Tiger Woods cheers on son in milestone state golf championship: How Charlie earned his stripes

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS — For son Charlie, Tiger Woods has played caddy. He has played teammate. On Wednesday, at his 14-year-old’s first high school state golf tournament, Woods simply played dad.

 

Despite reports from Golf Monthly and SBNation’s Playing Through that he was on the bag — which would’ve been prohibited by FHSAA tournament rules — Tiger was standing by as Charlie celebrated his first state championship with his teammates, all in black.

 

 

The green squished and sloshed under their spikes after Benjamin sophomore Jake Valentine, the squad’s low scorer with a total of 148 (72-76), left the 18th with a winning, one-stroke lead for the Bucs following his momentum-shifting birdie on No. 17. Valentine and Woods’ final scorecards were separated by six strokes, but the roster of competition in Class 1A, stacked as usual, saw Valentine tie for eighth and Woods for 26th.

 

Turning in his best round of 76 on Day 2 at Mission Inn Resort and Club, Charlie helped the Benjamin School stay just low enough to make the trip back to Palm Beach Gardens with the program’s fourth state title in tow.

 

Buccaneer teammates freshman Brooks Colton (149), junior Pavel Tsar (152) and senior Tyler Bruneau (156), a University of Rhode Island commit, tied for 12th, 19th and 34th, respectively.

 

 

Legs crossed and leaning on his umbrella, Tiger, a 15-time major winner on the PGA Tour, looked on as if he were waiting for his own turn to sink a putt and deliver a classic fist pump.

 

 

 

Tiger already had his turn to run the varsity fairways when he was a student at Western High School in Anaheim, California, after all.

 

 

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What is wrong with this picture? This isn’t the Junior Worlds. This isn’t the Junior Nationals. It’s not a PGA event.”

 

That was an ESPN broadcaster’s introduction of a 17-year-old Tiger as he walked alongside three other players during a high school golf match in a feature back in 1993.

 

He’d already won the World Junior title six times and the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship the last two years, carrying the title of the “world’s best junior golfer.”

 

 

 

“This is a high school event? You mean Tiger Woods plays on a high school golf team, too?”

 

Touting an above-average swing speed of more than 117 mph with a drive that averaged between 260 and 270 yards, Charlie had already outdriven Dad — “by a yard,” in Tiger’s words — in December 2022. As of Wednesday, Charlie can thank the California Interscholastic Federation’s decision to not host a statewide championship for his latest bragging rights.

 

California was divided into southern and northern halves by the CIF when Tiger was coming up. His highest win in high school was the CIF SoCal Region, which he won as a freshman in 1991. In four years as a Western Pioneer, Tiger was the CIF’s Southern Section individual champ in 1991, 1993 and 1994, earning the Orange County League’s Most Valuable Player award each season.

 

Thirty years later, the same questions that once surrounded a growing Tiger could be asked of Charlie, who grew up under the microscope of a golf scene waiting to see whether he would carry on the legacy of his father who spent much of his own youth in the public eye.

 

Tiger’s response then appears to be something he’s instilling in Charlie now.

 

 

“It’s normal. I’m a normal teenager. It’s just that I do one thing a little better than the average teenager. And that’s play golf,” Tiger said.

 

One of Tiger’s former teammates chimed in: “If it were me, I’d be all cocky and everything. But he’s always just real mellow about it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie makes being followed by groups in sizes you’d expect only at professional tournaments look easy.

 

Having the attention of the world and playing with the likes of Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm hasn’t deterred the youngster from cheering in the stands at high school football games. Or going through the same four-day qualifier everyone else has to compete in to make Benjamin’s golf team. Or getting a cool nickname like “C-Dub” that transcends the hallways to the course.

 

School was a chance for his dad to escape. Pictured at work behind a desk in that 1993 ESPN clip, Tiger, then a high school junior, likened the classroom to his “sanctuary.”

 

 

 

“But when the media comes in, you’re not a high school teenager anymore. You’re somebody else,” Tiger said.

 

It could be argued that Charlie’s cool demeanor is something he inherited from his predecessor’s undeniable but humble swagger that took the country by storm decades ago.

 

 

 

Charlie just embodies the similar, surprising desire to just be “normal” and play golf.

 

His status as a first-year freshman didn’t stop him from being a quick favorite among his Buccaneer teammates. Four Benjamin seniors saw Charlie as an easy pick to be the team’s fifth man to make the trek to Cypress Woods Golf and Country Club in Naples when the crew competed in the South Florida PGA Tour’s West Coast High School Tournament in September.

 

“When we went to Naples, I told the kids, I’ve been the coach of this team for 40 years and that was the most fun trip I’ve ever been,” Benjamin coach Toby Harbeck said.

 

“The fact that he won and we won was a bonus,” Harbeck said of Charlie.

 

Charlie’s team-best scorecard of 102 saw Benjamin come back with arms full of new loot. That was about a week after Tiger caddied Charlie’s low-round victory at the Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship Last Chance Florida Regional.

 

 

 

At the proceeding National Championship in Louisiana two weeks ago, Tiger went viral on the march for Charlie, who tied for 17th (77-78-65). Having recently started practicing again after time away due to ankle surgery that saw his withdrawal from the 2023 Masters, a limp-less Tiger caddying 54 holes was the focus of the media.

 

Meanwhile, Charlie was trying to card what could be deemed a solid few practice rounds before state after not approaching the tee box for Benjamin at districts or regionals.

 

According to Harbeck, those were lessons that come with being on a team, ones that every Buccaneer has had to endure at some point.

 

“He’s having a good year. He’s having a good time,” Harbeck said in October. Benjamin had just placed runner-up in The Classic in The Palm Beaches High School Invitational, and Charlie carded a 154 (79-75).

 

 

Sopping wet grounds and windy conditions saw the younger Woods finish in a tie for 42nd among players from 30 schools nationwide, encountering the growing pains most every young golfer endures, but with his own finesse.

 

On the 14th hole at PGA National, just before the infamous “Bear Trap” begins, Harbeck scurried back via cart as Charlie prepared to tee off on the par-4.

 

“My player in front took his driver and he knocked it right through the fairway into the hazard,” Harbeck recalled. Looking to avoid more havoc, Harbeck asked Charlie what he saw on his range finder.

 

“I got 340,” Charlie responded. The yardage from the gold tees was 442.

 

Heeding a warning about Charlie’s victimized teammate, Harbeck said: “OK, you pull it.”

 

“He got up there and just ripped it up the middle,” Harbeck said with a laugh.

 

As Charlie walked back to the tee box, he admitted defeat.

 

 

After that tournament, it was Harbeck’s “hope” that Charlie would have a tee time at states. With eight high-caliber golfers to choose from, Harbeck had a “heck of a decision to make” that was going to make some “unhappy” as Benjamin went on to clinch the championships for District 13 and Region 4.

 

“When you go to five, it’s really hard,” Harbeck said. “But all the guys that have played on this team for years, they’ve had to go through the same thing.”

 

“I think he’s really now grasping what team golf is all about. It is a lot of fun because he’s used to playing by himself,” Harbeck said.

 

“Now, he’s got teammates that love having him around.”

 

The young Tiger on Benjamin’s roster earned his stripes in his first season of high school golf.

 

These just happen to come with a championship ring for Charlie and the Bucs.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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