STILLWATER — Edmond North junior Hayden Wood never got to watch his father, Willie, during the prime of his professional golf career.
Didn't see him win on the PGA Tour in 1996 — the year Hayden was born — and didn't get to watch any of Willie's 23 career top-10 finishes, the last coming in 1998.
Hayden is the youngest of Willie's three sons. The older two weren't drawn to golf, but Hayden was. Because of that, Willie always regretted that Hayden never got to see his father's most successful days on the course.
But that all changed last year, when Willie's career was reborn on the Champions Tour.
“Hayden had only heard that I used to be a good player,” Willie said. “Finally last year, he got to witness it, and that was very nice for him to see it.”
Coincidentally, Willie's resurgence came about the same time Hayden's high school career saw its first breakthrough.
Now, Hayden is one of the state's top junior golfers, already committed to Oklahoma State, where he'll follow in his father's footsteps. And Hayden will be on the course at OSU's Karsten Creek with his Edmond North teammates Monday and Tuesday, competing for the school's ninth consecutive Class 6A state championship.
Hayden finished fourth at state last year as a sophomore, following conference and regional tournament victories. But it didn't come easy.
As a freshman, Hayden couldn't even crack Edmond North's top five. He spent the state tournament walking the course and watching the Huskies come from behind to win.
“That was the best thing that could have happened to me, because it really made me work harder,” Hayden said. “Watching my team win state was great, but it was one of the worst feelings I've had, because I expected to be in the top five. It really, really hurt, and I don't want to feel that feeling again, so I continue to work hard.”
That new motivation set him up for a strong sophomore season, both in Oklahoma and on the national junior circuit, leading to his scholarship offer from OSU. Meanwhile, Willie was catching fire on the Champions Tour.
It started with Willie's 12th-place finish at the Senior PGA Championship last May, the day before Hayden won the OJGT Oklahoma's Best Classic. Then Willie won twice in three Champions Tour events last August and September.
For the first win, at the Dick's Sporting Goods Championship, Hayden was watching on TV at Oak Tree National. He originally went there to practice, but when dad was in contention, plans changed.
“There were probably 25 people there watching, and when he made that putt to win, it was awesome,” Hayden said. “He says he likes to watch me play well more than he likes to play well, and after that, I feel the same way about him.
“I like to watch him succeed a lot more than I like to succeed.”
Willie, of course, finds himself far more emotionally involved when he's watching Hayden play than when he's playing himself.
“Oh, it's terribly stressful,” Willie said. “Anytime you're watching your son play, you just pull your hair out. But it's even sweeter when they succeed, for sure.”
When Willie isn't on the road playing in tournaments, he and Hayden practice together every chance they get.
“We're really competitive, and when we play, it's like we're practice buddies,” Hayden said. “We practice every single day when he's home. He's been my teacher since I was little, so we're always out there together working on stuff and competing against each other. It's really fun and helpful for both of us.”
Boys state golf schedule
All tournaments are scheduled for 36 holes Monday and 18 holes Tuesday, teeing off at 8 a.m.
Class 6A: Karsten Creek, Stillwater
Class 5A: Tulsa Country Club
Class 4A: Lake Hefner North Course, Oklahoma City
Class 3A: Duncan Golf Club
Class 2A: Emerald Falls, Broken Arrow