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Golf Dynasties

Politics has the Kennedys, football has the Mannings, country music has Hank Williams (three times), and so on, but what of golf?

Golf Dynasties

Politics has the Kennedys, football has the Mannings, country music has Hank Williams (three times), and so on, but what of golf?

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ne could make the argument that, when it comes to the club and ball, it’s easier to pass along the antiques than the techniques. A pop star’s favorite nephew might land a record deal, for example, but a family tie would do little to secure a spot on the Ryder Cup team. Still, some families have kept their progeny on course, continuing to strike a little white ball that in some cases was teed up many generations ago. Racing has the Earnhardts, cinema has the Barrymores, and when it comes to golf, among many families, here are a few of our favorites…


The game’s foundation

Golf’s most celebrated father-and-son team reached unparalleled highs before being plunged into despair. Old Tom Morris was golf’s first professional of international renown, champion of The Open four times—a man who set the standard for club pros and tour golfers alike in the formative era of the sport in the late 19th century. His son Tommy, “Young Tom,” then emerged as the greatest golfer the game had seen, playing with an attacking brio that overshadowed his father’s more cautious approach. Young Tom also won The Open four times, but after he lost his wife and child in childbirth the lights went out. Alcoholism took hold and Young Tom died aged just 24.

Old Tom was born in St Andrews in 1821 and became apprentice to leading player and ball-maker Allan Robertson. Highly regarded by the members of his hometown’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Morris was lured from Scotland’s east coast to the west, where he laid out the course at the newly formed Prestwick Golf Club and became its club professional.

It was Prestwick’s members who established The Open in 1860, in the hope of proving that Morris was the finest golfer of his time. However, his great rival, Willie Park Snr of Musselburgh, rode in and won. Morris won the following year, however, and in 1867 became The Open’s oldest champion at 46, claiming the title for the fourth and final time. In 1864 Morris returned home to St Andrews to become Keeper of the Green on the Old Course, a position he held for the rest of his life.

The Open’s oldest champion was swiftly succeeded by its youngest. In 1868, the year after Old Tom won at 46, Young Tom won The Open aged just 17 years, five months and eight days. He won again in 1869 and 1870, becoming the first golfer to win The Open in three successive years and thereby he was allowed to keep the Challenge Belt.

Left without a prize, The Open was not held in 1871 but when it returned in 1872 with a Claret Jug, Young Tommy inevitably won again—the only golfer to win the championship four times consecutively.

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[l to r] Billy, Marcella, Larry, William and Renee Powell at Clearview Golf Club


Changing the game

After serving in Europe in WWII and distinguishing himself as an amateur golfer as well, William “Bill” Powell returned to Ohio and found local golf clubs less than welcoming to African Americans. Accordingly, he secured backing and then became the first African American to design, build, own and operate his own course: Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio. Powell wrote in his autobiography: “Golf is a part of society and I wanted to be included. I want you to be included, too.” He raised his daughter, Renee, and son, Laurence, on the course (now on the National Register of Historic Places), and both found careers in golf. Renee, the second African American on the LPGA Tour, played in more than 250 pro tournaments, winning the 1973 Kelly Springfield Open in Brisbane, Australia. She also traveled the world promoting golf and working to improve its diversity. She was one of the first seven women invited to join the R&A after it dropped its “men only” policy in 2015, and she remains the only American—and the only golfer—to have a building named for them at St Andrews, with Renee Powell Hall on the university’s campus. Her brother, Larry, superintendent at Clearview since 1971, has distinguished himself in the field, being the first superintendent and GCSAA member to be inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame and sharing in the 2019 Old Tom Morris Award, given to the Powell family. Today, he and Renee continue to work at Clearview, with Renee serving as the head pro.


Lessons handed down

The Harmons are now deep into their third generation of guiding and shaping the world’s finest golf swings. The foundations were laid by Claude Harmon during golf’s post-war boom, largely working from Winged Foot Golf Club, New York, before all four of his sons—led by the eldest, Butch—became PGA professionals in their own right. Today, Butch’s son Claude III is established as one of the leading coaches on the PGA Tour.

Eugene Claude Harmon was born in Florida in 1916. He was a teenage golf prodigy and refined his game and teaching skills as assistant professional to Craig Wood at Winged Foot. Wood won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1941 and seven years later Harmon was a major champ himself, matching the Masters scoring record of the time by posting 279, nine under par, to win in 1948. Harmon remains the last club pro to win a major.

Claude “Butch” Harmon Jr. was born in 1943 and was followed by three brothers: Craig, Dick and Billy. Butch earned global acclaim as the coach who guided Tiger Woods through the transition from being the best junior golfer in the world to arguably the finest golfer the world has ever seen. Harmon was by Woods’ side while he won the “Tiger Slam,” taking all four majors in a row—if not in the same calendar year—in 2000-2001.

Second-born Craig Wood Harmon, named after his father’s mentor, served as head professional at Oak Hill GC, New York, for 42 years, following closely in his father’s footsteps. Butch has described Craig as “the finest golf professional I have ever known”.

