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PGA Tour Pro-Am Anecdotes: Space Shuttles, North Korea and Ghandi’s Yoga

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Playing in pro-ams has been part of my job as a public relations executive who specializes in representing people, places and things in golf, including resorts and destinations. Along with media guests, I’ve played in roughly one dozen of them between the PGA and Champions tours. They’re like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get.

Here are some anecdotes from my experiences.

Long John Daly

We’ve selected John Daly as our pro-am partner and we’re excited to play with the “people’s champion.” But he’s nowhere to be found as our 7:11 a.m. tee time rapidly approaches. Just when we think we’ll have to double up with another pro-am group, Long John appears on the putting green. With a cigarette dangling from his lips, he one-hand putts a couple balls and then heads toward our tee. Because we have no time for introductions, it’s not until we leave the green that I greet him, asking him how he’s doing. And he said something that isn’t quite fit for print; something to the tune of “I’d be doing better if I had gotten a…” Well, you know. For all he knew, I could have been his next seven-figure sponsor; but I guess that doesn’t concern him, and it’s partly why he’s so popular – he’s unfiltered. He also couldn’t have been nicer, fist bumping us when we made a good shot or putt, encouraging us throughout. When he learned that I was a PR pro who reps golf people, places and things, he excitedly tells me that he’s consulting on a course design in Branson, Missouri. He whips out his cell phone and makes a call. “You need to hire this guy, Chris, he can get us publicity for the course,” he tells the project manager, who clearly isn’t digging connecting in this way. But that’s how Big John rolled that day. He didn’t look or act like so many other golfers do. How many other pros use a $50,000 casino chip as their ball marker?

Space Shuttles

Many of the pro-ams in which I played included amateur partners experiencing their first. Nerves are the norm, particularly as most amateurs are bogey golfers. Hence, when standing a few feet from one of the best players in the world on the first tee with fans nearby, the jitters are invariable. Oh, to be back at the muni with Vito and Sal playing a $5 Nassau. My heart beat so hard at my first pro-am tee shot address that I could feel it in my hands while gripping the driver. As I looked at my ball, I realized how Earth must look to Space Shuttle astronauts as they hurtle into space – it had suddenly gotten very small, very quick. I thought to myself “low and slow,” mentally encouraging myself to make a calm, controlled takeaway. But the little devil on my shoulder countered with “What are you doing here, Chucklehead? You’re out of your league!” With that reassuring thought blaring in my brain, I complete the swing. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed at contact. Somehow the ball finds the fairway, and I can breathe again. Not everyone’s so lucky. Many amateurs start by topping the ball on their first swing, and things deteriorate from there. After a few holes, you can see them dreading their turn to play. And note to all future pro-am first-timers: par is your buddy. That is, if you can’t make natural par, pick up your ball. No score over par is recorded, a smart decision surely made to spare the professionals from 6-hour rounds. Nonetheless, some amateurs invariably miss that time and ego-saving rule that is always and repeatedly stressed during pre-round instructions. It’s not unusual to see bewildered amateurs standing over their ball waiting to hit their fifth on a par-4 as the group walks ahead toward the green.

A Tiger Woods hat

It’s Halloween in Mississippi and we have two foursomes playing in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic Pro-Am. “Hush Y’all” signs abound along the perimeter of the course. One of the groups has drawn Kirk Triplett. Thinking they’d be cute, they buy four of Triplett’s signature “bucket” hats the night before to wear during their round. Expecting him arrive at the first tee wearing his bucket hat, instead he appears wearing a Nike-logoed baseball hat and a certain former No. 1 player’s Sunday red victory-closing colors. “Hi,” he says with a big toothy grin. “I’m Tiger Woods.”

Buggah

Robert Allenby shoots a 67 during our pro-am round. Three times his putts lip out, otherwise he shoots a blazing 64. With each near miss, he hisses “BUGGER!” (it sounds like “Buggah” with his Aussie accent). To this day, I spit “BUGGAH!” when I lip out. At the time, Allenby was wearing a brand of sunglasses with lenses the size and shape of alien eyes. I asked if I could try them on, and when I do, they make everything “pop,” appearing incredibly bright and clear. I don’t know what the technology was, but it blew me away. We represented a brand of sunglasses in our client portfolio at the time, so I offer Robert them to try. “These are [crap],” he says immediately and hands them back. Truth be told, after trying his, he was right.

