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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 NoVa. Fan of 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 a newspaper journalist, editor of Golf Inc. magazine, then a PR professional specializing in golf people, places and things for 17 years, rising to Vice President in Billy Casper Golf's PR division. In 2018, Dan started his own company, Dan Shepherd Public Relations, LLC, catering to golf, travel, lifestyle, attractions of all types, and non-profits (www.operationsupportmilitarygolf.org).

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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