I think I underestimated the mental anguish that would come with being an alternate to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. For my first two days in limbo land I was happy to la-di-da my way around Del Monte Forest, enjoying the great courses and glorious weather and unique access that has come with being accorded the status of a contestant.
On Wednesday I was basically a basket case — stressed out about the flaws in my game, antsy about getting a spot in the tourney, melancholy that the between-the-ropes adventure may be drawing to an abrupt end. The confidence accrued with two prior rounds of solid play pretty much vanished today at Spyglass Hill with a series of errant drives, impure irons and a trio of skulled bunker shots. (I felt a little better with my new putter, but it was hard to hole anything on the wickedly fast greens.)
I played in a fivesome that included fellow alternates Bing Landis and Michael Winer. It was a little bit like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral. I recognized in both the chipper hopefulness and the slight awkwardness that comes with not quite being part of the show. There were plenty of jokes of our alternative lifestyles, tastes in alternative music, etc. Bing and Mike are both really good guys and I sincerely hope each gets the nod tomorrow, but the odds are against all of us.
Each year there are three amateur alternates, one assigned to each course. (I'll be at Pebble, Mike at Spy, Bing at the Shore Course.) According to one tournament official, over the last 11 years only two out of the 33 alternates have been needed for the first round. But for Friday and Saturday we remain on-call, much like neurosurgeons, though clearly this is more important than mere life and death. It's actually more likely that one of us will get the nod in the ensuing rounds. No matter how stiff or sore or hungover or distracted by a work crises any of the ams may be they're still likely to crawl to the first tee on Thursday; a day or two later it can be harder to answer the bell. (Personally, I'm already feeling a little wiped-out after three days of long practice rounds in the sun followed by evenings of decadent eating and free drinks and assorted merriments.)
If any of us alternates play on Friday or Saturday it would be as a non-competing marker, since it's impossible to be part of the pro-am scoring having missed a round or two. Our role would be to keep the other amateur in group company on the forward tee box and give him a level playing field by having someone to club off of. (Or her; Brandi Chastain and Heidi Ueberroth are both playing this year, in the same group.) It would still be a great experience and perhaps the golf would be more enjoyable, since there would much less stress. But grinding for a score on every hole is what makes tournament golf special. I'd be bummed to miss that part of the experience.
Today at Spy, in an attempt to sharpen my competitive edge, I played a match against Steve John, a buddy of mine who will be competing in his seventh Pro-Am, playing off scratch. He beat me so soundly he refused to accept my $20, out of pity. In fact, the match was settled before my caddie Kevin Price had to bolt from Spy on the 14th hole to coach a game for the freshman basketball team at Salinas High, our alma mater. I was driving home from the course, feeling a little blue, when Kevin texted me the score: 46-35, good guys win. So at least we've got that going for us.
On Thursday morning Kevin will be on hand when my ultimate golf dream will come true or be cruelly deferred. Stay tuned.
(Photo: Kohjiro Kinno/SI) More on Shipnuck's Adventure: Day 1 | Day 2 Tweet