Dick owned his own golf school in Houston and coached a number of major champions, including Fred Couples and Craig Stadler, before dying unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2006. Bill, who Butch describes as “without a doubt, the most talented junior golfer in our family,” is also a successful PGA pro and established an academy at Toscana Country Club in Palm Springs. He combined teaching duties with caddying for Jay Haas on tour.

Butch, now 78, teaches from his academy at Rio Secco GC, Las Vegas, while his elder son Claude III racks up the air miles on tour. Claude III has worked with a pair of world number ones already—Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka—as the Harmon legacy continues.

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Claude Harmon III (l) with father Butch at The Open in 2011
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Peter Alliss [l] with his father Percy


The voice of golf

Peter Alliss set his first record in February 1931 as the European continent’s heaviest newborn baby—at 14lb 11oz. Naturally, he was a heavyweight golfer as well throughout his near-90 years. He played in eight Ryder Cups from 1953-69 and won 20 European Tour titles, including three British PGA Championships. But his enduring fame is due to his broadcasting genius—a mixture of acute observation, risqué remarks, quaint anecdotes and all-round good humor. The BBC kept him on because of his almost universal popularity with golfing viewers, and he also enjoyed a successful career in course design (The Belfry was one of his creations).

What is not so well-known is that his father, Percy, was a star in his own right. Born in 1897, he was head pro at Wannsee GC in Berlin when Peter was born and remained a club pro till his retirement at 70, ending with 28 years at Ferndown in the south of England. He finished in the top-six of The [British] Open five times and played in three Ryder Cups (1933-37). On a rare foray to North America in 1931 he took Walter Hagen to a play-off in the Canadian Open but lost in extra holes.


When the name is Woods

The key shaper in the respective careers of global superstar Tiger Woods and genial journeywoman Cheyenne Woods was the late Earl Dennison Woods, Sr. The Green Beret colonel’s role as father, mentor and motivator to Tiger is well documented, but what is less well-known is how much of an inspiration he was to his granddaughter Cheyenne.

Brought up with two older brothers in Phoenix, AZ, Cheyenne spent a tomboyish childhood honing a variety of athletic skills, from dance and track & field to volleyball. Growing up, Cheyenne paid frequent visits to the California home of her grandfather right up to his death in 2006, when she was 15. “I was only on the course with my grandfather maybe a handful of times,” she says. “Neither of my parents played golf, we didn’t know anything about it. At first my mum and I didn’t even know what a driving range was, so we’d just go to the local park and hit balls in the grass. But my grandfather was the one who guided me through junior golf and told me what events to play in.”

As for Tiger, while she was growing up she mainly saw him at Scottsdale when he played in the Phoenix Open. Her clearest memory dates from 1997, shortly before he won the first of his 15 Majors, when he holed in one at the 16th in front of the loudest gallery on Tour. “During the week of that tournament, we’d go and see my grandfather and Tiger, say ‘Hi!’ and spend a bit of time with them. I was there for his hole-in-one—that was huge.” Now 31, she plies her trade on the Symetra Tour while her once all-conquering uncle continues his recovery from a serious auto accident in February.

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10-year-old Cheyenne Woods at a junior golf tournament in 2001

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Christy O’Connor Jnr [l] with his uncle Christy Snr at The Open at St Andrews in 1970


Irish cousins

Christy O’Connor and his nephew—also Christy—both passed away in 2016, aged 91 and 67 respectively. Christy Sr. was known deferentially as “Himself” in recognition of his status as Ireland’s leading professional from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s. Had he been born when his nephew was (1948), he would surely have become a world star like Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry. But his playing excursions beyond the British Isles were restricted to five of 10 consecutive Ryder Cups in America and 15 World Cup of Golf appearances on behalf of Ireland. Consequently, the only Major he contested was the [British] Open, from 1951-79, but his record of 10 top-10s in elusive pursuit of the Claret Jug would be the envy of many a pro today. In addition, he won 64 titles—
23 on what eventually became the European Tour, eight on Europe’s fledgling senior circuit, and 33 domestic Irish tournaments.

Christy Jr., like his uncle a son of Knocknacarra in Galway, was a fine player in his own right and made two Ryder Cup appearances—in 1975 and, famously, in 1989 when his 3-iron into the home green at The Belfry sunk America’s flagship player, Fred Couples. In addition, he won 16 tournaments, including four on the European Tour. Another string to his bow, not shared by Christy, Sr., was his skill as a course designer, mostly in Ireland.


Pathway to the PGA Championship

Major champion and Ryder Cup star Justin Thomas is the son of a PGA club professional, who is also the son of PGA pro. Thomas was destined for a life in golf but the dividends for all those free lessons and range buckets have been stellar.

