- Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
- Covered golf for more than 20 years
- Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University
ORLANDO, Fla. — Tiger Woods will be 45 years old the next time we see him, and even though age is just a number, it is not his friend at this point. The ongoing back problems, the fall down the World Rankings, the inevitable struggles are there regardless of what the calendar says.
So with that perspective, Tiger’s participation with his 11-year-old son, Charlie, in this weekend’s PNC Championship was instructive in a couple of ways.
His prideful parental skills were on display at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, where Charlie stole the show and Tiger perhaps was coming to terms with the idea it will not always be about him going forward.
And it was clear that Tiger has taught his son well when it comes to golf. Forget the fine play, the similar swing, even the Tiger-like fist pump.
Just from a golf and life standpoint, Charlie looked terrific.
He knows when to mark his ball, how to step out of the way, when it’s his turn. He makes sure not to walk in someone’s line, takes a couple of waggles and fires. His golf etiquette is to be applauded. Forget the final result; if we all played golf in that manner, the game would be much more fun for the masses.
Charlie also has a playful, stick-giving side. Justin Thomas told the story of how Charlie taunted him for missing the first fairway on Saturday. His dad, Mike Thomas, said he lost $1 in a practice-green putting contest, and wanted to go double or nothing: “That’s OK,” Charlie said. “I like my dollar.”
It was a big weekend for Tiger and Charlie, who shot another 62 on Sunday to finish at 20 under par — 5 strokes behind the Thomases, who won the event in their first try. Justin Thomas now has bragging rights, and you can bet Charlie will be figuring out a way to get him back.
There was considerable surprise that Tiger even let this happen. But he clearly was comfortable in what he had seen from Charlie and his ability to comport himself, and was willing to subject his own game to the spotlight without much preparation. His ex-wife, Elin, was also here to watch, along with their daughter, Sam, and a lifetime memory was created.
And then there is what this means for Tiger, 15-time major champion, 82-time PGA Tour winner, proud dad.
His pride was evident, if not overwhelming, and not really necessary. The reaction he had on Saturday when Charlie made an eagle on his own ball said it all. The celebration was appropriate, not over the top, and conveyed how much it meant to both of them. When Charlie made a birdie putt at the 10th hole Sunday and showed a Tiger-like fist pump, Dad smiled, offering more encouragement.
“I thought it was spectacular,” said David Duval.
Tiger was not always in Charlie’s ear, giving him advice when appropriate, but mostly staying out of the way. He cheered the good shots and understood the bad ones. They walked with a purpose, kind of like you would expect from Tiger. Wearing the Sunday red made it all the more appropriate.
“This is a big stage,” said Mark O’Meara, who mentored Woods in his early days as a pro. “Tiger’s been in the limelight his whole life. Bringing little Charlie out at 11, it could be a little intimidating. But we were witnessing something special. Are you kidding me? I would have never dreamed that my son [Sean] and I would have an opportunity to do something like this. So it’s only going to be great going forward.”
You wonder … Charlie clearly loves the game. Will this help Tiger to keep loving it as well?
Their golf bond became stronger this year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In the early stages, Tiger’s club, The Medalist, only allowed golfers to play with family members. Tiger couldn’t play with Rickie Fowler, for example. Or his friend and frequent golf companion, Rob McNamara.
So Charlie became his golf partner. Not that they didn’t play often, anyway. There is that three-hole practice area in Tiger’s back yard, for example, where putting and chipping contests often break out. But in preparing to get back to tournament golf, Tiger played more with his son than he otherwise might have otherwise.
And the kid began to blossom. He showed plenty of game this week, a swing that mirrors his dad’s, a competitiveness that is clearly in the gene pool. If Tiger looks back at any of the video, he undoubtedly will smile over the similarities.
Will any of this keep Tiger more engaged as a professional golfer?
Possibly. Tiger has plenty of pride, and he undoubtedly would love to show his son — and daughter, Sam — that he can still compete with the best. Although he has dropped from No. 6 in the world to 40th after what was mostly a lost 2020 season for him, he still shows flashes that suggest it is still there.
Tiger has not lost his skills, he simply doesn’t have the ability to practice for long stretches and has many days where he is not feeling his best. Limiting those will be key in 2021. Finding the proper balance between practice, rest and competition will continue to be the storyline as he gets into his schedule and prepares for the Masters.
His birthday is Dec. 30, and he will begin ramping up again sometime after the first of the year. We are likely to see him next month at the Farmers Insurance Open, and then the Genesis Open in February. Beyond that depends on many factors.
In the meantime, you figure Charlie is going to be tugging at his dad’s shirt sleeves to join him on the putting green, the driving range, the golf course. How is Tiger to say no?
And it seems like a pretty good reason for Tiger to keep after it.
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