A day of misery

Playing with Stuart Appleby was my least enjoyable pro-am round. In all fairness, it had rained non-stop leading up to tournament week, and the course was saturated and mucky. Lift, clean and place was the rule, and it was a long, unpleasant slog. The first sign that all was not well with Appleby came as we waited our turn to play on a backed-up par 3. Thinking a little small talk would help pass the time, I ask him if he and Greg Norman are close and if the Shark inspired him while coming up as a junior golfer in Australia. His response was harsh and concise, and he offered nothing further. An uneasy silence – at least to me – hung in the air. Not feeling comfortable continuing the conversation, I mumbled something benign like “I’ll be darned” or “You don’t say.” As the round proceeded, Appleby similarly didn’t hold back expressing his unhappiness with the conditions – which were as bad as they come – and it was all he could do to hang in there. And he didn’t. He tells me with two holes to go, “I’m going in. I’ve had enough. Tell the others I said thank you.” And he leaves. Not knowing what to do, and just about to tee off without a pro, the group behind us arrives. Fred Funk is their pro, and typical of his reputation, Funk warmly welcomes us. Eight-some it is. To make it interesting, we play a two-hole match against the other pro-am group, eking out a win and $10 per man. When given lemons…

North Korea

It’s 2008 and I don’t recall how we got started on foreign policy – I think it stemmed from me mentioning that I had served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division – but David Duval is engaged. “What’s next, North Korea? Iran?” he asks, pondering what country poses our next big threat. World affairs and U.S. foreign policy are important subjects that interest me, but having a discussion of this type during a pro-am round was surreal. I should have seen it coming. Our amateur foursome included then Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, once the Republican Party’s National Chairman. When introducing himself to Gov. Barbour on the opening hole, Duval told the governor that he was one of the few Democrats on the PGA Tour. “Well, that’s all right, David,” Barbour said in his thick, Yazoo City-inflected drawl. “In the Republican Party, we believe in redemption.” And we’re off!

Ghandi

Playing with Duval reinforced two irrefutable golf truths. The first was that golf is a game of ironies. The easier you swing, the farther the ball goes. His approach shot to the 18th exemplified this fact. Laying 283 yards from the green after his tee shot, Duval selects a 3-wood for his approach, which had to carry a wide creek running in front of the par-5 finishing hole. Holding his finish after a swing smoother than Ghandi after yoga class, Duval coos softly “Stay in the air.” Stay in the air, indeed! After rocketing off the clubface, his ball is a sensor-guided missile streaking toward the flag. It lands over the creek and rolls about 40 feet past the hole. A lovely lag putt leaves him a kick-in birdie to cap his round of 67. I remember thinking that the former No. 1 player was on the comeback trail, ready to break out of the relative journeyman he had become at this point in his career. Instead, he shoots 72-72 in the first two rounds of the tourney that week and misses the cut. Which underscores the second golf truth: like Forest’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get when you tee it up.

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A University of Maryland graduate, Dan is a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, now residing in Northern Virginia. Fan of the Terps and all D.C. professional sports teams, Dan fell in love with golf through Lee Trevino's style and skill during his peak years. Dan was once Editor of Golf Inc. Magazine.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Rob Thomas

    Mar 7, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    In can attest to the nerves AND topping one of the first tee! Good read that brought back good (and not-so-good) memories, Dan!

  2. Spell Check

    Mar 5, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    Nice read, but it’s spelled “Gandhi”: http://www.markshep.com/peace/Spell.html

  3. Andrew

    Mar 3, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    It’s amazing how those who love war the most have never been near one. Cowards.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Steve’s worst shot of his life and Knudson’s handicap is heading up!

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Steve played in a tournament and hit one of the worst shots of his life. Knudson’s game is on the decline but his handicap is heading north. Steve talks about member-guest tournaments and the one-day event they have coming up.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for golf?

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Golf, like many hobbies, can drive people to do some crazy things—whether it be to play a course on your bucket list, purchase a club you’ve been looking for, or drop everything just to play with your buddies.

As a purely self-diagnosed golf junkie, I have gone out of my way to do all of these things on many occasions, and I have a feeling a lot of others here have some stories to tell similar to these.

The Long Trip

Let me start by saying that I’m not a “Bag Tag Barry” or really a bucket list course kinda guy. Yes, I have courses I want to play, but at the moment the highest on the list starts and ends with the Old Course at St. Andrews – because, simple – it’s St. Andrews. Beyond that, my “hoping to play” list pretty much the standard classics.

But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t gone WAY out of my way to play, especially when you think about the recent 1600-plus mile journey I just took to Sweetens Cove to play in the First Annual “Oil Hardened Classic” run by Eternal Summer Golf Society.

Sweetens has been on my radar since I first heard about it, and if you are at all interested in course architecture I’m sure it has been on your radar for a while too – great piece on it here from WRX Featured Writer Peter Schmitt (You’ve Never played Anything like Sweetens Cove).

