In the Stockton household, Junior has never been known as a listener. In fact, nine years ago Dad nearly got his son vanity license plates that read I KNOW, because that was Junior's standard response to fatherly advice.
On Sunday, however, Dave Stockton Jr. found out how little he knows, and how much his father knows, when it comes to winning golf tournaments. While Senior took a five-stroke lead into the final round of the Senior Players Championship in Dearborn, Mich., and finished with an airtight, step-on-your-neck 68 to secure a six-stroke victory, Junior, a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie, quickly lost contact with his final-round lead at the Greater Hartford Open before rallying to salvage a tic for third. "I made some definite rookie mistakes today," said a humbled but encouraged Junior, whose $57,600 payoff nearly quadrupled his earnings for the year. "But it was a great learning experience."
His father, meanwhile, had given a clinic. "This was very satisfying," said Senior, who has finished first, second and first, respectively, in the last three Senior tour events and is 51 under par over that span. "I told you I was going to close out this tournament. I never made a mistake."
All in all, it was a terrific week for the Stocktons, who appear to be the best father-son tandem since Tom Morris Old and Young dominated the first dozen British Opens more than a century ago. Last Friday marked the first time a father and son led simultaneous events on the Senior and regular tours, and chances are it won't be the last.
At 52, Senior is in his second prime. In 1993 he had five wins and earned Player of the Year honors on the 50-and-over circuit. Junior, on the other hand, is just getting started. In December he earned a share of first place at the PGA Tour qualifying school, and though he has been erratic this year, missing the cut in 10 of 17 tournaments, he is a long hitter who shows flashes of his father's magic around the greens. Most important, he seems genetically stamped with Senior's greatest gift, a belief that he's indomitable. "I'm a positive thinker," says Junior. "My dad would kill me if I wasn't."
Both Stocktons started their tournaments with 66s, and when each duplicated that score on Friday to take possession of the top spot, all those 6's made people wonder what the devil was going on. While Senior was thrilled with his son and kept in regular telephone contact with him, he never let go of the cool that he would need to win the Senior Players Championship. "I can't think about Junior when I'm playing," he said before the third round. "Not on this course."
However, after his 71 in wet conditions gave him the five-stroke lead, Senior could not feign indifference when the telecast of the Hartford tournament came on in the interview room. "Timeout," said Stockton, who then, along with number 2 son and caddie, Ron, rooted for Junior as they watched. A TV announcer noted that the Stocktons' putting strokes were alike. Next the broadcast revealed that Dave Stockton was 165th on the Tour in putting. "That's not the old man," said Senior. Still, Junior hung on to a share of the lead with a 67.
Then came Sunday, the end to what would turn out to be a less than perfect Stockton week, but one that was pretty good nonetheless.
On the 1st tee in Dearborn, the father-and-son theme is prevalent, for each member of the final threesome—Stockton, Jim Albus and Jim Dent—has a son caddying for him. Stockton, who is determined to shoot in the 60's, hits a thin but straight drive, knocks his second shot onto the green and, using the same Ray Cook mallet putter with which he won two PGA Championships in the 1970s, makes par. But Albus, his closest pursuer, hits the pin with his approach and makes birdie to cut the lead to four shots.
Stockton nearly sinks a 30-footer for birdie and then watches Albus hole a 10-footer for birdie. Stockton's lead is now three strokes.