By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
Tiger Woods and his 11-year-old son were on the practice range together Thursday at the PNC Championship, and social media was blazing with how good Charlie’s swing looked, right down to the club twirl.
What got the attention of Justin Thomas was competitive chirping.
He recalled a putting contest they had two years ago in Woods’ backyard. Thomas said it was one of the few weeks he occupied the No. 1 world ranking.
“Charlie was leading going into the last hole,” Thomas said. “Charlie is mouthing off, ‘Here I am a 9-year-old beating the No. 1 player in the world and supposedly the best player of all time.’ He three-putted and I made it. Shut him up pretty quick.”
The next competition will be on national TV.
Woods and his son are among 20 teams in Orlando, Florida, for the PNC Championship that starts Saturday, a 36-hole event known for many years as the Father-Son Challenge. Moving with the times, players who won a major or The Players Championship can have sons, daughters and even fathers as their partners.
Woods is playing for the first time, turning a cozy December gathering into must-see TV.
Is the son too young for so much attention? It’s all relative considering Woods was 2 when he made his TV debut on “The Mike Douglas Show.”
“When I was 11, it was a totally different world,” Woods said. “I was playing a lot of tournaments, but I wasn’t in front of the media like this. It was so different. He’s been handling this and playing and being a part of golf. And this is part of golf.”This is not about training the next Tiger. Stories abound of the late Earl Woods placing his toddler son in a high chair, mesmerized watching his father swing a club. Earl Woods made his son ask to play golf, and only if his homework was finished. There were countless teaching moments along the way.
Woods only remembers those days as time spent with his father — just like now.
“It’s so much fun for me to see him enjoying the game,” Woods said after a pro-am round that featured one par 3 where his son hit it to 3 feet and Woods left it some 40 feet away. “That’s the whole idea. Enjoy hitting shots and creating those shots. It’s so cool for me to see him enjoy the sport.”
The 11-year-old son already became somewhat of a video sensation last year when he was playing a junior event. The father of another player noticed Woods on the range and took video, and in the background was young Charlie with a sweet swing reminiscent of a tour player with 82 wins and 15 majors.
Woods said if there is any instruction, a big part comes from Mike Thomas, the father of Justin Thomas and a longtime club professional in Kentucky whose specialty is working with juniors.
“Mike has been very impactful in terms of him enjoying the sport,” Woods said.
That’s the word — enjoy — Woods kept repeating.
It’s rare in golf for sons to follow their fathers. Jack Nicklaus’ oldest of four sons, Jackie, won the prestigious North & South Amateur but never had a PGA Tour card. His third son, Gary, played on tour and once lost in a playoff to Phil Mickelson at the former BellSouth Classic in Atlanta.
Jay and Bill Haas and Craig and Kevin Stadler are among father-son duos with PGA Tour titles.
Then again, this isn’t about the tour or even winning.
“My dad never pushed me to play golf or run cross-country,” Woods said. “Whatever Charlie decides to do, as I said, as long as he enjoys it. And he’s doing that.”
For Charlie, it’s a chance for payback. He and his father are paired the opening round with Mike and Justin Thomas. The boy’s ability to chirp has been brought up a few times in recent weeks. Justin Thomas wants to see the 11-year-old Woods play well and soak up the moment.
“Who wouldn’t want to be like your dad if your dad is Tiger Woods?” Thomas said. “You all will get entertainment watching him twirl the club. As much joking as I’ve made, I’ll be his second-biggest supporter behind Tiger.”