Golf’s Successful Father-Son Duos

The first thing that seven-year pro Michael Visacki did after burying a 20-foot putt in a sudden-death playoff to earn a Monday Qualifying spot in the 2021 Valspar Championship was call home. “I made it,” he told his father, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“You did it? Oh my god. Oh my goodness. I’m crying. Congratulations!” his father said.

Visacki had been steered toward golf by his dad when he was seven. His father suggested he take up golf after he’d finished a tennis lesson one day, and the Sarasota native has never looked back. Visacki has won 37 times on the West Florida Pro Tour, but this would be his first start on the PGA Tour. Asked what it meant to have his father in attendance as he played on the big tour for the first time, Visacki was so choked with emotion he could hardly answer.

“Pops was emotional,” Visacki said. “I’ve never seen him cry so much. We’re not much of a crying family… We knew how much work, effort, blood, sweat, and tears have gone into me trying to make it. To finally do it is a dream come true.”

The video of Visacki’s phone call went viral, earning more than a million views on the PGA Tour’s Twitter page. Everyone who saw it could see the emotion and feel the love. Though he missed the cut at the Valspar, he was invited to play in the Charles Schwab Challenge, and then World No. 2 Justin Thomas reached out to him to offer his support, too. The tour’s feel-good story of the year just kept rolling on.

Thomas knows what it’s like to have a supportive dad. His father, another Mike, often travels to tour events with him. A club pro himself and the son of an accomplished player father, Mike Thomas has been urging Justin on and taking videos of him swinging clubs since Justin was a toddler.

“So many people have dreams,” says Mike Thomas. “And to see your son realize his dream and then succeed—it’s pretty special to see.”

2011 Open Champion and 2016 European Ryder Cup Team Captain Darren Clarke is another player whose father encouraged him to play golf.

“I caddied for him for a couple of years from when I was nine until 11,” says Clarke. “And then he said to me, you should have a go at this yourself. And I started to really enjoy it. My dad kept pushing me and said keep going, keep going, keep on it. I went from 36 to 13 in the first year that I played, and then I went from 13 to three the second year. But he wasn’t one of those parents who said do this and do that. He let me figure it all out myself, which was great.”

Fathers and sons have a long history in golf. Old Tom Morris won four Open Championships—his last at age 46. His son, Young Tom, followed in his dad’s legendary footsteps, winning four straight Opens beginning at age 17, a feat that made him the youngest player ever to capture a major then or since.

Fellow Scotsman Willie Park Sr. won his share of Opens, too, with four Opens to his credit, as well. Son Willie Jr. was Champion Golfer of the Year twice and went on to have a distinguished career as a golf writer and course architect. Among the courses to his credit are Sunningdale Old outside London and Olympia Fields near Chicago.

Australian Joe Kirkwood Sr. discovered golf while working on a sheep ranch in the Outback. He won the 1920 Australian Open by a record margin, as well as the 1920 New Zealand Open before taking his sticks to Europe. Later, he became the first Australian winner on what would become the PGA Tour with a victory in the 1923 Houston Invitational. In 1933, he won the Canadian Open. When his son, Joe Kirkwood Jr., won the 1949 Philadelphia Inquirer Open, they became the first father and son to win Tour events.

The Jack Burkes, Senior and Junior, also had notable careers. Jack Burke Sr. won the 1941 Senior PGA Championship, while his son, a Hall of Fame member, won 16 times on Tour, including two majors in 1956: the Masters and the PGA Championship.

Other Father-son duos who both won on the PGA Tour include: Clayton and Vance Heafner, Julius and Guy Boros, Al and Brent Gerberger, Jay and Bill Haas, Craig and Kevin Stadler, and the Tways—Bob and Kevin.

Jack and Gary Nicklaus came close to joining that elite club—about the only one Jack isn’t a member of. Gary was tied for the lead after 72 holes at the 2000 BellSouth Classic with Phil Mickelson, but Phil denied Gary that thrill.

Looking ahead, are there any sons of Tour-winner fathers whose sons might someday come out on top in tour events themselves? Judging by Charlie Woods’s swing (and his swagger) there just might be. But fathers don’t have to be pros to inspire their sons. Peter Grace, father of Branden Grace, was on Branden’s mind as he competed in the 2021 Puerto Rico Open. Peter had passed away in South Africa in January, a victim of Covid-19, and Grace said he felt his father with him “every step of the way.”

“He gave me my first club,” Grace said. “He has been there through thick and thin. He’s the one that pushed me to get a dream and to be a part of the dream.”

No doubt there are many more dreams that will come true for golfing fathers—and their sons.