PNC Championship is a major for major winners’ kids
PGA TOUR / JEFF BABINEAU / DECEMBER 15, 2021
Charlie Woods | Every tee shot televised from 2020 PNC Championship
ORLANDO, Fla. – For the best players around the globe, December marks a time when holiday cards are feverishly sorted through in the search for a much-anticipated invitation to Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters.
Much the same way, the children of golf greats bide many late-autumn days hoping word arrives that they will be part of another event known for its small and elite field: the PNC Championship. Only 20 two-player teams take part, and one member must have won a major or THE PLAYERS. Invitations are as coveted as they are hard to come by.
“I know when I was playing here at 14, this was the most special tournament – I mean, it still is,” said Shaun O’Meara, son of World Golf Hall of Fame member and two-time major champion Mark O’Meara, on the practice tee at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on a blustery Wednesday. “I probably asked my dad about it 150 times back then, starting the day after the tournament all the way until we got the invite to come back. Are we playing? Do you need me to get my short game better?
“It’s so cool to see that Tiger is playing with his son. I’m sure that Charlie was in his ear, saying, ‘We’ve got to do it, Dad.’” O’Meara was talking about 12-year-old Charlie Woods, whose dad, one Tiger Woods, once resided near the O’Meara family a short drive from here in Isleworth. (Woods is expected to play in Friday’s pro-am before Team Woods takes part in the PNC for a second consecutive year.)
Woods leaned on O’Meara’s knowledge and experience as a young player out on the PGA TOUR in the mid-1990s. O’Meara benefitted from the relationship, too. Playing practice rounds and games at home with Woods kept him young, and rejuvenated O’Meara’s game. He won two majors after his 41st birthday. Shaun O’Meara is 32 now, and is director of sales at Duvin Design Co., a surf-inspired clothing company that is based in Orlando. On Wednesday, he was able to spend his morning in the office before heading over to join his dad and play a few holes in preparation for this week’s 36-hole PNC tournament, which begins on Saturday. Team O’Meara made a nice run in this event a year ago, tying for third.
There were times when Shaun was younger that he felt he didn’t get to see his father a whole lot. Dad was on the road and playing the TOUR. Shaun would go to the occasional tournament and watch from outside the ropes. Being inside the ropes and competing by his dad’s side at the PNC, a tournament he now has played about 15 times? It offers a completely different experience, and perspective, for the younger O’Meara, who was good enough to play collegiately at the University of California-Irvine.
“When you put that tee in the ground that first time, it’s like, ‘Oh, man!’” Shaun O’Meara said. “But it’s a two-man scramble, so just have fun, hit some good shots. I know I’m a pretty good player, so I can hit some good shots and help him out. It’s a tough game ... having a Hall of Famer hit after you makes it a lot less stressful.”
Shaun O’Meara said he probably gets to play about 10-12 rounds a year with his dad, who splits time between Utah and Las Vegas, and three of those will be this week. Even in the pro-am rounds on Thursday and Friday, when the teams are split, play moves slowly enough to allow players to spend plenty of time chatting up the other groups. For Shaun, it’s just fun to be front and center watching his father ply his trade as one of the best golfers in the world. He does not take the opportunity for granted. Mark O'Meara and his son Shaun at the PNC Championship. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR) Tom Lehman has played in the PNC with one son, Thomas, who is now 25, and is competing for the second time this week with his younger son, Sean, a college golfer at Cal Poly. There can be early trepidation over putting a son or daughter under the bright lights and in front of a national television audience, but there can be great upside, too. He has seen first-hand the confidence that can be built inside his sons as they compete on the big stage, as dad does. “It’s nice to be able to let them feel the pressure of having them get up and hit with a Lee Trevino watching, or a Greg Norman watching, any of these great champions,” Tom Lehman said. “It’s not easy to stand up on that first tee and make a swing, thinking these guys are looking at me, and judging me, and wondering how good I’m going to be.
“It’s really good, I think, for developing poise and self-confidence. I just think it’s a great experience for the kids for that reason. ... Let me handle most of the pressure. If there’s a tough shot, don’t worry about it, I got you covered. But the idea of competing together and competing well together is important. I think every dad out here wants to have a great experience with their kid. The better you play, the better the experience.”
Bob Casper, who is now 61, played for years in the old Father-Son alongside his famous father, Billy Casper, a U.S. Open and Masters champion. Joining his dad for the tournament always was a highlight of the year not only for the son, but for the entire Casper family (Bob has 10 siblings), who, given how the event is played so late in the year, often could start the holidays early at the tournament site. “It was awesome,” Bob Casper said. “You know when people ask you who you would want to play in your dream foursome? Well, at the Father-Son I got to play with my dad, with Jack Nicklaus, with Gary Player, with Johnny Miller, with Raymond Floyd ... that was a huge highlight for me in my life. When we couldn’t play anymore, it was a bummer.” As good as the golf can be, the week also allows for a considerable amount of quality time off the golf course for families to mingle with other TOUR families. Tom Lehman recalled an evening at the PNC gala when his son Thomas, who’d just turned pro, entered into a deep conversation with legend Gary Player. “He (Player) ended up talking to Thomas for at least 20 minutes, all about his experiences as a golfer – what he had to do to be competitive, and the commitment it took, the hard work it took. You couldn’t pay for that. I can’t give that story to him – I’m dad.
“But to have Gary Player give him his undivided attention for 20 minutes, and to talk about commitment and hard work and outworking the other guy, and having mental toughness, and how to develop all that ... where do you get all that? Only at a place like this.”