All in the Family: In the Footsteps of Good Old Dad
Long, long before we dense Homo sapiens had any idea that things we now call genes carried various physical traits from generation to generation, men were fathering children in hopes they would grow to emulate the old man or even surpass him in achievements.
Ancient Greeks wanted faster sons to win inter-city races when they weren’t killing each other in inter-city wars. Fathers wanted better swordsmen for sons to do that dirty work.
We haven’t changed too much over the centuries as fathers hope for their sons and daughters to gain glory in all sorts of ways as soldiers, sailors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. Even a couple of our presidents each produced a son who became president, although we won’t blame those poor little innocent genes for that.
Genes, however, do get credit when accomplished athletes father a son or daughter who follows Good Old Dad into a life of athletic stardom.
We celebrate Father’s Day today as the United States Open Golf Championship concludes at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
A couple of father-son combinations played a big part during the early years of the oldest golf tournament in the world, the British Open, which is properly known simply as The Open Championship.
Twelve of the first 15 Open Championships were won by either Willie Park, who won the first Open in 1860 and again in 1863, 1866 and 1875; Tom Morris Sr., who won in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867; or Tom Morris Jr., who won in 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872. Then Willie Park Jr. won The Open in 1887 and 1889.
The golf gods were guiding those Park and Morris family genes with a perfect touch years before anyone thought of crediting fathers with a national holiday. Mother’s and Father’s Days are a 20th century creation.
Juniors and Seniors
The Willie Park and Tom Morris clans were Scottish born and Scottish trained in the land that gave birth to the grand old game of golf.
Tom Morris Sr. and Tom Morris Jr. are better known as Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris. Willie Park did not use the Sr. suffix, although his son distinguished himself from his father with the Jr. All four men were golf club professionals at the dawn of the age when such a profession took hold in the UK and Old Tom Morris held forth as the sage of St. Andrews for decades until his death in 1908.
Eventually Willie Park Jr., like his fellow Scot, Donald Ross, came to North America and became a major golf architect in the United States and Canada. Among the many courses he worked on were Maidstone, a gem of a track on the eastern end of Long Island, and Olympia Fields in Illinois.
Young Tom Morris was only 17 when he won the British Open for the first time. Two years after winning The Open for the fourth time in 1872 and while he was away from his home in St. Andrews, Scotland, playing an exhibition match, Young Tom’s wife and only son died during child birth.
Inconsolable from then on, Young Tom Morris died on Christmas Day 1875 at age 24. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack. But folks said Young Tom died of a broken heart. Others say he drank himself to death. Either way, the glory and fame of the Morris father and son team was always clouded by tragedy.
A much more joyful father and son duo in modern golf is Jay Haas and his son, Bill, who won the multi-million-dollar FedEx Cup last year.
The Haas family is loaded with golf genes as Jay, with nine victories on the regular PGA Tour and 16 on the Champions (Senior) Tour, is the nephew of Bob Goalby, the 1968 Masters champion, and brother of Jerry Haas, the Wake Forest golf coach.
Jay has another son, Hunter, who is also on the PGA Tour. Both Bill and Hunter were entered in the U.S. Open at Olympic. Both Bill and Hunter failed to make the cut.
Passing the Baseball Gene
Any other sport you can name has similar father and son success stories. The following are but a few examples.
Baseball has a couple of father-son duos that stand out because they hit home runs in record numbers. Bobby Bonds and son, Barry, hit a total of 1,094 home runs, while Barry did most of the damage with his Major League Baseball career record of 762 homers over 22 years. Ken Griffey Sr. and son, Ken Jr., hit 782 major league homers. Like the Bonds, it was the son who hit most of them as Ken Jr. had 630 homers in his 22 years in Major League Baseball.
Other famous MLB father-son combos include Sandy, Sandy Jr. and Roberto Alomar; Yogi and Dale Berra; Cecil and Prince Fielder; Felipe and Moises Alou; Cal, Cal Jr. and Billy Ripkin; Tito and Terry Francona; and Tony Gwynn and Tony Jr.
The Bell and Boone dynasties spanned a half-century in the major leagues starting in the 1950s with Gus Bell and Ray Boone, followed by Buddy, David and Mike Bell plus Bob, Aaron and Bret Boone. This is passing baseball genes from father to son to grandson.
That’s My Kid!
Some stars in one sport have sons or daughters who excel at another sport. Darryl Strawberry, the slugging outfielder for the New York Mets and the Yankees, has a son, D.J. Strawberry, who played basketball at the University of Maryland and now plays professionally for a team in Israel.
Ken Norton of heavyweight boxing fame has a son, Ken Jr., the former superb linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys who scored a touchdown when they easily won Super Bowl XXVII over the Buffalo Bills, 52-17, Jan. 31, 1993.
The National Football League’s most prominent father-son athletes are Archie Manning and his two sons, Peyton and Eli. Each of the three is a quarterback. Archie played for the New Orleans Saints while Peyton led the Indianapolis Colts to one Super Bowl title and Eli gained two Super Bowl crowns with the New York Giants. Peyton is now with the Denver Broncos.
Tony Dorsett set records as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys after a great career and the 1976 Heisman Trophy at the University of Pittsburgh. His son, Anthony, became a defensive back for the Pitt Panthers and then the Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders of the NFL.
National Hockey League father-son combos include Gordie and Mark Howe plus Bobby and Brett Hull. Dick Weber and son Pete are both in the Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame.
Auto racing has numerous families such as Ralph, Dale and Dale Jr. Earnhardt of NASCAR fame; Mario Andretti and son Michael of Indy and sports car racing, plus the Canadian father-son team of Giles and Jacques Villeneuva in Formula 1 cars.
A couple of the most unusual father-child athlete relationships involved Muhammad Ali, his daughter Laila, plus Joe Frazier and his daughter, Jackie Frazier-Lyde. There were the three great fights between Ali and Frazier, ending with the 14-round “Thrilla in Manila” won by Ali, Oct. 1, 1975. Twenty-six years later, after women were accepted as professional boxers, an undefeated Laila Ali won a unanimous decision over Jackie Frazier-Lyde in 2001.
As a veteran Pop with 60 years experience as the Old Man to two wonderful sons and 21 years as a grandfather, I wish a happy Father’s Day to every dad on the planet.
In addition, I joyfully include the latest presidential proclamation: Fathers do not have to do the dishes today.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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