News & Opinion

Psst! Don’t tell Charlie Woods, but history is not on his side

Charlie Woods and Tiger Woods at 2020 PNC Championship
Charlie Woods and his dad, Tiger, have combined to win 15 major championships, but if history is any indication, that's probably as good as the duo will do ... unless the old man can knock off another one soon.

Curious golf fans tune in for a closeup of Tiger’s kid in action, but we’re a long way from Old Tom/Young Tom Morris acclaim

Fathers and sons. Morning Read’s two-week hiatus provided time to reflect not only on how well Charlie and Tiger Woods played at the recent PNC Championship, but how often sons successfully have followed their fathers in professional golf.

The potential of 11-year-old Charlie Woods looks impressive, but it will take a long time before we will know whether the father’s winning DNA is part of the son’s genetic makeup.

It was exciting to see the two in action together as then finished seventh two weeks ago in the two-day, 20-team scramble (scores). Broadcaster NBC benefitted from some good viewership at a time when golf is far less appealing than football.

With 1.5 million viewers for Sunday’s final round, the ratings exceeded the viewership of the 2019 Hero World Challenge, in which Woods and 17 of golf’s best players were showcased. And not everybody tuned in to see the elder Woods as speculation rose about his son’s future in golf.

At 825-1 odds to win a major championship by age 25, the younger Woods would be a much bigger attraction than even the oddsmakers could predict if he were to make it to the big show.

Sure, those odds are long, and considering the history of father-son major champions, perhaps they ought to be even longer. Should the younger Woods win a major championship, the Woodses would be the first father/son combination to claim one of golf’s four most prestigious titles since 1861, when Scotland’s Young Tom Morris, then 17, joined his father, Old Tom Morris, as a British Open champion.

The younger Morris would equal his father’s mark of four Open titles by 1868. After he won the 1869 and 1870 Opens, the Challenge Belt was retired. The R&A ruled that anyone who won three consecutive Opens deserved to hold the belt permanently.

With the retirement of the belt, the Open was not played in 1871. When the tournament resumed in 1872, Young Tom, at only 21, prevailed again for what would be his final title. He died unexpectedly on Christmas Day 1875 at age 24.

The Morrises’ mark has stood for nearly 150 years as the best father-son duo in golf history, as measured by major titles. Scotland's Willie Park Sr. and his son, Willie Jr., also combined to win six British Opens in the 19th century.

Many prodigies have tried and failed to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, and none has come even remotely close.

In the 20th century, England's Alliss duo won more than 50 times worldwide.

Starting in 1920, England’s Percy Alliss won his first of 20 events. A winner of the German, Italian, Scottish and Welsh Opens, Alliss also recorded 10 top 10s in the British Open, with a best of T-3 in 1931, when he finished two strokes behind winner Tommy Armour at Carnoustie. Alliss also played in four Ryder Cups from 1929 to 1937 and might have competed in more if not for the intervention of World War II.

By any measure, his son, Peter, was the more accomplished golfer. The younger Alliss, who died last month at age 89, won 31 times as a professional in the two decades preceding the founding of the European Tour. He played in eight Ryder Cups and represented England in 10 World Cups. But he would become better known to succeeding generations of fans as the "Voice of Golf," calling the sport for decades on the BBC and for an American audience on ABC en route to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

There have been other father-son tandems to have beaten the odds and won in multiple generations on the PGA Tour.

American Julius Boris won 18 overall times on the PGA Tour, including three major championships, and added enshrinement to the World Golf Hall of Fame. His son, Guy, also won once on Tour.

Australia's Joe Kirkwood Sr. won 13 times on the PGA Tour in the 1920s and '30s, and his son, Joe Jr., claimed three PGA Tour titles in 1949-51 before making a greater name for himself as a film star.

American Al Geiberger, who in 1977 became the first golfer to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour, won 11 times, including the 1966 PGA Championship. His son, Brent, won twice around the turn of the century.

Jack Burke and Jack Burke Jr. flipped the father-son script, with the son winning 16 times, including two majors, in a Hall of Fame career after the father won once in the 1920s on the forerunner to today's Tour.

Other father-son winners on the PGA Tour included Craig and Kevin Stadler, Clayton and Vance Heafner and Bob and Kevin Tway.

With no major titles between them, Jay and Bill Haas seem to fall far short of the exploits of the Morris and Alliss tandems, but the Americans have been perhaps the most accomplished father-son golf duo on this side of the Atlantic.

Father Jay won nine times on the PGA Tour and added 18 titles on the Champions Tour. He posted 16 top-10 results in major championships, with a career-best T-3 at the 1995 Masters and the 1999 PGA. Haas, 67, appeared in three Ryder Cups and two Presidents Cups, and he served as the winning captain for the 2015 Presidents Cup team.

Son Bill, 38, has won six times on the PGA Tour, the most prestigious being the 2011 Tour Championship title and the season’s FedEx Cup. The younger Haas has played on three Presidents Cup teams, including on that 2015 squad that his father led to victory. In recent years, Haas has struggled on the PGA Tour and has fallen to No. 607 in the world ranking.

It’s not clear whether Young Tom Morris would have had the longevity of his father, who played in the British Open from the 1860 inaugural until 1895, when he finished 47th at age 74. Even with an abbreviated career, Young Tom Morris achieved much acclaim at such a young age.

Both Morrises are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Charlie Woods can build on the pedigree from a father who arguably is the best to play the game. But, as Robert Floyd, Gary Nicklaus, Wayne Player and so many other sons of major champions have found, the apple oftentimes does fall much farther from the tree.

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