PNC Father-Son Challenge: It’s All About Family

First of all, the tournament title has become a misnomer. There are two daughters, a stepson and a grandson playing with their tour pro fathers, stepfather and grandfather.

One year, Lee Janzen played with the late Payne Stewart’s son, Aaron, so that he wouldn’t be deprived of the experience due to the tragic passing of his father. Later, Paul Azinger filled in when Aaron had matured as a golfer and was more competitive. It was the kind of situation where everyone wanted to bend the rules. 

This year, Gretchen Zoeller sat next to her dad, Fuzzy, in a pre-round interview. She is a bubbly, effusive, self-confident young woman; the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. And she began to respond to what it meant to her to be there with her dad. With every phrase she uttered about what a good father he was, about how he was her best friend, and maybe two or three other things, Fuzzy came closer and closer to completely breaking down. By the time she was done, he was a wreck. But he held it together.

Fred Funk was playing with his son, Taylor, and had his wife, Sharon, on the bag.

Bernhard Langer was playing with his daughter, Christina, while his other daughter, Jackie was on the bag.

Mark O’Meara, standing side by side with his son, Shaun, was asked how this experience in the Father-Son compared with his majors. This is a guy who won the Masters, the British Open and the U.S. Amateur. And in so many words he said, “Well, this is right up there. It’s not the same thing, but this is family.” With his arm draped around his son, he talked about playing in the AT&T at Pebble Beach with his father as his amateur partner when he won the tournament. His body language spoke volumes; more than the language he could bring to the moment.

Jack Nicklaus dearly loves his family, you can see it in every move he makes with them, this time his son, Gary. But he’s also a man with singular focus. “It’s all about winning; that’s the way I’ve played all my life. I don’t like second place, I don’t like third place. I don’t like any other place. I like first place.” And he loves his son dearly. These are not mutually exclusive things.

Raymond Floyd is playing with his son, Robert. “I have my good days and I have my bad days,” he said, as he tries to get over the heartbreak of losing his beloved wife of 38 years, Maria. She passed away just three months ago from cancer. She was the one who saved his career from his carousing and ambivalence in the early years. As he says, there was “before” Maria and “after” Maria. It was after he married Maria that he achieved his greatness.

Dru Love, Davis Love’s son, ran his putt a foot by the 18th hole. He came around the other side, one-footed it and missed. It was like poor I.K. Kim at the Kraft Nabisco; he was just as shocked. He went to the side of the green, his head down, dejected. His father cleaned up the mess. The cameraman was masterful in catching the next moment: he had the two of them in the shot from the waist up as Davis approached the downcast Dru, put his forearm into Dru’s chest and, with an understanding, teasing smile on his face, gently knocked him off balance. Dru smiled.

Altogether there are 18 such stories in the field at the Ritz-Carton Golf Club in Orlando, Florida. To qualify, the pros have to have won a major or the Players Championship. These are all great champions. They would all like to win this. There is a small $1 million purse.

But it’s not really about that.

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