Much has been written about the attitude of Tour pros to the ubiquitous Wednesday pro-am. The difficulties of concentrating on the day before the tournament while playing with nervous amateurs are many.
However, no one seems to offer these quivering victims any advice. Well, here are my "Seven Steps to Pro-am Heaven" for pro and amateur alike. A few dos and don'ts of playing with the pro a road map through the purgatory of the pro-am.
I always try to imagine what it would be like for me if I were plucked out of my comfort zone and thrust into the spotlight, say, on stage with Bruce Springsteen or into the boardroom with Bill Gates, and told not to make an idiot of myself. The truth is that neither Bruce nor Bill would expect me to be any good at all. I, on the other hand, would still like to give a decent account of myself, or at least limit the damage.
The first thing to remember is that your pro requires one thing from you that you enjoy yourself. The reason we play for so much money these days is that you do enjoy the game, you do buy the equipment that you don't need, and you do love to watch us on television. So, don't be overawed: Chances are you do something for a living that we would be completely useless at. A good pro will always do his or her best to put you at ease on the first tee, so when you make your first swing that makes contact with the planet nine inches behind the ball and measures 4.8 on the Richter scale, you can at least have a laugh at it, too.
Some of the best fun I've had on a golf course has been with complete hackers who have had enough confidence in what they do in other walks of life to laugh it off without self-consciousness, while enjoying the walk and the banter.
So, here are a few guidelines that will help both you and your pro enjoy the day:
1. GET A CADDIE. It's the only way to play the game. You can walk free of hindrance and have the club handed to you clean and dry. If possible, get one of the Tour caddies whose man isn't in the pro-am. For $50, you can have someone who is used to being screamed at, blamed for the weather, the rate of inflation, and some of those hard-to-explain skin rashes.
Mind you, he won't be able to club you because you don't know which part of the club the ball is about to bounce off of. However, he will be able to regale you with stories on and off the course most people are never privy to.
2. BE READY TO HIT. Even if it isn't your turn. Discuss with your partners the concept of "ready golf" before you tee off. This means forgetting whose honor it is if you're ready, just go. Pro-am play is hideously slow at the best of times and your pro will really appreciate it if you make the effort to keep it going.
There is nothing sadder than watching a finely-tuned athlete walking slowly into the woods to whack his forehead on a Scotch pine just to relieve the pain of watching a 23-handicap account executive from Sheboygan agonize over whether to miss the green by 70 yards with a heavily disguised 11-wood or a very fat 4-iron. It makes me droop just thinking about it.
3. NO CELLULAR PHONES. At the very least turn them off. The surgical removal of a cellular phone from certain regions of the anatomy is painful and, to the best of my knowledge, is not covered under most company health insurance plans.
4. GET A YARDAGE BOOK. And ask a Tour caddie how to use it. This will make the pro very happy. Contribute to your pro's mental well-being by being the first "ammy" in the history of his pro-am career not to ask the question: "How far have I got from here?"
There are only a certain number of times in your career you can be asked this question before your spleen bursts. Mine burst six years ago.
5. OUT OF THE HOLE? Pick it up. And, be sure to tell your pro when you have done so. Not only will you contribute to the pace of play, but you will avoid the awkward situation of having the pro wait, expecting you to hit, while you are rummaging around in your bag looking for that three-year-old stick of gum that's making everything sticky.
In this category, there is only one thing worse than waiting around for no apparent reason, and that is waiting around for a very bad apparent reason; i.e., holing out for a 9, net 8.
6. FORGET ABOUT SCORE. And, don't be upset if your pro doesn't know how your team stands. Remember, it's a Wednesday. He probably doesn't even know his own score.
7. WATCH YOUR FEET. Be very, very mindful of the line of your pro's putt. Look at television coverage of a golf tournament and watch how respectful the pros are of each others' lines. Quite often a player walks 60 or 70 feet around another player's marker just to avoid stepping over it.
There's no need to take it to these extremes, but ask your pro where his line is and he or she will show you where to step over. Remember, this is our office. How would you feel if you were in the process of finishing a very carefully written letter to your boss and I came in wearing a pair of golf shoes and did a Highland fling all over it? I thought so.
Finally, if any of you are still interested in playing this game with anybody ever again, try not to give the pro any advice on how to play the course, even if it is your home course and you've been a member for 75 years. Trust me, he knows more about it than you do just by looking at the yardage book.
It's a question of knowing what to look for. Even giving the occasional line off the tee can be dangerous because you don't normally play two club-lengths from the back edge of the back tee. I don't know how many times I've heard, "Oops, I could have sworn you could have carried that bunker!"
If you follow those rules, you should have a great day. Remember, there is no other sport where you can play alongside the pros in such close proximity without being injured.
Despite what you've read, we can have fun on a Wednesday, too. And, as I said, thanks for the prize money!