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Opinion & Analysis

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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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

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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