The first time I played golf with my dad, I hit him in the face with a club. (The poor guy clearly wasn’t expecting me to take an over-the-shoulder backswing with a putter.)
The first time I took my son to play golf, he spent his entire time on the range smoking lil’ drives with a lollipop stick in his mouth and sandals on his feet, looking cooler than you or I ever will.
Parents and children bond on the golf course in mysterious (and occasionally painful) ways, whether you’re out on a putt-putt carpet or you’re Tiger Woods walking Augusta National with your son.
I’m not Tiger Woods, and presumably neither are you. His life is incomprehensible to most sports fans, filled with astounding highs and ground-scraping lows, challenges and pressures and privileges most people never have the opportunity to experience. But while promoting this weekend’s installment of The Match, the goofy golf slap-and-giggle go-round that will pair Woods and Rory McIlroy against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, Woods hit on an eternal, relatable truth. Asked what his dream foursome would be, he didn’t hesitate:
"It wouldn't be a foursome," Woods said. "It'd be my dad, myself and (son) Charlie."
You can see his pitch-perfect declaration here as part of a hypercaffeinated, frenetically-edited clip:
Who’s the best celebrity golfer Tiger has ever played against? 👀#CapitalOnesTheMatch goes down Dec. 10 on TNT 🍿 pic.twitter.com/59x922uIJS
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 7, 2022
Golf’s not-so-secret allure is the way it draws generations together. Grandparents and grandchildren can’t exactly share a basketball court or a tennis court without one going very easy on the other. Everybody’s too far apart from one another on a baseball field. And Thanksgiving Turkey Bowls don’t exactly allow for meaningful conversation in between trick plays.
Golf — along with fishing and chess, if you consider those sports — is where generational bonds form and grow. Parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren can compete on the same stretch of grass, can walk the same hills and greens, can spend time learning lessons about golf that, if you think about it, aren’t really about golf at all.
As a wee lad of 6, Woods played an exhibition round of golf with Sam Snead, born 1912. If Woods, as he hopes, tees it up at the 2023 Masters, he’ll be in the field with Tom Kim, born 2002. That’s a whole lot of knowledge to absorb from one direction, a lot of perspective to pass on in the other.
Tiger’s father, Earl, was a relentless taskmaster, doing all he could, both physically and psychologically, to mold a young boy into a champion. He’d distract Tiger with everything from thrown golf bags to wicked insults, giving Tiger the mental fortification he needed to shut out the world. Given how Woods has handled many of his interpersonal relationships since then, this may not have been the best approach for a healthy outlook on life, but it helped form the foundation for one of the greatest careers in sports history.
Tiger’s son, Charlie, is now a strong golfer in his own right, though whether he’s “win on the PGA Tour” good or “win a club member-guest tourney” good remains to be seen. What’s indisputable is 1. he’s learning from one of the greatest of all time, and 2. wow, does he love his pops. The duo placed second in last year’s PNC Championship to Team Daly, and the Woods contingent will tee it up next weekend in Tiger’s first appearance on-course since an emotional departure from The Open at St. Andrews in July.
“The Father-Son will be a very easy week,” Woods said prior to the Hero World Challenge last week. “Charlie will just hit all the shots and I'll just get the putts out of the hole, so pretty easy there.”
Tiger never got the chance to join his father and his son on the golf course. Charlie was born about three years after Earl died, and it’s clear that loss remains acute in Woods’ mind. It’s a reminder to take advantage of those kinds of generation-spanning moments when you have them.
Just don’t let your kid show you up. And maybe don’t hit your old man in the face with a club, either.
Contact Jay Busbee at j[email protected] or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.
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