The PNC Championship celebrated its 26th year last week with its annual event bring father-son golfing duos together for some fun competition. The top names in golf bring their child prodigies to come together in a display of natural talent and friendly competition. The scramble style event is one of the biggest events of the year.
In this year’s tournament, all anyone could talk about was Tiger Woods returning to the competitive field after a long recovery and tons of speculation. It was hard to remember that the PNC is host to a huge array of famous faces in the sport. You never would have guessed that was the case as there was only one name that dominated the coverage.
The only person that got close to the same amount of coverage was his son, Charlie. The twelve-year-old reminded just about everyone that he has unlimited access to a golf legend. Tiger’s every move was dissected and re-examined by nearly everyone who has ever heard his name. However, it was Charlie that pulled out the real showstopping plays. All anyone could talk about was how much he resembles his dad.
Charlie impressed everyone so much, there was even talk of him eventually becoming better than Tiger. There were even bets on who would be the first to win another Major with most agreeing that the younger Woods will give Tiger a run for his money.
With everyone in a rush to get the GOAT back into regular rotation on the Tour, Tiger seems to be trying to squash all the rumors. His press conference a couple of weeks ago indicated he is looking to take things slowly. Fans went from zero to 100 as soon as they saw that first swing video on social media.
Not to take anything at all from Wood’s determination or achievement in getting to where he is, but that doesn’t put the cart in front of the horse. People might have anticipated that, if he could stand, Woods was going to be able to hit a golf ball. After all, there are numerous examples of determined amputees and disabled people who can hit fine golf shots. They can even play a round, and play in tournaments … where carts are allowed.
As we tee off and head down the fairway of 2022, the cart looms as an interesting aspect to the story. As mentioned, Woods seems to be the only one that realizes — regardless of how he handled a golf club over the weekend — his return to 72-hole championships is hardly a given. The two are almost unrelated.
“Being able to play tournament golf and being able to recover, practice and train and hit balls after a round and do all of the things that I need to be at a high level,” he explained, “I’m a long way away from that.”
Woods — Tiger, that is — made it clear his hope is to reach the point where he can be an occasional competitor. We can safely assume he means to compete in the majors, not the Sanderson Farms Championship. The majors have always been his focus. That said, majors are played on some of the most physically demanding properties in the game, ballfields that are not easily traversed, places like Augusta National, Bethpage and Oakmont.
Woods can hit a mean golf shot, terrific. That’s a start. But will he be able to walk to where it landed and hit it again? Will he be able to do it some 70 or so times in succession, up and down hills, four days in a row, with a practice round or two, time on the range, sessions on a putting green? Or will he need help?
Remember, we’ve been down this road. The PGA Tour went all the way to the Supreme Court to deny Casey Martin in 2001. The court ruled in favor of Martin’s lawsuit citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, and he won the right to use a cart. Twenty years later, Martin is the golf coach at the University of Oregon. In October, his condition, Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, required his right leg be amputated.
Twenty-one years later, how far would the PGA Tour go to deny Tiger Woods a cart? What would golf’s governing professional institution say to its biggest meal ticket, its TV ratings-booster, its industry’s nitrous injector? What if he asks for a key? Hmmm?
Woods insists it will never come to that. “Not for a PGA Tour event, no,” he said. “That’s just not who I am. That’s not how I’ve always been, and if I can’t play at that level, I can’t play at that level.”
If that’s the case, as we look ahead to the 2022 schedule, as we try to predict when and where Woods might return, the British Open intrigues.
For one, the championship is still more than six months away. And while the uninitiated and untrained have no way of knowing how long it might take Woods to build the strength and stamina needed to compete in a 72-hole championship, we should take him at his word. That is, he is a “long way” from it.
Well, 6½ months is a longer way from it than 3½ months (Masters), or 4½ months (PGA), or 5½ months (U.S. Open). Moreover, the Open on July 14-17 will be conducted on the Old Course at St. Andrews. It seems quite fair to suggest the Old Course might be considerably less demanding to walk than Augusta (Masters), Southern Hills (PGA) or The Country Club (U.S. Open).
In fact, if we’re talking flat, walk-friendly, major championship golf courses, it doesn’t get any more accommodating than Old Tom’s joint. When ancient cultures subscribed to a flat Earth cosmography, they might have used St. Andrews as a working model. Moreover, Woods has won two Opens at St. Andrews, including a record-shattering version in 2000. He knows how to get around.
So, if the biggest story in 2022 is to be the real return, don’t be surprised if it happens at the Open. Oh yeah, and there’s one other reason Tiger Woods might feel he has a chance at St. Andrews.
Charlie will only be 13 at that point. He’s not in the field.
Read the original article on Sports Illustrated.