Sweetens Cove

When I first heard of this event, I knew it was something I HAD to do. I’ve been playing persimmon clubs (not to be confused will full hickory) for a couple of years now and in case I haven’t made it clear in the past—I love blade irons. To be able to play with a bunch of other “golf sickos” made this something I really wanted to do, and to let you in on a little secret I’ve been hiding for a while, before this I had never done a real “golf trip” before.

Problem: Being in the Great White North puts me a long ways away from South Pittsburg, TN and a golf trip like this with air travel and a rental car was out of the question. So what’s the next best thing? load the car up with a bunch of old wooden clubs, some blades, three golf bags, lots of balls, gloves, enough clothes for a few days, a cooler, and a passport: BOOM my first golf trip.

I-75 was my route for an entire day. 14 hours total with stops: It was an easy drive to Chattanooga, where I filled up on BBQ and stayed the night. From there, it was a simple 40-minute drive over in the morning and with Sweetens Cove in Central Time (just across the line, I should add), I even got a much appreciated extra hour of sleep. The golf course was ours for the whole day and beyond the for fun scheduled matches it was a playground. Groups of 12 people playing the same hole, three-club mini loops, trying out impossible putts on the rolling greens—we did it all.

A few years ago, if you had told me I would drive 28 hours round trip to endlessly loop a 9-hole golf course with persimmon clubs and a bunch of “strangers,” I would have probably called you a total idiot. Now, I can’t imagine not doing it again.

Speaking of long golf trips, how does a 2,700-plus mile round trip to play Cabot Links and Cliffs Sound?

It started with an already planned two-week road trip, Toronto, Boston (to see Fenway), Portland, Halifax then finally to Inverness, Nova Scotia home of Cabot Links—and at the time, only open for “lottery bookers” and resort guests Cabot Cliffs. We had times booked for the links course but Cliffs was another story. Since I’m not one to take no for an answer, and although staying at the resort was well beyond our road-tripping budget, I had a little tip that if you call very early the day you are hoping to play they could potentially find spots for players when resorts guests cancel. Cliffs was still under preview play and tee times were 20 minutes apart so the chances we’re slim but a 5 a.m. alarm and some not-so-subtle begging and bartering got my wife and I an afternoon tee time on the best new course in the world!

It was an amazing experience made even better by the beautiful weather and fun we had that day. I have, still to this day, never had an experience like that on a golf course.

The Must-Have Wedges

I’m an obsessive club collector and builder. There I said it. Not only do I love clubs, but I love the idea of making things, or taking things that are considered less desirable and making them better than ever before.

This all stems from a piece I wrote this spring about a HUGE used club sale about an hour from where I live, Check it out here: Hunting Used Clubs at Fore Golfers Only

Although I did get some fantastic deals at “The Sale,” as the locals call it, there were a few wedges I could not get out of my head after visiting the accompanying retail store after the sale. As I was driving home, in a bit of a snow storm, I couldn’t help but think about the potential of the raw Nike Engage wedges I left behind. I wanted them for a number of reason including the fact that I hadn’t had the chance to work and grind on raw wedges in a while and these were the last Mike Taylor-designed Nike wedges before Nike decided to shut the doors and Artisan Golf was born.

By the time I realized I had to have them, it was already too late to drive back and they were closed, so first thing the next day, I called and asked if they 1) Still had the two exact wedges I remembered seeing  2) if they would hold them for me until the Monday morning after the sale—the only chance I would have to get back there in the next month. Why did I need them when snow was still on the ground? Because I’m a nut!

Monday rolled around, I got out of bed bright and early during another not-so-fun snowfall to shovel the driveway, gas up the car, and drive three hours round trip to pick up two rusty used, Nike Engage wedges for the grand total of $120. But when I finally got the chance to work my magic, it’s hard not to say the effort was worth it.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: You and your wedges (survey results part 2)

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As I promised last week when I presented the first layer overview of the GolfWRX/Wedge Guy survey, today I’m going to dive into the section of the survey where you shared your thoughts and feelings about wedges and your wedge play. I’ve made a study of golfers and their wedges for nearly 30 years now, and have always found it fascinating. It also has helped me immensely in breaking from traditional wedge design to address what golfers have told me about where they need help most.

I’m proud that this insight gained from golfers over those years led me to develop “the Koehler sole,” which I patented back in 1990, and have brought to market as both the “Dual Bounce Sole®” and the “V-SOLE®”. That insight also guided me to begin to introduce higher and higher CG in wedges since the mid-90s (which almost all wedge companies have finally begun to do to one degree or another), and to create the first progressively weighted wedges with the SCOR™ line in 2011.

