Howdy, Partner

Howdy, Partner

We’re in the midst of one of the best weeks on the PGA Tour, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. A total of 360 contestants will tee it up—pro-am teams competing over three courses in the most spectacular golf setting in the United States.

It also means six-hour rounds on occasionally bumpy greens and celebrity autograph seekers around every corner. Like I said, one of the best weeks on Tour.

Golf being a mostly solitary sport, some Tour pros have a difficult time embracing the concept of playing with an amateur partner during actual competition (in contrast to pre-tournament pro-am rounds, which they’ve learned to deal with). I advise all my players to never enter a tournament if they truly don’t want to be there. If you have a negative outlook going in, then your energy level will suffer and your performance will follow suit. One of my students, Ricky Barnes, is teamed up this week with comedian Ray Romano, which will mean plenty of television time for him and also some delays as Ray yuks it up with the crowd. Ricky and I have talked at length about it, and I think he’ll handle it well.

Here’s a lesson for the pros when playing a format like this—know your personality type. Golfers can generally be divided into four different personality types:

  1. Analytics, who like order and organization (Bernhard Langer, Bob Estes, Charles Howell III)
  2. Drivers, who play with blinders on and are fully into their own game (Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods)
  3. Amiables, who are quick with a smile and enjoy talking to the public (Peter Jacobsen, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson)
  4. Expressives, who generally roll with the punches and are less structured (Fuzzy Zoeller, Lee Trevino, Fred Couples)

The first two categories, Analytics and Drivers, tend to have the most trouble with pro-am formats because inherent distractions disrupt their routines and concentration. These types of players need to work harder than the Amiable and Expressive players to have a positive attitude while playing with an amateur partner.

No matter what personality type a player is, he is best served by thinking of a pro-am as a challenge to accept and thrive on. It’s akin to playing in nasty weather (which has also dogged the AT&T in the past, though the forecast for this year is perfect). Tom Watson was the best foul-weather player in golf history because he never bitched about the conditions. He relished the challenge and took it an attitude of, “Let’s see how well I can play in this weather.” A pro should ask himself, “Let’s see how far under par I can get with this amateur partner,” rather than fixating on the length of the round or the negative aspects of a pro-am.

Now here’s a lesson for you amateurs who may have a chance to play in a pro-am sometime. First, realize that even though you may be a good player on Saturday mornings with your buddies at the club, you’re probably not used to playing in front of galleries and you will be nervous. Knowing that, it’s tempting to spend a lot of time practicing before the event and think about ways to avoid hitting bad shots Here’s a news flash: that doesn’t happen. Sometimes you have to try hard to not try too hard. Accept that you’ll hit a few squirrelly shots, and just have fun with the experience.

I’ve also heard plenty of amateurs complain that the pro didn’t talk to them more or offer them help with their game. While there are certainly times when the player should do more, you can still learn from observing. Take the opportunity to watch how the pro prepares for, and executes, a shot. Then ask him questions and try to take something away that will help you in your next round. Just remember, it’s a two-way street. If you want to engage the pro in conversation, go ahead, and 99 percent of the time he will respond to your exchange.

Finally, don’t be disappointed when you get your pairing and it’s not a top-name player. You’d be amazed how much there is to learn from any professional at that level, and some guys are a lot more engaging and fun to be around than you might think. Insiders on Tour who know Vijay Singh know that he is one of the nicest, funniest guys on Tour, despite his reputation with the media.

Remember, even the guy who just got his Tour card a few months ago is still in the top one percent of all golfers worldwide. With the right attitude, both you and he will emerge from the pro-am experience as better players.

Peter Kostis is a GOLF Magazine contributing writer and commentator for CBS Sports.

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