Tiger Woods knows he can’t control the hype around his son Charlie and his budding junior golf career.
But he sure would like to.
Next week, 46-year-old Tiger and 13-year-old Charlie will tee it up alongside one another on national television at the PNC Championship. The sports world will tune in to see the golfing legend, to watch his talented child and to appreciate their father-son dynamic. It’s a fun event and they look forward to it; both Tiger and Charlie crave competition and enjoy the golfing spotlight. Last year the duo almost won, too, after a final-round 57 (the format is two-man scramble) that included 11 consecutive birdies.
On the grounds, it’s been all good. The 2020 event was played with few spectators due to Covid, and the galleries a year ago were capped at a reasonable number, too. Expectations seemed reasonable, too, until Charlie hit a series of incredible shots down the stretch that got everybody talking. Then, for a moment, the son seemed like the bigger draw than his father. But Woods hopes everyone can keep things in perspective and he sees it as his job to try to protect his son as best he can — and to prepare him for whatever comes.
“I told Charlie a long time ago, and this is a life lesson my Dad gave me. I told him this a long time ago and I will reiterate it with him. I said, ‘Son, you will never be my friend. I will always be friendly. But I will always be your dad,'” Woods said on an episode of Bridgestone’s “Another Golf Podcast” earlier this week.
“As a dad, my responsibility is always to give you the advice and the impetus and the environment to learn and grow and prosper and be a sounding board and to make the best decisions in life, especially when I’m not there any more. That’s my job.”
Woods joked that the message doesn’t always get through and that Charlie — who has a mischievous streak — will call him “other words” besides Pops or Dad. But that’s fine.
“We can always be friendly, my dad was always friendly to me, but he was my dad first,” he said.
Tiger was famously on national television when he was just two years old. He was doing feature TV interviews at age 14. He knows the joys and the pitfalls of a life lived in public. And while Charlie has been largely shielded from the public eye, their PNC appearances have created viral moments and elevated expectations. That’s all good, up to a point — they did sign up to play in a televised event, after all — but Woods urged restraint.
“When we’re out there playing I’m his dad, so I’m protective of him,” Woods said. “Obviously I want him to do the best he possibly can. I want him to learn from everything. But I also want to protect him from, like, all of this. The environment. Especially this day and age. When I grew up there were no camera phones, there were no videos. I try to shoo people away, ‘let him enjoy, don’t put any pressure on him, let him play, let him be a kid, OK?'”
This will be Team Woods’ third year playing the event together, though it’s the first time Woods has spoken so directly about his concerns for his son growing up in the spotlight.
“When he first played PNC he was 11 years old,” Woods continued. “Let him be an 11-year-old kid. He’s in 6th grade, for god’s sake. Now he’s in 8th grade, but let him go out there and be a kid. Enjoy it! You don’t nitpick kids.”
Woods had told the NBC broadcast crew at last week’s Hero World Challenge that he’d encouraged Charlie to model his swing after Rory McIlroy rather than himself. He wishes other people would resist the obvious Tiger-Charlie comparisons, too.
“Don’t compare him to me, he’s not me. He’s Charlie,” he said. “He’s going to be his own person. And whatever road he goes down, he’s going to go down his own road. And he’s going to create his own path. And that, to me, is so important as a father, that I provide that environment and that support. That he can go down whatever path he wants to, I just want him to do the best at it.”
Woods will tee it up at the Match this Saturday. He teased that his game is ready — “I can hit it on the range with anybody,” he said — but continues to struggle with his walking. He missed last week’s Hero World Challenge with plantar fasciitis that he suffered while ramping up his prep for this playing stretch.
“It’s a progression,” Woods added. “Now I’m lucky enough that I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually hit golf balls full speed. I’m hitting it hard again, which is great. I can hit any shot you want. Now the progression is I need to be able to walk and then I can compete against these kids again.”
In other words, Woods hasn’t given up on his competitive golfing future just yet. Another thing is clear, too: He’s eager to see how Charlie does under the spotlight, too. He’s proud of his son’s game.
“His swing speed has gone up — I mean, I’m talking way up this year,” he said later in the podcast.
You can listen to the entire interview here.