Sunday, January 23, 2022

Watching Charlie emulate Tiger Woods reminded that sports is about more than where one finishes

When Tiger Woods announced a few weeks ago that he and his 12-year-old son, Charlie, would play in the PNC Championship for the second consecutive year, the news was met with equal parts astonishment and joy.

Astonishment that this man who nearly lost a limb at the beginning of the year was ending it on the course in a real golf tournament: a family scramble with 15 different tee boxes to accommodate the 75-year age range, but a real golf tournament nonetheless. Joy over getting to run it back on what was one of the most delightful two-day stretches of 2020 when Tiger and mini-Tiger made a run at this hotel course in Orlando with a new (albeit silent), “Hello, world.”

Their performance 12 months ago was as unexpected as it was enjoyable. From the outside looking in, it was golf utopia for parents: a father and a son enjoying 18 holes together while repeatedly scaring 60.

In light of the news that Team Woods would tee it up again this December, the video that got shared most often as evidence of this joy was the one in which Charlie mimicked nearly all of Tiger’s mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Watch it. The similarities will make you gasp.

And if that was true last year, it was even more true this time around as Team Woods shot 57 on Sunday and finished solo second behind John Daly and his son, John Daly II.

NBC ran a cut on Sunday of Tiger and Charlie standing, walking, swinging and twirling. The entire thing was so comically identical that it, again, almost felt like a deep fake. It’s not of course, because this is just what kids do, but it burrows deeper than it normally would because we have watched so much of Tiger’s life play out over the last quarter of a century.

At Thanksgiving last month, I had a conversation with my sister-in-law about my 7-year-old son. She couldn’t believe how our mannerisms and speech cadences were so intertwined. She was astonished that this little person acted, spoke, ate, walked and even threw the football so similarly to his father. He, of course, had never even given it a thought.

I considered that conversation as I watched Charlie put on a performance worthy of his surname on Sunday at the PNC Championship. If you’ve consumed any portion of Tiger’s career, you have likely, perhaps unwittingly, memorized myriad movements only Tiger could repeat with such oily ease.

Tiger makes golf look easy, but his greatest feat might be that he makes high-performance golf look cool. Charlie does, too.

Pick a mannerism that flicked your brain back to the 2005 Open Championship, 2000 PGA Championship or the 1997 Masters. Is it the way Charlie picks up his tee? Is it the ice cold fist bump? Perhaps his tunnel vision stare as if he’s boring a hole into his own envisioned future? Maybe it’s the way he tosses the ball to his caddie? Or maybe it’s simply the way he stands on the green, leaning on his putter with his leg kicked out and his hand on his hip just as his dad did when he wanted to make some poor college All-American consider quitting the professional game. Perhaps it’s the twirl. Gosh, that twirl. It says a million things.

For me, it’s when he puts one finger to the sky as if to remind everyone of his own singularity. Charlie did that Sunday after he hit that eye-widening iron into the 17th, just left of the pin, the ball splitting the water and the hole. I’ve watched Tiger point his own finger to that same sky so many times over the last two and a half decades, and though it meant something different in every instance, it still signaled the same thing: The Cat is here.

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Getty Images

Regardless of which movement triggers you, we can all agree that watching a son emulate the good mannerisms of his own father is a marvelous thing. This is almost always true, but it resonates more deeply when the man who is being emulated is the very person the rest of us have ourselves been pretending to be on the golf course for most of his adult life.

I suspect Charlie has no idea that he’s doing the exact same things the best golfer of all time did on national television for 25 straight years. He’s just doing what he watched dad do in their backyard. And while coverage of a 12-year-old who is closer to being in diapers than to graduating college can feel extremely strange, watching this emulation is worthy of celebration.

It’s also worthy of remembrance for those of us who are parents ourselves. The lesson is not that Charlie Woods is tremendous at golf, though he appears to be. Rather, it’s a reminder to parents that our sons and daughters mimic almost everything we do. The upshot is not that we should live perfect lives but rather that we would simply be aware of this phenomenon because our children rarely realize what they’re doing.

Tiger and Charlie are a mirror. It’s so often easier to understand what’s going on in our lives when we see it in the lives of others. Even more so when we have their every beat down by heart.

The performance they put on at the PNC Championship is a million things. It’s jubilation over life regained, dedication to craft remade and continuation of Tiger’s evolution as a dad. But most of all, it is the revelation that our kids are always watching.

Shooting 57 is worthy of admiration, but last weekend showed that a son’s true subconscious aspiration is simply to be like his father.

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