It is an expected, albeit still interesting storyline.
Dad is one of the world’s best professional golfers. From the time his son is old enough to hold one of those plastic, oversized, red clubs, Dad is with son on the range. In the furnace of heat that is a Louisiana summer—after school and every weekend—there is Dear Ol’ Dad, teaching his firstborn everything he knows about the grip and the game.
As son gets older, Dad “encourages” him to play in tournament after tournament, all in preparation to follow the trail left by Dad’s footprints. Those are large footprints, by the way. Footprints left by the shoes of a three-time LSU All-American, a 13-time PGA Tour winner, and a career-earner of more than $44 million.
That’s a lot to live up to. But just 21 years into life as David Wayne Toms’ son, Carter Phillip Toms is well on his way. As a senior at C.E. Byrd High School, Carter won the Louisiana State High School Athletics Association’s Division 1 State Championship. He’s a member of LSU’s golf team. He recently played in the United States Amateur Tournament, at one of the game’s most revered courses—Pebble Beach.
There’s only one problem with this expected, albeit still interesting storyline.
It’s not true.
David did not spend countless hours hovering over Carter, moving his son’s hands up, down and around the club shaft to find the right pressure points.
David did not rustle Carter from his slumber, forcing him out the door for 6am practices.
This expected, albeit still interesting storyline, is as false as the front of the 14th green at Augusta National.
“I was a big baseball player growing up,” Carter said. “I did not play golf competitively until high school. I started with baseball and soccer—but I was mainly a baseball payer. My Dad was really kind of pushing me toward that because he didn’t want me to have to deal with growing up in his shadow—being compared to him as a golfer—because that’s not really what he wanted to happen. That’s really hard being compared to a Hall of Famer.”
And David knew that. After all, don’t most fathers know what’s best for their children? David didn’t want his son weighed down with a golf bag full of expectations. That’s one reason why David steered Carter towards the diamond instead of the fairway.
But there was another reason—one that was more about David than Carter.
“I loved going to the ballpark,” David admits.
You see, long before his final round, shot-for-shot battle with Phil Mickelson to win the 2001 PGA Championship—his first “major” title—David was flashing the glove—a baseball glove. Until he was 12 years old, David played baseball with future two-time LSU All-American and nine-year major league veteran Ben McDonald. Then, when he moved to Shreveport-Bossier, David played with Albert (Joey) Belle—a future two-time All-SEC player at LSU and 12-year big league veteran.
But eventually, what happened to father happened to son. The golf bug bit, and took a big bite out of baseball. Carter started hanging out with friends who played golf, and after awhile, hitting the ball with dimples was more enjoyable than hitting the ball with seams.
“When he wanted to start playing golf,” David said, “I was kind of heartbroken as far as him not really taking an interest in baseball anymore because from a selfish point of view, I loved being at the ballpark and I was at the golf course all the time anyway, so I would rather be at the ballpark watching my kid play.”
Now here is where David and Carter’s story has an opportunity to make a U-Turn toward its original expected, albeit still interesting storyline: one of the sport’s best, teaching his son how to play the game and follow Dad’s footprints. But remember, those footprints are long and wide—and lined with water hazards and thick rough.
David knew that. After all, don’t most fathers know what’s best for their children?
Of course they do, which is why instead of becoming a teaching Dad, David became a protective Dad. He got Carter his own swing coach. His own instructor.
Those countless hours of Dad hovering over son, teaching him the mechanics of the game? As invisible as a British Open course enveloped in fog rolling in from the sea.
“As a golfer, for him, there was a lot of pressure to succeed in the game because of me,” David explained, “and I just felt like it was better to try and distance myself for our father-son relationship. I just wanted to be a supportive father. If he asked me a question, I wanted to be there for him, but I didn’t want to be too involved because I thought he would feel better about himself if he did it more on his own and working with other people and other coaches and so forth, and it would be something that he accomplished on his own.”
“I don’t listen to “He should be good because he’s David’s son,”” Carter said. “I just kind of go by myself, and that’s what Dad has always told me: “Don’t listen to that.” I’m not identified as David’s son. I’m Carter.”
Yes he is. Carter Toms, who just happens to have a Dad that has climbed to the top of a very high professional mountain. But when they are together, David Toms isn’t the player who earlier this year won the U.S. Senior Open.
He’s Dad, and that’s just how Carter wants it.
“We really are best friends,” Carter said. “We do everything together. We never fight. When it comes to duck hunting, that’s the only time we ever fight because we’re both so passionate about it. That’s how we bonded so close. We spent 30-35 days a year together. Now with me being in college, when I’m home, it’s usually during duck season and during Christmas break, and that’s all we do every day, and that’s been going on a long time. We spend a majority of our time, especially when it’s just me and him, it’s usually around something to do with hunting and fishing.”
Just as David loved hunting with his father, Carter loves hunting with his father. In fact, one of Carter’s special memories is killing his first two ducks—which by the way he did with just one shot. That moment was made more memorable because David was in the blind—right next to Carter.
“For Dad to be there was pretty special.”
“I was probably smiling from ear-to-ear,” David said, with just the right tone of fatherly pride.
But it doesn’t take something as special as being with your son when they kill their first ducks to make David smile. That comes naturally, and happens pretty much whenever he and Carter are together.
“There’s so many distractions for kids now days,” David said. “When you’re in a duck blind or you’re in a boat and you’re outdoors and you’re up watching the sun rise or watching the sun set and you can be there, you’re just hoping to catch that situation where they open up to you and tell you about what’s going on in your life. I can’t think of a better way to do that and that’s what the golf course does for us now, too. When you’re riding with somebody in the golf cart, they can’t get very far away from you. I certainly know it’s helped me—that’s a way for me to be able to catch up with the kids when I’m not home.”
And it’s a two-way street.
“He’s more my best friend,” Carter said. “He’s cool. He’s just a cool guy. A lot of people want to hang out with him. He’s just a really cool dude. I talk to him basically every day, just about anything. We’re really close. We never really fight about anything. He’s real humorous, He’s always joking around. We’re just really good friends.”
Who knows? Maybe they would still be “just really good friends” had Dad pushed son to play between the ropes instead of between the lines.
But maybe not.
It was a shot Dad took.
A shot that had just the right arc, just the right length, just the right touch.
A father’s touch.