By petedirenzo
Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Feb9-alan-shipnuck_400x376 The contemptuous shake of the head said it all.
On Tuesday afternoon I was grinding on the Pebble Beach practice green. During Pro-Am week it's a great hang-out spot, tucked between the course's first tee and the front door of the Lodge and lined by golf fans and looky-loos.
It was a lovely, sun-kissed day and the green was packed with a couple dozen pros and a handful of my fellow amateurs. After a very mediocre day of putting at Monterey Peninsula Country Club I needed to try to fix my balky stroke. My caddie Kevin Price set up on the edge of the green and we went into full Phil/Bones mode. Kev put a tee in the ground as my aiming point, crouched behind it and rolled ball after ball back to me.
I was concentrating like it was Sunday at the U.S. Open when Golf Channel talent Alex Miceli walked by. He took one look at my overly serious mien and gave a series of head shakes that translated roughly to, "Is this guy for real? Who does he think he is?" What can I say? Even as a mere alternate for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, I've gotten swept up by tournament fever.
My second day around Pebble was eventful from start to finish. Days ago I had signed up for a 9:30 practice round with pros Mark Wilson and Tag Ridings. After Wilson prevailed in the Monday finish at Phoenix I was dubious whether he'd show for the practice round, and sure enough neither he nor Ridings was anywhere to be found this morning.
I scanned the tee sheet and noticed that the next group off was Tour veteran D.J. Trahan along with his partner, some dude by the name of Costner. I gingerly approached the Academy Award winner on the range to ask if I could tag along. He was hesitant to welcome a moonlighting scribe. "I don't want to say you're a leper but ..."
Luckily Costner didn't finish the sentence. I assured him that if he worked blue on the course I would keep it between us and away we went, along with another am, Michael Cochrane, a congenial Morgan Stanley exec. Thus began an important lesson on the complicated interpersonal dynamics of the Pro-Am.
Trahan did not seem overly thrilled to have to play with two other random amateurs, and I can't say I blame him. I was hyper-aware of not getting in his way out there, pretty much forgoing practice swings or doing more than a cursory reading of putts. Still, Trahan didn't say much to me until we were loitering on the 6th tee, watching a herd of deer cross the fairway.
Knowing Trahan's a hunter I said, "The only reason deer were put on this Earth is to get shot." These are not exactly my true feelings on the matter, but Trahan heartily agreed, and after that he seemed to like me more and the conversation flowed a bit easier. Hey, sometimes you have to go along to get along.
On the 9th hole Costner put an arm around me and said, "Let's try to speed things up for my pro." To that point all of us had been hitting a few extra putts and even taking the occasional mulligan, but after the pep talk I pretty much quit all that. Immediately I began playing better. The practice round mentality of just hitting shots and not really trying to make a score had let some sloppiness creep into my game. Tomorrow at Spyglass there will be no reloads; I'm playing with a friend and hope we can get a money game going to sharpen my competitive edge.
I also need to putt better. Kevin (the looper, not the thespian) diagnosed that I was aiming left of my target, ergo our grind-a-thon on the practice green. I've been faithfully using the same 2-Ball for a decade, forever averting my gaze from the newer, flashier seductresses.
When Kev got me squared up, the face of my old 2-Ball looked so open I could barely take the putter back. Desperate, I decided it was time to try a new wand. Joseph Pouliot, the owner of SeeMore Putters, had laid out a bunch of his models for fondling. I explained to him my issues, and both Joseph and Kevin fussed over me like overbearing Little League dads, manipulating my hands and shoulders and feet and using various gadgets to check my alignment.
A number of onlookers were paying close attention, as if any of this mattered. I have to admit it was fun to be the center of so much attention. I found a putter I really liked and Joseph let me borrow it for Wednesday's round. We'll see if it makes a difference. Gawd, I hope so.
After the epic practice session I caught a shuttle to the contestant hospitality area. It's a huge white tent adjacent to Pebble's driving range. The inside is plush and full of all manner of delicious grub. A dozen round tables are set up, and players and their families mingle easily.
I've gotten a few funny double-takes, but the "CONTESTANT" badge I wear conspicuously seems to satisfy the Tour pros who otherwise are not used to having to share the buffet line with scribes. This afternoon the tent was packed for the "pairings party," when the pros and ams find out whom they'll be matched with for the first three rounds.
After a few pep talks about pro-am etiquette and tournament bylaws, all the ams bumrushed the front of the room to find alphabetized packets that revealed their pairing. There was no such care package for me, still a mere alternate. I grabbed a fistful of mini Kit Kats and headed home to do a little typing and practice putting on my bedroom carpet. Have a question for Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag? Ask it here.

(Photo: Alan Shipnuck at Pebble Beach; Kohjiro Kinno/SI)  

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