ORLANDO – Padraig Harrington has made a living as a career tinkerer and world-class aficionado of the golf swing. This week, at the PNC Championship at the Ritz-Calton Golf Club at Grande Lakes Resort, Harrington has stopped and been entranced by three golf swings.
“Gary Player. Lee Trevino and Charlie Woods,” he said. “Gary Player for me, at 85 years of age, it’s just incredible how well he hits. Lee Trevino is still a beautiful ball striker at 81 years of age. Wouldn’t you love to be like that? And on the opposite end of the scale at 11 years of age you have Charlie Woods and what’s ahead of him. It is interesting. Push Tiger aside. You’re not the story anymore.’’
Even a three-time major winner is intrigued to see the development of Tiger’s cub as a golfer and their personal interaction as father and son. As Harrington so eloquently put it, the spotlight is on Charlie this weekend.
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“This is the first tournament I’ve ever played in that Tiger Woods is playing in that he’s not the star of the show. He should note that himself,” Harrington said. “He ain’t the star of the show this week. And that’s very much among the players and the pros. We’re all going down that range and everybody is stopping to watch Charlie. ‘Move out of the way Tiger.’ It is incredible the buzz it’s created.’’
The knee-jerk reaction this week is to paint Charlie – dressed in Nike, club twirling and mimicking so many of the mannerisms of his 15-time major-winning dad – as a “mini-me” version, a chip off the old block.
“Who wouldn’t want to be like your dad if your dad was Tiger Woods?” Justin Thomas said.
Here’s to father-son moments like this. pic.twitter.com/Y6QjUvgXsI
— Brandel Chamblee (@chambleebrandel) December 18, 2020
The Twitter-verse was abuzz at the sight of Charlie’s swing and warm-up session on the range Thursday next to Tiger before their pro-am round as if they’d seen the second coming. Cue the crazy talk that Charlie was going to revolutionize the game while breaking all of his dad’s records.
Simmer down, people. Charlie’s action shows raw promise and it’s evident that he not only has his famous father’s golf genes but his ‘feels,’ and perhaps most importantly, a love for the game. But let’s cool our heels. Let’s allow this weekend to be about a father and son bonding on the golf course. Thomas, who is something of a big brother to Charlie, put the 36-hole exhibition into the proper perspective.
“He’s just 11 years old. He doesn’t need to be compared to Tiger. He doesn’t need to be compared to anybody,” Thomas said. “He just needs to enjoy the game and hopefully we will be able to help him enjoy Saturday a little bit more.”
Being the child of a famous athlete comes with pros and cons, said Jackie Langer, daughter of Bernhard Langer. Many of the offspring of the legends of golf attempted to follow in their father’s footsteps with limited success. Gary Nicklaus was dubbed “The Next Nicklaus,” on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and while he earned a PGA Tour card, the closest he came to winning an event, let alone 18 majors, was a playoff loss at the hands of Phil Mickelson. Bill Haas, the son of Jay, has carved out a successful career, winning six times on the PGA Tour, including the FedEx Cup in 2011, but Jay Haas has never been confused for Tiger Woods.
How was your swing when you were 11? 😳 pic.twitter.com/vDhphUrudG
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 17, 2020
Tiger has been on stage practically since he could walk. He was asked at his pre-tournament press conference how he determined that now was the appropriate time to expose Charlie to the bright lights of NBC/Golf Channel coverage and the accompanying media scrutiny.
“He’s been playing in junior tournaments and out in front and having people video him. This is a different world that we live in now and everyone has a phone and everyone has an opportunity to video,” Woods said.
To his credit, Tiger didn’t expose Charlie to a press conference. That can wait. Listening to Woods answer questions, he seemed uncomfortable with the attention surrounding his son this week. He repeated the phrases “fun” and “enjoy” multiples times and deflected any questions that might raise expectations for Charlie to be golf’s next superstar.
“Whatever sport he decides to do and as long as he has the passion for it, I’ll be happy for him,” Tiger said.
The most encouraging words for Charlie’s future in the game may be that it was Charlie who pleaded with his dad that he wanted to play in this competition. When PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan asked Charlie what other sports he played, Charlie told him he was focused on golf, leading Monahan to wonder if he hit balls every day. Charlie smiled and said he did. But the comparisons and unfair expectations are inevitable, leaving Harrington to argue that the deck is actually stacked against, not in favor of, Charlie becoming a golf star.
“Huge pressure and stress. Every shot they ever hit. He’s not as good as his dad. Or it’s easy for him,” Harrington said. “The son of a sports star never gets credit. It’s the same with people with a silver spoon. They’ll never get credit if they are successful. It was easy for them. It’s actually harder. That’s why most successful sports people come from a tougher background. They don’t have options. If you have no option and you have a bad day, what do you do if you have no option? You get up and start practicing. If you have a bad day and you get up the next day and your dad will give you a job, it makes it harder to practice… It’s really tough to make it if you have options. It’s much easier to make it in a sport if either you succeed or that’s it.’’
So, slam the breaks on Charlie being golf’s next savior and let this weekend be what it is supposed to be: about fathers being fathers, grandpas in the gallery, family on the bag, wives taking a bow for raising the offspring of the greats while their husbands were chasing glory, and a few good golf shots along the way.
“It’s deepening our bond,” Tiger said of teaming with his son this week. “It’s not about anybody else. It’s about us.”
As it should be.
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