Friday Update My quest to make it into the field as an alternate to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am has become an existential exercise. I am in but I am not in. I am a player who can't play. After a week of hob-nobbing many of the other ams now know my plight. When I see them in the buffet line or on the practice green some avert their gaze, not wanting to be sucked into my melodrama; others offer an expectant nod, which is met by a grim shake of the head. No words are needed.
This morning I was again up at 5:30 and on the range by 7. Thursday I felt real optimism. Today hitting balls was nothing more than due diligence. At the first hole I no longer scour the tee box for the amateurs. I know they will be there, because they always are. My least favorite number has become 10:12. That's the morning's last tee time; two days in a row it has made me officially meaningless. And yet I can't quite let go of the dream. While the tournament plays on without me I am heading inland, for a game at Corral de Tierra Country Club. Gotta keep the game sharp. Tomorrow could be my lucky day. Thursday UpdateIt’s usually not a good thing when your name becomes a verb. Unfortunately that befell me during my torturous first-tee vigil during the opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. As the designated alternate I was standing sentry at Pebble’s first hole a few minutes before the day’s first tee time, at 8 a.m. Over the next two hours and twelve minutes I waited (and waited and waited and waited and…) for one of the 52 amateurs to oversleep, blow out his back on the range, slip on the stairs and fracture an elbow or otherwise be unable to tee it up for the first round. It didn’t happen.
I live-tweeted this agonizing limbo, much to the amusement of some of my press tent cohorts. Steve Elling, the sardonic scribe of cbssportsonline.com, wrote on Twitter, “Thus, a new term is added to golf lexicon. ‘I got flat Shipnucked means left at altar, holding bag, rained out, unfulfilled.” Soon folks from all over the Internet were chiming in. “The guy who got left at the altar by Katherine Ross at the end of the movie ‘The Graduate’ got Shipnucked,” tweeted Robert Goodwin. Paul Lapierre of Dalton, Mass. typed, "Found a $100 bill outside pro shop. Tried to buy some pro v1's but the bill was counterfeit. Shipnucked.”
On and on it went.
I know I was asking for it with my breathless practice round dispatches. The odds were never in my favor as I embarked on this quixotic journey. And to be honest, having golf fans root for and against me getting into the tournament was a big part of the reason for doing it. My badge may say CONTESTANT but I’m still a lowly reporter at heart; I knew going in that even if I don’t get to play in the tourney being an alternate would still be a fascinating chance to see the tournament from a new vantage point. Setting aside the crushing personal disappointment, this morning was another interesting experience.
It began with a 7 a.m. breakfast in the contestant hospitality area. All week long this has been a jovial gathering spot, but now there was a different feeling in the air. Gone were the wives, friends and assorted entourages. The tables were crowded with serious looking players methodically stuffing their faces. I expected to be nervous but felt no butterflies and therefore decided to get in as many calories as possible at the buffet, going with a made-to-order omelet, tall stack of pancakes, chocolate chip muffin and huge plate of fruit. I sat at an empty table—dining with all my friends, you might say—and was reading the newspaper when Padraig Harrington sat down across from me. “I think you need more food,” he said, smirking. “You are getting good value, there.” A good line—all the food is free, of course. We chatted amicably, and then Paddy abruptly took his leave, saying,”Everything is on a schedule.” One last pro move: he left a $20 tip.
I journeyed to the range with my friend/looper Kevin Price, who had been dining in the separate caddie tent, a scene he describes as “burnouts, aspiring players, buddies, logo-laden outfits, mediocre (blessedly free) food, ping pong.” It was literally freezing on the range—some of the grass still had frost on it. Reigning PGA Tour player of the year Jim Furyk was nearby, grinding. I did a half dozen jumping jacks to get the blood pumping and then had a spectacular warmup session, flushing practically every shot. I made the mistake of letting myself get excited.
Kevin and I hopped a shuttle to the first tee and watched the first few groups tee off. I was impressed with how well the amateurs got off the tee. (Surely it reveals a character flaw that I was hoping each of these jabronis would cold-top their shots.) I headed to the nearby practice green to kill some time. It was a cool scene—almost completely silent, lotsa game-faces. The tense vibe forced me to concentrate more on my stroke and when I rolled in a few longish putts I have to admit it was satisfying to hear the murmurs of appreciation from the fans ringing the green.
I expected the time would crawl by but it was just the opposite—when I looked up it was well after 9 a.m. and half the field had already teed off. At that point I knew in my gut I wasn’t going to be called upon so I stopped sweating it and just enjoyed watching a little golf and the exceedingly pleasant vibe of a beautiful morning. My father David had been by my side the whole time and it was a pleasure just to have some relaxed time to catch-up.
At 10:12 the last group teed off and my dream was officially deferred. I’ll be back on Friday to try again. Same routine, but hopefully a new day will bring a better ending. (Photo: Kohjiro Kinno/SI)