Father/Son maintains its allure after 16 years
Friday, December 13, 2013
PHOTOS: 2013 PNC Father/Son Challenge (Thu.)
More images from Thursday's PNC Father/Son Challenge Pro-Am at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando.
ORLANDO, Fla. –– Alastair Johnston remembers when the idea for the PNC Father/Son Challenge struck him. This was several years ago in the pre-cellphone days and the IMG golf executive was at TPC Michigan, site of the Ford Senior Players Championship.
There in the locker room were three major champions lined up at a bank of phones: Raymond Floyd, Dave Stockton and Jack Nicklaus.
“They were all talking to their kids,” Johnston said. “It was far more important how their kids were playing than how they were doing and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could create a tournament where the fathers and sons could play together?’ ”
The PNC Father/Son Challenge is set for its 16th edition this weekend at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
“It’s the one event where nobody asks me about the prize money,” Johnston said. (It's a $1 million, for those who were wondering.)
The two-man scramble format has lost none of its allure, which is why the hardest part is informing eligible teams that the field is full.
“The waiting list is perpetual,” Johnston said. “I increased the field by two players this year (to 20). I could easily have 40, without a doubt.”
As always, the field is to-die-for: 12 members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, nine Ryder Cup and three Presidents Cup captains, and 64 major titles between them. Combined the dads have won 497 titles on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Web.com Tour.
There are two rookie teams, Nick Price and his son Gregory, as well as Stewart Cink, the 2009 Open Championship winner, and his son, Connor. Johnston has made it a tradition to play with the son of a first-timer in the pro-am and went around with Gregory, 22.
“I told him we’re not going to put his bad shots on TV so don’t be nervous,” Johnston said.
Nick Price is delighted to be competing with his son, who only began playing seriously six months ago.
“He said, ‘Do they still have the Father/Son?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Would you play with me?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? Of course, I would.’ ”
Price described his son as more interested in surfing and kite-boarding, and the equivalent of a 15 handicap.
“I took him to the golf course when he was a toddler,” Price said. “I made clubs for him in my workshop. Golf was always too slow for him. He’d go ride around in the picker. We’d give him a 7Up and a cup full of Goldfish and off he’d go. As for this week, I just hope he enjoys it because then he’ll want to play in it again.”
Back after a hiatus is Dave Stockton, who came over to Johnston on the range to thank him for the invite. The Stocktons are making their first appearance in the event since 2004. Stockton was all set to play last year for the first time with oldest son Dave Jr., a former Tour pro, when his wife’s brother died on the eve of the event.
“If Junior drives it crooked and we have to play my ball,” said Stockton Sr., who will have son Ronnie on the bag, “we’re screwed because it’s going to cost us about 60 yards if we have to play mine.”
Another team that has had the date circled on the calendar all year is the duo of Curtis Strange and his son, Tom, who missed last year when Curtis was sidelined after left-shoulder surgery.
“My son wanted me to wait until afterwards and miss the first three months of the season,” Strange said. “That’s how badly he wanted to play.”
Johnston can already imagine a day in the not-so-distant future when Tiger Woods will be inquiring about playing in the tournament with Sam or Charlie (Hey, Bernhard Langer’s son, Stephan, was 11 in his debut.)
“You know what was the first thing I said to Tiger Woods when I saw him the week after he won the Masters in 1997?” Johnston said. “I told him, ‘The good news is you’ve now qualified for the Father/Son.’ "