At the PNC, Charlie Woods’ celebrity is larger than ever

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At just 13 years old, Charlie Woods' celebrity has taken over the PNC Championship.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — It was bound to happen eventually.

Charlie Woods, the lookalike son of the greatest golfer of this generation, could not remain a secret forever. Not with that charisma, and especially not with that golf swing.

But it’s fair to wonder if anyone intended for him to be quite this famous.

On Saturday afternoon and all week at the PNC Championship, the younger Woods has been arguably more popular than his 15-time major championship-winning father. You know him, right? The people here at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club might love Tiger Woods, but they adore young Charlie.

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It has been impossible to track the number of folks who have tried to attract Charlie’s attention through two days in Orlando. From the second the 13-year-old Woods arrived on property on Friday, those on-site seemed determined to make him hear their voices. Some screamed in his direction, chanting his name and sharing their adulation. (“We love you” was a frequent offering from the gallery, though it remained to be seen how, exactly, a 13-year-old with a whopping total of three public appearances had earned that love.) Some witnessed the scene and retreated to humor.

“How many of you are out here to watch my dad warm up?” Justin Thomas teased on Saturday morning while the masses encircled.

Others resorted to more direct forms of communication. On the 8th tee box Friday, a grown woman begged Charlie for a photo. Later, another bargained for a “quick autograph.” On the 17th tee on Saturday, a group of vacationers at a course-adjacent rental property sported cutouts emblazoned with Charlie’s face.

It’s often odd to bear witness to the cult of celebrity, but particularly so when the subject of that celebrity is still three years away from receiving his driver’s license. Tiger’s friend and longtime manager, Rob McNamara, caddie Joe LaCava Jr. and PGA Tour security have each made efforts to keep Charlie’s focus away from the limited number of fans in attendance. Walking near Charlie, it’s easy to understand why so many members of Tiger’s team feel the compulsion to protect him.

Tiger and Charlie were the center of attention on Saturday afternoon. Getty Images

“Everybody pays a certain price for everything they get in life,” Padraig Harrington said of the younger Woods on Thursday. “The more famous you are, the better you’re doing, you’re going to have to put up with that. Everything, all the good, all this, all this money we make out of golf, the lifestyle it’s given us, there’s always something you have to pay back, and sometimes it’s a lack of privacy, even for Paddy [his son] at times. But as I point out, we’d rather it that way because that’s why we’re doing so well.”

Charlie, to his credit, has neither upset his courters, nor acknowledged them. In this regard, he has apparently taken well to his father’s coaching. He is like Tiger in many ways, and his flair for the dramatic is certainly one of them. He’s a showoff, an entertainer. When the opportunity to compete here together first presented itself, Charlie was surely in favor of attending.

He arrived in Orlando in 2020 as an 11-year-old with few expectations and plenty of intrigue. Almost immediately, he was a sensation — his astonishing ability, his distinctly Tiger-like mannerisms, his precocious smile.

Now, as a 13-year-old, it is clear his fame has morphed into something even bigger. Rumors about his carry distance were a topic of driving range conversation early in the week. (“The question is whether he’ll carry it 260 or 280,” Harrington said with a chuckle.) His apparent left ankle injury created headlines. On Saturday, his shoe selection was one of the tournament’s trending topics.

But even as a golf sensation, even as the child of another child superstar, and even as an enthusiastic participant in this weekend’s proceedings, he’s still a 13-year-old. Is it unreasonable to ask that he be treated like something resembling one? Tiger surely understood the stakes of Charlie’s introduction to the world, but his appearance at the PNC was never meant to breed this.

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“He’s a great teammate. He’s my son. We have fun out there. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” Tiger said Saturday. “It’s about us having an opportunity to bond. We do this at home all the time, and you guys are now seeing what we do all the time at home. We just have fun. We needle each other. We encourage each other. It goes back and forth.”

Inside the ropes, it’s clear the Woodses are not interested in celebrity. Even as the cameras and the crowds swarm, the relationship between Tiger and Charlie remains strikingly normal. They laugh together, they compete together and, much more often, they roast one another.

“It just — it’s just an amazing relationship, and it just deepens the bond between father and son,” Tiger said. “It’s been incredible over the years to be able to share this stage and this atmosphere with him.”

The atmosphere will grow even larger on Sunday, when Team Woods (-13) enters tied for second, just two strokes off the mark set by Thomas and his father, Mike. Should Tiger and Charlie mount a Sunday comeback, the legend of the younger Woods will only grow, and so too will the attention upon him. In many ways, that is an inevitability. There is no returning to a time “before” Charlie Woods, just as there’s no stopping the intrigue that surrounds his life.

Perhaps Charlie is ready for it. He is as well equipped as any 13-year-old alive to handle what lies before him. He has a world built to protect his privacy and the counsel of people who have lived it all before.

But then again, this was never a story about Charlie’s readiness. It was a story about ours.

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