ORLANDO, Fla. — He walked in the birdie putt and looked like he had been doing so forever, the couple of dozen fans surrounding the ninth green at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club chuckling at what they were witnessing.
Charlie Woods looked like a mini pro golfer out there, all the mannerisms on display. From taking off his glove to putt, carrying a yardage book in his back left pocket, marking his ball on the green and lining up shots, the youngest golfer to ever compete in the PNC Championship played the part.
And it’s not too hard to figure out where he got it all from.
Charlie, 11, is a little version of his famous father, Tiger Woods, the 15-time major champion who surprised many by signing up to play in the event reserved for major champions and a family member.
Given how Tiger separates his personal life and family life, it would have been more than understandable if a day like this had waited several years. Tiger has been dealing with the spotlight since he was younger than Charlie and knows how harsh those bright lights can shine.
But his son has handled it like a champ, and his golf game has been impressive too.
“The idea was to make sure we had fun,” Tiger said after a 62 in the scramble format left them four shots behind the leaders, Matt Kuchar and his 13-year-old son, Cameron.
“Just making sure we had fun. I think he did,” Tiger said of his Charlie. “He enjoyed being out there. The fact we got off to such a quick start, him hitting some of those incredible shots. And he carried it from the range to the golf course. That’s different from playing at home to playing tournament golf.”
Surely the elder Woods beamed with pride. But he did his best to hide it, getting the most demonstrative when Charlie’s drive, 3-wood approach and short putt meant an eagle — all on his own ball — at the third hole.
The idea to do this was Tiger’s. He said Charlie was not really aware of the tournament, but something made the very private dad decide to let his son play golf in front of a couple of hundred fans and a national television audience.
Tiger was on TV at age 2 and had been featured in numerous features and news programs before he was a teenager. He had developed a reputation as an excellent young golfer well before he got to high school. The number of trophies in his house could not be contained.
But as much as Tiger has credited his late father, Earl, with guiding him to this point, it was clear Tiger was taking a different approach with Charlie. The golf has mostly been behind closed gates. The discussions about Charlie’s game and his feelings about it are subdued. There’s been no hype, no expectations.
And who knows what will come of it. To make any predictions would be silly. But it’s clear, at this point, Charlie has a love for the game and some incredible skills to go along with it.
Playing from tees that measure approximately 5,800 yards, Charlie routinely found fairways with 200-yard tee shots. Despite his small stature, he hits his 3-wood in the 180-yard range. From 100 yards, he hits a pitching wedge.
His long putting could use some work, but it’s crazy to even analyze it. Charlie has plenty of game, and regardless of how far he wants to take it, the joy of playing with his father might be the best result of all.
A few years ago, when Tiger was in the midst of his injury woes and unable to play because of persistent back issues, he lamented this his kids, Sam, now 13, and Charlie mocked him as the “YouTube” golfer. All they saw of their dad were highlights from previous exploits. They barely remembered anything in person.
That all changed when Woods returned in 2018 from the spinal fusion surgery that gave him another shot at greatness. He has won three tournaments since, including the 2019 Masters, where Charlie was there behind the 18th green to greet his dad with a memorable hug that has been compared to the one Tiger gave Earl when Tiger won his first Masters in 1997.
As he has gotten older, Charlie has studied his dad’s exploits, including numerous videos of his various victories. He knows what Tiger has accomplished and the reasons for why he is so famous.
And he has clearly picked up things along the way. The walk. The swing. Even the swagger.
During the pro-am prior to the tournament, Charlie had hit a tee shot well to the right on the 13th hole. Mike Thomas, father of Justin Thomas, was in the group ahead and left him a note near his ball that read: “Draw Hole.” Charlie kept it. And when Mike Thomas’ ball landed in a bunker on that same hole, Charlie pulled out the note and put it near Thomas’ ball.
Charlie also gave Justin Thomas some grief for his opening tee shot and at one point in the pro-am asked his dad if he caught the tee shot “toey,” meaning having hit the ball off the toe.
“He’s special,” said Justin Thomas, who often plays with Tiger at home while in South Florida and has seen plenty of Charlie. “He’s got game. Competitiveness. But he’s just so young. I just hope he keeps enjoying it.”
So far, that has been the only goal for Tiger. He appeared uncomfortable on Thursday in his pre-tournament media session. It had to be odd, a man who has spent two decades getting queried from every angle, not answering a single question about himself.
Tiger finally got one late Saturday afternoon. He was asked about his own game, his own preparation since the Masters. Woods chuckled.
“I haven’t put in any time,” he said. “I don’t really care about my game. I’m just trying to make sure that Charlie has the time of his life and is able to enjoy all of this.”