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Father/Son pairs dads, sons ranging in talent

ORLANDO, Fla. –– This weekend’s PNC Father/Son Challenge at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club may not be recognized by golf fans as a major, but former Open Championship winner Tom Lehman believes it is certainly a “family major.”

“Everybody here will tell you the same thing,” Lehman said, “that it’s a highlight of the year, for sure.”

The Lehmans are one of 20 teams competing in the Father/Son Challenge, which boasts a field of dads who have combined to win 452 tournaments and 59 majors (18 of them belonging to one Jack Nicklaus). Stewart Cink and his son, Connor, are back to defend after capturing the Willie Park belts a year ago.

Lehman is playing with his oldest son Thomas, a freshman at TCU who is trying to play his way onto the golf team. His dad says Thomas is capable of shooting under par on any given day, or equally capable of shooting 78.

“For him, it’s trying to keep the frustration in check. Everybody hits bad shots, but he expects perfection,” Tom Lehman said. In high school back home in Arizona, Thomas was focused more on playing quarterback than golf. So now he’s catching up a little.

“You know how golf is,” said Tom Lehman, who was 15th in the Champion Tour’s Charles Schwab Cup standings in 2014. “If you have talent, and you work at it, you can bloom late. There’s a lot of guys who have done that.”

Young Thomas need look no further than this weekend’s tee shot for proof. Larry Nelson, who was a standout baseball player, took up the game at 21 after serving in the military, and he went on to win three major championships and build a career that landed him in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Nelson, a three-time Father/Son champion, is playing with his son Josh this weekend.

The beauty of this event that showcases famous golf fathers and their sons is that the talent levels of the sons range from strong junior and amateur resumes to a handful of competitors who are relatively new to the game.

Connor Janzen, son of two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, was a baseball pitcher at Rollins College, and only messed around with the game for fun. He’s nearly 6 feet 6, and he can flat-out bomb it. Nick Price’s son, Greg, never took to golf as a youth at all.

Golf was too slow, and Greg, now 23, was more into surfing. But here’s the catch: When the waves weren’t up to snuff, all of his buddies hit the golf course. So about 16 months ago, Greg started joining them. And now his dad beams with pride that his son officially has caught the golf bug.

“The last three months,” Nick Price said, “he’s worked his tail off. I try not to tell him too much outside of the fundamentals, just try to make sure the ball is in the right position, that he’s aiming correctly, things like that. He’s worked hard.

“I was a little disappointed obviously, that he never took to the game. But I never pushed him, never said ‘This is what you’ve got to do.’ I keep telling him, golf is a game for a lifetime. Seriously, whatever business you get into, golf is going to be a great business tool for you, whether you are in sales or finance or whatever you do.”

This weekend is far more about father-son bonding than it is about the scores and competition. Jack Nicklaus doesn’t play much anymore, but he still gets a charge playing alongside Jack II, who competed collegiately at North Carolina and was a former champion of the venerable North and South Amateur.

And every dad will tell you the same. Nick Price hasn’t played much of late, as his game hasn’t been to its usual standards. But he wouldn’t skip this weekend for anything.

“The big thing for me,” Price said, “is the amount of pleasure and enjoyment I get playing with my son. He’s really enjoying it, and he’s going to get a kick out of this week.”

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