Will Charlie Woods become the new Tiger, or will the hype make him back away?

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Tiger is a protective father but the decision to catapult his son into public view at the PNC Championship is an interesting one

Nobody who owns a yacht named Privacy is likely to pursue publicity. Tiger Woods has made the keeping of secrets an art form despite spending the majority of his life as one of the most recognisable people on earth. Hank Haney, the golf coach, once told the story of being chastised by his star client for giving a television executive a nod towards Woods’s likely schedule. Any member of the media who claims they properly know Woods is spoofing; there is deliberate, visible distance kept between the 15-times major winner and all but those within his inner sanctum. So many questions, so few answers.

Against this backdrop, the profile given to 13-year-old Charlie Woods – and at his father’s own volition – is intriguing. The PNC Championship in Orlando ordinarily provides a bit of hit-and-giggle for high-profile golfing families but the now routine involvement of Team Woods raises interest levels significantly. Including to the point where it can make for uncomfortable reading or listening. This weekend, we have seen Charlie’s divot pattern assessed. Every pose and swing is likened to his iconic father. This is a child, subject to the kind of scrutiny that would be deemed unhealthy by plenty of onlookers. How does Charlie seamlessly return to the classroom having been plastered all over the Golf Channel for 72 hours?

charlie woods and tiger woods


What makes this situation so intriguing is that Tiger, such a fiercely protective father, is better placed than anybody to comprehend the attention placed on his young son. The pair can play golf within Floridian-gated communities, away from prying eyes, whenever they choose. Instead, Tiger thinks it useful – and now more than once – to catapult Charlie into public view with golf club in hand. Equally interesting is that Charlie, for all we can reasonably tell, relishes the environment. He has no apparent desire to shun the limelight or wilt as cameras click and golf analysts swoon.

Tiger’s connection to his own father, Earl, has always been key to a story of sporting greatness. Sufficient evidence has been produced to suggest Earl was not the most pleasant of characters and some of his “training” of an emerging Tiger would equate to child cruelty in modern terms, but the US army veteran was perfectly correct when insisting his was a child who would change golf. Tiger was not so much a project for Earl as an obsession, which in turn seems to have fuelled the tunnel-vision approach of a golfer who was a Masters champion at 21. This was no ordinary relationship, which produced no ordinary golfer.

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Charlie’s scenario is altogether different. For all he is clearly a very good player, with potential to be a great one, he has not reached the position where he is breaking childhood record upon record. The junior tournament domain in Florida he typically competes in is of an incredibly high standard. Tiger has spoken of Charlie’s love for multiple sports. When it comes to golf, Charlie is already encountering reference by association which was never any burden to Tiger. Charlie, regardless of what he achieves in sport and life, will forever be Tiger Woods’s son. Earl had no status whereby the same applied. People knew of the emergence of a teenage Tiger but the absence of social media in the 1990s meant his development was largely in private. Type “Charlie Woods” into YouTube and a sense of the number of eyeballs the teenager has already commanded is plain.

If the golfing public are not already crying out for the next Tiger Woods, they soon will be. He will turn 47 at the end of this month, with the number of surgeries already undergone leaving us all to speculate what age his body may resemble under slacks and a polo shirt. Tiger has played pretty decently at the PNC and he has milked the sense of competitive importance but this is so far removed from what he once specialised in. He withdrew from the recent Hero World Challenge as injury prevented him from walking the course.

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It would follow fairytale if Charlie becomes the new Tiger. Perhaps it is Tiger’s chosen path to oversee precisely that. The PGA Tour and Nike must be among those in a state of frenzy about the very prospect. But it would also be quite incredible if the heat and hype, already at a questionable point, does not become so great that Charlie backs away. It will be possible for him to love golf without trying to emulate arguably the greatest player of all time while encountering comparison at every step. A spectator cheering for “Baby Tiger” in Orlando may seem harmless enough – and it drew a smile from Charlie – but there is a danger of suffocation long before this kid features in a significant event. Does Tiger want to see first-hand if Charlie can handle all this, before career goals are set?

Charlie’s step into public view has not been in isolation. Earlier this year, Tiger’s daughter, Sam, delivered a wonderful speech as her father was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Sam told the story of Tiger missing a putt to force a playoff at the 2007 US Open before immediately flying to attend her birth. “He may have lost that day, but he won the greatest gift of all,” she said, to roars of laughter. Sitting in the audience alongside his stoical grandmother, Charlie had a constant glint in his eye.

Maybe Charlie Woods could never be any other teenager. If his life is enriched by standing on golf courses alongside Justin Thomas, John Daly et al then he is fully entitled to revel in that. Others must ponder where all this will ultimately lead and why a sportsman so wary of private eyes has changed approach entirely.

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