

"All I ever wanted to do," he said, "was broadcast golf."

How Ginella arrived at this point in his life — he's been on-the-air at Golf Channel only since January — frankly is of more fascination than the past seven months of his life. His journey to Golf Channel has not been on a straight line. Rather, his journey looks more like one of those lines on a seismograph after an earthquake. About an 11.5 on the You Got To Be Kidding Me scale.

The most logical path to being a television golf celebrity is NOT carrying camera equipment along the sidelines for Sports Illustrated during the 49ers' last Super Bowl victory (1994). Doors will NOT open at the Golf Channel after a senior thesis at St. Mary's on how ESPN determines its editorial criteria. Mowing greens at Oakmont after college is NOT fast-tracking to fame and fortune. It's NOT a confidence-builder when small school St. Mary's — not The Golf Channel — refuses to hire you as director of communications.

"But I always kept saying yes when people asked me to do something," said Ginella, who carried a 3-handicap by the time he was a senior on the St. Mary's golf team.

And thus we arrive at 1998, the tipping point in Ginella's life, the moment in time that decides up from down. It's spring. Tiger Woods is about to defend his 1997 Masters title. Now golf photo editor at Sports Illustrated, Ginella rolls the dice.

"No one has ever taken a picture of a real live tiger with Tiger," Ginella said. "It's obvious. It's a natural. We ought to do it."

Never happening, said Bill Colson, the magazine's editor. Ain't gonna happen, ain't never gonna happen, said Woods' agent, Hughes Norton. A live 600-pound wild beast next to the hottest name in sports?

"Everyone was afraid Tiger would be eaten," said Ginella, a view that had some merit.

Pern and John told their son to follow your instincts, so Ginella assembled data and found a wild animal trainer with beasts experienced in a public setting. Ginella made his presentation. Norton said fine, set up the shoot. But it can't be a full-grown adult tiger. Has to be a tiger cub. And the human Tiger has the right to bail at anytime. Agreed, Ginella said.

The day of the shoot at the Isleworth County Club in Orlando, the animal handler showed up in the Isleworth ballroom with two 600-pound tigers, one Bengal, one white. Ginella hits the panic button.

"It's OK," the handler said. "Adult tigers are easier to handle. Don't worry."

The Bengal tiger doesn't feel the love. He gets nervous and poops. One of the handlers begins to scoop up the stuff when he accidentally hits the Bengal in the tail with the shovel. The tiger lets out a roar and lunges, which shakes Ginella to this very day.

"Here I am, 26 years old, and my career is right on the line," Ginella said. "I could see the headline: 'Young Sports Illustrated photo editor kills Tiger Woods.' I go up to the handler. I told him I am this close to canceling the shoot."

Ginella places his right thumb and forefinger about a millimeter apart.

"When I come back in 30 minutes," Ginella said, "you better have this squared away."

Thirty minutes later Ginella returned with Woods and Norton. Norton hit the throttle when he saw the two 600-pound animals.

"I thought you said there were going to be only tiger cubs . . . "

And that's about as far as Norton got. He shut up when he saw Woods made a beeline for the white tiger, the Bengal tiger resting somehow peacefully in a cage.

"There was no fear on Tiger's part," Ginella said. "No hesitation. Less than zero. I found he's a real nature lover. He stood right next to the white tiger."

Ginella? He was standing against a back wall.

Fifteen shots later Ginella told his shooters to wrap it up. Are you kidding, they responded? This is an opportunity of a lifetime! Forty-five minutes, 150 shots later it was over but not before . . .

"The trainer would hit the tiger in the nose and the tiger would raise up and roar and they'd take his picture right next to Tiger," Ginella said. "Then they'd wave a piece of meat in front of the tiger and the animal would bare his teeth. The most amazing thing I ever saw."

Before it was over Ginella, Norton and Woods posed with the white tiger. It was a group photo seen round the world. Sports Illustrated did a separate just on the shoot. Ginella now had the kind of street cred in the media only the bold and imaginative can gather. Ginella was a known. He moved on to Golf

Digest as director of photography, then the golf Travel Editor for five years for the magazine until Golf Channel came along at the beginning of the year.

"Where I am in my life," Ginella said, "I am as surprised as everyone else is."

Maybe. Maybe not. Ginella has lived a long time guided by trust and instinct, the first influencing the second. It hasn't failed him yet, although that raw meat thing, well, that was pushing it.

"It was about 30 minutes after the shoot," Ginella said, "when I took my first breath."