Like so many before him and since, Paul Thomas embarked on a life in golf because it was a way of making money as a kid. He would walk the four miles from home to Avon Fields GC, Cincinnati, to caddie from the age of 10 and play the odd round on Mondays with a spare rental set. He left school early because the family needed him to earn and became an assistant pro as a teenager. Thomas’ career path was set and he eventually settled at Zanesville CC, Ohio, where he served as head pro for more than 25 years. He could hold his own in elite playing company, playing in the infamous 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, when local hero Arnold Palmer ultimately fell to the young upstart Jack Nicklaus. Thomas would find more joy later competing on the Senior Tour, again teeing up with Palmer and Nicklaus.

Mike Thomas is the second of Paul’s four sons, and after a decorated amateur career at state level in Ohio, Mike eventually became the long-term head pro at Harmony Landing CC, Louisville. Here the stage was set for his son Justin, born in 1993. The members saw the talent and welcomed the budding star into the fold. Mike gave the lessons while grandfather Paul was the playing partner, storyteller and provider of inspiration.

Thomas turned pro in 2013, joined the PGA Tour in 2015 and won for the first time the following year. In 2017 he became the eighth son of a PGA professional to win the PGA Championship—at Quail Hollow. He added the Players Championship to his resume earlier this year and played in the Ryder Cup for the second time.

Grandfather Paul died in February aged 89, prompting Justin to write on Instagram: “Heaven got a good one yesterday. Wish you were still here to tell me how many putts I missed on days like yesterday! Nobody’s voice would make me happier when I would hear it on the phone. Will love and miss you, G Pa”.

“You could tell when he was seven, eight, nine, 10 years old, he had something,” Paul Thomas once told PGATour.com of his grandson. “You could tell that there was a big possibility there.”

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Justin Thomas [r] and dad Mike after winning the 2020 PNC Championship
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Captain Jay Haas [r] with son Bill at the The Presidents Cup in 2015


Run through Wake Forest

Wake Forest alumni Jay and Bill Haas have enjoyed many moments in the sun during their lengthy tournament careers. They are also part of perhaps the most elaborate dynasty in PGA history.

The first family member to make his mark was Bob Goalby, Jay’s uncle and winner of 11 PGA Tour titles, including the 1968 Masters. Jay’s younger brother, Jerry, a former tour player, has served as the men’s head coach at Wake Forest for the past 24 years. Jay’s brother-in-law, Dillard Pruitt, claimed one victory during an eight-year tour career before regaining his amateur status and spending the last two decades as a rules official.

But Jay, like the finest of wines, improved with age. Three times a Ryder Cup player and now approaching his 68th birthday, Jay has won 33 tournaments (including nine on the PGA Tour and 18 amongst the Champions fraternity). Son Bill, now 39, has won six times on the PGA Tour. The highlight of his career was a Tour Championship playoff win in 2011 when he sealed the deal by holing a greenside wedge shot from out of a water hazard. His caddie that day was older brother, Jay Jr., now a teaching pro at the family golf center in Greenville, SC.


The Walrus & cub

Craig and Kevin Stadler, the Walrus and his cub, affectionately nicknamed Smallrus, are as distinctive a ‘father and son’ as can be found in golfing captivity. Stadler the elder, now 68, stamped his passport to immortality with his Augusta National triumph in 1982 and an additional 12 PGA Tour titles. Just before turning 50, he said in no uncertain terms he thought the Champions Tour “sucks” and he wouldn’t be queuing up for any “pension checks”. Untrue to his word, he duly showed up soon after and won nine times, most recently in 2013, and to this day he’d probably still walk into any field of seniors he wanted to.

Meanwhile, the career of Stadler the younger was more of a slow burn before he finally won at the 239th attempt in 2014 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That year, the Stadlers became the first father and son to play in the Masters and Kevin distinguished himself on his debut by tying for eighth. Kevin was an aficionado of anchor putting back then, but when the rules police pounced he reverted to left-handedness. To say he hasn’t been heard of since is a little unfair, but not entirely wide of the mark.

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Craig [l] and son Kevin during a practice round before the 2014 Masters
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Jessica Korda [l] and sister Nelly after Nelly won the 2021 Meijer LPGA Classic


The Korda family has transitioned impressively from tennis to golf. Nelly Korda, 23, is ranked number two in the Rolex Ranking for women’s golf at the time of writing, after claiming her first major at the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and Olympic Gold in Tokyo. Her older sister Jessica, 28, has won six times on the LPGA Tour while younger brother, Sebastian, 21, claimed his first ATP Tour tennis title this year. Parents Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtova were both pro tennis players. Petr found grand slam glory of his own, winning the 1998 Australian Open.


Arnold Palmer learned the game from his father, Deacon, who also was a superintendent and head pro at Latrobe Country Club, where Arnold was raised and where he learned the game. Arnold’s brother, Jerry, studied agronomy and likewise was LCC’s superintendent and general manager, while Arnold’s daughter Amy Palmer Saunders continues to oversee his companies and PGA Tour event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Her son, Sam Saunders, learned golf from his dad, Roy, and from his grandfather, and today is a PGA Tour golfer. Sam’s cousins Anna and Will Wears played golf at Wake Forest and Loyola, respectively, and today Will is an assistant golf coach at his alma mater.

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Deacon Palmer [l] with his son Arnold


Masters that changed golf

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