Family Ties

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How much does the PGA Championship mean to the players?

A lot.

Maybe even more to their families.

Arjun Atwal was on a plane to New Jersey Monday to Baltusrol. Accompanying him were his parents, who had arrived from Calcutta, India, just days earlier.

Atwal will play in the PGA Championship that begins Thursday. 'I taught him to play,' Atwal's father said proudly. 'And now I think he needs a coach.'

In fact, the elder Atwal consulted with Vijay Singh about the matter. Singh said not to worry. He told the father the son was doing just fine.

'I hear the golf course is long,' Arjun Atwal said.

'Par 70, 7400 yards,' I told him. 'Two par 4s longer than 500 yards. The 17th a 650-yard uphill par 5.'

'Perfect,' Arjun Atwal said. '.......at least for one guy......or two guys, I should say.'

Tiger Woods. And the aforementioned Singh.

The prevailing wisdom among the cognoscenti in golf right now is that Woods and Singh have separated themselves from the rest.

Mickelson has cooled. Els is on the shelf until December, at least, with a damaged left knee. Retied Goosen, a winner Sunday in Colorado, has struggled at the PGA Championships he has entered and will be looking for his first top 10 in this event in eight tries.

For his part, Atwal happened to be practicing at Isleworth, near Orlando, Sunday. Not far away was Woods.

'I can't believe how far he's hitting his driver right now,' Atwal said.

Woods' 'bunt cuts' were stopping more than 300 yards from where they were struck. When Woods started hitting tight draws, Atwal said, they were carrying 330 yards.

Woods is gunning for his third victory in a major this year. And it means a lot to him and his family. His father, Earl, has been ill. The number of majors the elder Woods will be able to witness, even on television, is dwindling more rapidly than the son wishes.

So Tiger hurries to make more history at a historic venue designed by the great A. W. Tillinghast. If Woods conquers Baltusrol, it will be his 11th win in a professional major. All of this, and he doesn't turn 30 until December.

Should we be more amazed at what Tiger Woods achieved in his 20s; more curious about what he may do in his 30s; or more flabbergasted at how fast his 10 years as a professional have passed?

Baltusrol will provide answers to some of this. Woods' tee time Thursday is 8:25 a.m. off No. 10. His playing competitors will be U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell and Aussie golf icon Greg Norman.

Arjun Atwal, who learned how to play golf at Royal Calcutta, will be first off Thursday off No. 1 tee at 7:15. His playing competitors will be Jonathan Kaye and Craig Thomas.

'Royal Calcutta is the second oldest golf course in the world,' said Arjun Atwal's father, who has served on the golf committee there. 'Only the Old Course at St. Andrews is older. Our course is 175 years old.'

The game of golf, all over the world, continues to get passed from generation to generation. And the beat goes on.
 
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