Great learning experience for Tiger Woods’ son, Charlie, in first U.S. Open qualifier

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Charlie Woods pumped his fists and looked relieved as his 15-foot birdie putt disappeared into the cup at the fifth hole Thursday at the Legacy Golf & Tennis Club.

Woods, the son of the most famous golfer on the planet, was rewarded for his first birdie of the day by having a sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil tossed at him by a family representative as he was walking off the green.

That sandwich was gone by the time Charlie stepped on the sixth box. What else would you expect from a hungry 15-year-old? Unfortunately, the fifth hole — and the sandwich — were the highlights of Charlie’s day.

Charlie finished his first attempt to advance in a U.S. Open qualifier with a 9-over 81. Tiger’s son is forging his own identity at such a young age — witness the group of about 20 people, many with iPhones rolling, standing by the range when Charlie was warming up at 8 a.m. and about 100 fans at the first tee when he teed off for a qualifier where he carded three double bogeys, four bogeys and that birdie.

After Charlie hit his second shot on the par-5 second hole into the lake and while he was crouching down with his hands on his head, a women was heard saying, “Poor kid, I’ve been there.”

It almost got worse on his next shot. After taking a penalty, his shot landed short of the green and rolled back toward the water. If not for the seasonal drought, he would have had consecutive water balls. He did, though, card his first double bogey.

Yet, through it all, after swinging his putter in frustration at an off-line birdie putt on No. 9, and after uttering something about “worst round” to his caddie, fellow Benjamin School golfer Luke Wise, following a wayward approach shot on 14, Charlie’s demeanor never changed as he walked the fairways of this 7,023-yard course.

Tiger’s son shows remarkable poise in the spotlight

For a teenager living his life in a fishbowl as Tiger’s son, despite his dad protecting his young as much as possible, Charlie has shown remarkable poise in these spotlight situations. Whether it’s helping The Benjamin School win a state title, teaming with his dad at the PNC Championship in Orlando, entering the Cognizant Classic pre-qualifier or looking to beat his father into a major by four years, Charlie is starting to draw crowds.

And it’s not easy when he has to be trailed by extra security beyond the muscular dude working for the family Thursday with the “don’t mess with me” vibe. For this event, the U.S. Golf Association worked closely with Legacy for about a month to make sure there was no repeat of two months ago, when a few over-anxious fans became the story during Charlie’s round in the pre-qualifying event for Cognizant.

Charlie’s group was guarded by two carts manned by USGA security, volunteers at every hole and that one guy who probably provided as much protection as all the others combined.

“We’ve been preparing intensely the last four weeks,” Legacy general manager Adam Horvit said. “But we started preparing the golf course and security and parameters about four or five months ago.”

The closest any of them got to having to break a sweat was when Muscle Man had to warn a few innocent stragglers to get back on their golf cart. Everyone got the message, certainly assuming his bite was worse than his bark.

This was on the second hole. Those who got up early to watch Charlie certainly hoped for a Tiger sighting. But Dad decided not to attend, just like Charlie’s pre-qualifier for Cognizant.

The round was so chill, the gallery so behaved and supportive, one USGA official described his job as “herding sheep.”

Meanwhile, Charlie continues to gain experience in these qualifiers. Next up will be qualifying rounds for the 2024 U.S. Junior Amateur Golf Championship and the 2024 U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, both this summer.

Earning spot in U.S. Open longest of long shots

Of course, ultimately landing a spot in the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst in June was the longest of long shots. Of the 10,084 entries in 109 local qualifiers that lead to 13 36-hole qualifiers, about 80 eventually will be teeing it up in the same tournament as Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm and the rest.

The closest Charlie came to a hot streak was a stretch of four straight pars from the seventh to 10th holes. His score was 12 shots behind winner Michael Buttacavoli, who was among five golfers to advance to the next qualifier.

Charlie did a nice job finding the fairways, hitting nine of 14 while rarely pulling out his driver. His biggest issue was his approach shots with eight greens in regulation.

But at 15, Charlie has many more qualifiers in his future. Nothing but good things can come from those experiences, regardless of the scores.

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