ORLANDO – Alastair Johnston, the longtime IMG executive, has been waiting for this day for a long time.
Just days after Woods won the 1997 Masters at the age of 21, his first of 15 major championships, Johnston congratulated Woods, his next door neighbor at Isleworth Country Club, on his achievement and added, “Good news is you’ve now qualified for the Father-Son.”
Woods shot him a quizzical look, unaware that one of the perks of joining the major-winner club was a potential spot in what is now known as the PNC Championship, a two-person best-ball event pairing 20 major winners (or Players Championship winners) with a father (or father-in-law in the case of Bubba Watson), son or daughter.
“You’ll find out one day,” Johnston said.
That day has arrived as Woods is the headliner of an event that features the likes of World Golf Hall of Famers Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Annika Sorenstam. Woods is making his tournament debut with 11-year-old son, Charlie, who has taken to the sport, winning junior tournaments throughout Florida often with his famous dad lugging his bag.
PNC Championship: The field, tee times, TV times, format
Father and son warmed up for Thursday’s pro-am round at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Grande Lakes Resort side by side and it was like viewing a mirror image, down to the club twirl.
“I don’t know if his swing is any different than mine, but his feels are very similar in creating shots,” Tiger said. “He has this opportunity to enjoy and he’s doing that.”
For Tiger, it’s all about the bonding experience with his son this weekend. This tournament isn’t really so much about a trophy – or in this case, a belt in homage to the original prize at the British Open – as it is about a celebration of family. Adding to the family affair this week for Team Woods is Joe LaCava Jr., 22, the son of Tiger’s caddie, is on the bag for Charlie.
Charlie’s best shot of the day arguably was his approach at the par-4 12th, which he parked 3 feet from the hole. At every tee, Charlie buried his head in his yardage book and plotted strategy. One hole later, Tiger drew up the play, saying, “I’ll get it in play, then you can be aggressive.” Charlie’s eyes lit up at the possibilities.
While Charlie may be short in stature, Mike Thomas, father of World No. 3 Justin Thomas, said he’s about the same size as Justin at that age.
“Except he didn’t have speed,” Mike Thomas said. “Charlie’s got speed.”
Indeed, when he bashed driver at the third hole, Joe LaCava exclaimed, “That’s money.”
Team Thomas is paired with Team Woods during Saturday’s opening round, which is fitting as Justin has become one of Tiger’s closest friends on Tour and a big brother of sorts to Charlie, who shares his father’s competitive spirit.
“He always talks about how he’s going to beat me,” Justin said of Charlie. “He’s never done that but he sure talks like he has.”
As further proof that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, Justin recounted one heated nine-hole putting contest in 2018 when Thomas was World No. 1 at the time between he and Charlie and Tiger and the kid held a one-stroke lead with one hole to go. Charlie chirped, “Here I am, I’m nine years old and I’m beating the No. 1 player in the world and supposedly the best golfer of all time,” Thomas recalled. “He three-putted and I made it, so I shut him up pretty quick.”
Tiger famously made his first public appearance with a golf club on the Mike Douglas Show at age 2. For Charlie, this 36-hole televised competition represents his coming out party as a golfer and it comes with all the incumbent pressure of being the son of arguably the greatest of all-time.
“People at home will get pretty good entertainment out of watching him twirl the club, walk putts in and fist pump,” Thomas said. “He’s 11 years old. He’s allowed to do that.”