But this is about you and your wedges, so let’s dive right into what you all shared in the surveys.

First of all, you GolfWRX readers are way ahead of rank-and-file recreational golfers in the respect you show for your wedges, with 70 percent or more of you carrying at least four wedges, counting the set match “pitching wedge” that came with your set of irons. I’ve long been an advocate of having more wedges in your bag to give you more options in prime scoring range. As manufacturers have continually strengthened the lofts of the set-match pitching wedge, down to as low as 43-44 degrees in some models, it just makes sense.

Partly as a result of this attention, you GolfWRXers rated your wedge play much higher than golfers at large, based on my prior research. What I found interesting is that fewer of you rated your wedges play outside 75-90 yards as a strength of your game (26 percent) than you did on your wedge play inside 75-90 yards (30 percent). Almost 30 percent of you said your wedge play outside of 75-90 yards was “not as good as it should be,” but just 21 percent said the same about your wedge play outside 75-90 yards. It is generally accepted that full swings are harder to master than the partial swings those short-range shots require.

I have an intern student at University of Houston-Victoria diving into these surveys to cross-tabulate all the answers to reveal more interesting insight for all of us to share, but that is going to take a few weeks, I’m sure, as there is a lot of data here. But what my takeaway from this question is that the vast majority of revealed you have lots of opportunity to improve this segment of your game, as 70-75 percent of you rated your wedge play in both categories as average or below-average. One way to do that is to re-allocate your practice time to hit more wedge shots of different distances, really focusing on distance control. Which brings me to the next couple of questions.

Two questions are very closely linked, as proven by the answers you shared. Nearly an identical number of you responded that your full-swing trajectories were “about right,” and your distance control was “pretty good.” But the majority of you said your trajectories trended too high and your misses come up short almost all the time. You are not alone—my experience with wedge design and golfer feedback is that this majority of you GolfWRX readers is actually much better than the majority of all golfers.

The harsh reality is that this is not all your fault. While mastering wedge play is probably the hardest part of the game, the design of wedges aggravates these two problems. Robotic testing of wedges indicates that essentially all models on the market are very unforgiving of impact moving around the face. We all know that low-face impact, nearly bladed wedge shot is going to fly low and have lots of spin (i.e. “thin to win”). And that likewise, that shot you catch high in the face is going to fly high, come up short and have much less spin.

Tour professionals spend countless hours working to perfect their wedge impact point to be low on the face, a goal helped by the very tight-cut fairways they play. But for the rest of us playing higher-cut fairways, the ball is sitting up more and we are much more likely to catch the ball higher in the face, which—by design—causes the ball to fly higher and have less spin. Conventional wedges have as much as a 20 percent lower smash factor when impacted just half an inch above the “sweet spot.”

The fact is that consistent wedge distance control requires a consistent impact point, lower on the face. One way to try to improve in that regard is to focus your eyes on the forward edge of the ball when you are hitting any wedge shot, but particularly on full swing wedges. From a technique standpoint, your left (or lead) side must be more influential on these shots. In other words, try to make impact with your hands ahead of the clubhead. I’ll dive into that whole subject in a dedicated article soon.

I believe that this challenge of wedge play is aggravated by when and where the majority of you purchase your wedges—let me explain that reasoning.

The vast majority of you are playing relatively new wedges, with 36 percent having purchased them in the last year, and another 43 percent playing wedges that are 1-3 years old. That’s the good news—your wedges are relatively fresh. But now for the bad news.

Almost 45 percent of you said you purchased your wedges at a large off-course retailer, which means you most likely purchased wedges with a heavy, stiff steel shaft—but how does that compare to the shafts in your irons? Is it a match or even close? If not, I’ve learned that the wrong shaft is a huge factor in wedge play, as it creates a feel disconnect in prime scoring range. My experience is that, for most golfers, a thoughtful re-shafting of your wedges to produce the same weight and flex as in your irons will make a huge difference in your wedge-range performance.

This is getting a bit long so let me share another interesting takeaway from this survey, then leave you with another question to sound off about.

Less than 18 percent of you said your last purchase was of a different brand with the goal of improving your performance. I find that puzzling, as I’ll bet nearly 100 percent of you chose your last driver, putter or irons specifically with that goal in mind.

I can only take that to mean that you have relatively low expectations of improvement when you buy wedges—can you all share some thought with me to help me understand why that is?

Thanks, and I look forward to some lively dialog this week. I don’t chime in often to your comments, but I will this week if you want to have a discussion. Should be fun!

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