When David Duval found out that Tiger Woods was going to team up with his 11-year-old son Charlie in the PNC Championship in Orlando this past December, he couldn’t wait to tell his old rival what he was in for.
“I saw that Tiger was going to play,” says Duval, referring to the tournament that pairs major champions with their offspring, “and I texted back and forth with him about how this is going to be an unreal experience and you will have so much fun.” Duval adds: “Like me, he had played with his dad. When he got here I said, ‘You are the dad now.’ ”
Tiger’s response? “He said this is something else.”
The unveiling of Charlie Woods was indeed something else. In the heavily guarded, close-to-the-vest world of Tiger Woods, letting his cub emerge from his den was among the biggest golf stories of the past year, before the car crash that raised questions about his playing future. With Charlie Woods, we saw a poised, mature, confident, even a bit cocky son with a swing and a swagger that mimicked his dad, complete with the club twirls, the fist pumps, the putt-walks that have been the hallmarks of Tiger’s extraordinary career. Charlie also has a bit of his father’s trash talk.
Team Tiger finished seventh in the 20-team field, paired the first day with eventual winners Justin Thomas and his father Mike, and the second day with Duval and his 15-year-old son, Brady. Justin Thomas has become a close friend of the Woodses, and Mike Thomas, a PGA club professional and Justin’s coach, has also been taking a look at Charlie’s game.
“It was incredibly special for us to have the opportunity to spend the quality time we had,” said Woods at a press event. “It’s memories we’ll have for our entire lives.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic limiting spectators to maybe 200 it’s probably not a coincidence that Tiger chose the PNC Championship to let his son walk into the spotlight.
“It was a great circumstance for Tiger to play because there were no crowds. And to be able to get Charlie out there and play I’m sure is a massive thrill for him,” says Duval. “That might have been a difficult situation for Charlie to be in because, say they have 10,000 people out there, there’s going to be 10,000 people following him.”
What the privileged few witnessed in person and 1.5 million a day watched on television was a young Tiger earning his stripes. True, Charlie was allowed to play from forward tees, probably gaining 100 yards on some holes, but he struck the ball purely with a swing that was well balanced. It was not the whipping, slashing swing of Tiger’s youth, a swing that likely led to Tiger’s physical problems, to multiple surgeries and nearly forced him to quit the game.
On the first day, Charlie made an eagle on his own ball on the par-5 fifth hole, bending his 5-wood second shot around some trees within a few feet from the hole. He walked in a birdie putt on the ninth hole and showed no fear in attacking a dangerous pin on the 16th, firing his approach to less than three feet for birdie.
On the second day, Charlie made a 12-footer for birdie with his father egging the ball on with “Good putt, good putt, good putt.” When it dropped Charlie fist pumped—totally Tiger.
Predictably, Tiger did all the talking for the team over the weekend, the curtain on his son not pulled all the way open. As for his son’s swing, Tiger noted the contrasts.
“Charlie’s swing is different than mine. He uses his legs way better than I ever did and probably still do,” said Tiger. “When I grew up, the philosophy was different because at that time people were sliding legs out and trying to get the high finish. I turned my hips early. I snapped my legs a little bit. At that time, most people wanted me to have a reverse ‘C’. My dad always preached to hold your finish until the ball stopped rolling. As I got older that was a long time, so he gave up on that.”
As to what he is trying to impart to his son: Tiger’s trying not to overwhelm. “The game has gotten better, gotten more advanced, more understanding,” said Tiger. “I always preach the same things over and over again. You can hit it as hard as you want. All you have to do is two simple things: Hit the ball in the middle of the face every single time and have a nice finish. He feels it, whether it’s on the heel or toe, a little thin. I think that’s important to have that sense so you can fix it for the next one.”
He’s even letting Charlie use the latest clubs.
“Mike Thomas was trying to convince me it’s important to have more forgiving irons for junior golfers. I’m so old school that it’s all about having blades and hitting the ball in the middle of the face. It’s more frustrating. That’s why kids now have hybrids, sometimes all the way down to a 5-iron. We had 1-irons and 2-irons. I have acquiesced to more forgiving irons just as long as he hits the ball in the middle of the face.”
Charlie’s game left Duval impressed. “He has great fundamentals,” Duval says. “He is not afraid. And he hits the ball pretty darn far. Charlie maximizes it. He moves it out there pretty darn good for a little fella. And it’s only going to get better, if that’s what he wants.
“That is likely a question for another day. Tiger undoubtedly loves that his son is so interested in the game, but this was a big step out for him to allow a peek into his personal life.”
Charlie never addressed the media, but his game, and his street smarts, came shining through. During the pro-am portion of the event, Charlie had driven into a fairway bunker to the right of the 13th fairway. Mike Thomas, playing ahead of the Woodses, left a note by his ball in the bunker: “Draw Hole!” Charlie kept it.
In the Sunday round, with the Woodses playing ahead of the Thomases, Mike drove it in the same bunker. Charlie fetched the note from his bag and left it by the ball. It was Justin who picked it up and waved up the fairway as Charlie broke into a smirk.
A couple of weeks before the PNC, Thomas had revealed that Charlie was a pretty good trash talker.
“For some reason, Charlie just always wants to beat me, it doesn’t matter what it is,” said Thomas. “Although he’s never beaten me in golf or a putting contest, he still talks trash just like his dad. It will be fun,” Thomas said. “We’ll have that like inner tournament within a tournament, trying to shut his little mouth up, but it will be fun.”
We do not know yet whether Charlie has an interest in golf as a career, but stunningly (or maybe not) a sport betting website gave odds on his achievements. Sportsbettingdime.com sent out its Charlie Woods futures odds on the Monday after the tournament putting Charlie at 825-1 to win a major by the age of 25, even though we have no clue whether he’ll ever be a pro.
Jack Nicklaus has four sons, three of whom turned pro but without great success. “I didn’t put much pressure on my boys. I let them play and hoped they would like golf,” Nicklaus said to the Golf Channel in January. “Probably if I pushed a little bit more they might have been better. But I might have also pushed them right out of the game. Tiger doesn’t want to do that with Charlie. Tiger was one of those rare kids, when his father pushed him he loved it. He pushed him right into being as great a player as ever seen.” Right now, it seems to be all about fun for Charlie, and that is what Tiger said was the ultimate goal of bringing him into the spotlight.
“I don’t think words could describe it. Just the fact that we could have this experience together, Charlie and I, it’s memories for a lifetime. I’m so proud of what we did as a team,” said Tiger. “Making sure we had fun, and we did.”
And one final note from Tiger.
“The most important thing is that I’m his dad,” said Tiger. “And for me the responsibility is being a father first and whatever role I have as a coach or instructor, that’s irrelevant, I’m his father.”