PGA Demo Day Highlights From Gary Van Sickle

PGA Demo Day Highlights From Gary Van Sickle

Gary Van Sickle and Milwaukee radio host Chuck Garbedian at the Ben Hogan tent.
David Walberg/SI

ORLANDO, Fla. — What did I do at Demo Day on the eve of the PGA Merchandise Show?

The usual. Interviewed a guy (okay, a cohort) pretending to be Ben Hogan raised from the dead.

Let Graeme McDowell pour me a beer — his own brand of G-Mac Beer.

Asked Bubba Watson is the minor-league baseball team he just invested in, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, were named after him. (He said no but he does like their initials — B.W.)

Waited in line to have professional golfer Blair O’Neal sign my media credential.

Asked former NBA star M.L. Carr to take my place in a golf fling-off.

And asked a woman at the Scan4Beer app tent to tell me where the nearest beer was right this minute. (It was under her counter.)

Here are a few highlights, lowlights and headlights:

At Ping, I got together with engineer Richard Wood to talk about Ping’s line of G-30 equipment. I forgot to warn the Woodsman, a cheery Brit, that I was going to ask some ridiculous questions. Right out of the box, I introduced him as an engineer and asked him how long he’d been driving trains. He looked at me blankly for seemed like long seconds before coughing up a good answer, something about how long he’d been riding on the Ping train. Memo to self: Always alert others before you’re about to go full-metal-stupid in a video interview.

Later when Masters champion Bubba Watson finished an exhibition on the Orange County National range in front of the Ping stalls, I got to ask him a few questions. I introduced him as a guy who looked a lot like Bubba Watson, then asked if we were to look in his closet at home, what would be his second favorite jacket? (I’m pretty sure a green one is No. 1. ) He didn’t have one but he went with the coat hanger that his first Masters green jacket came. “I stole it,” he said, “don’t tell anybody. Sorry, Mom!”

Bubba also talked about the 1938 Cadillac LaSalle he just auctioned off for something like $420,000, which he then gave to charity. Bubba had a good answer, then I asked how much he actually drove the car during the time he owned it. About 50 miles, he said with chagrin, but he did take it to a few drive-through windows.

Our video guys thought it might be fun for me to stand in line to meet O’Neal, a beautiful LPGA player. So I did, exchanging comments with the guys in front of about the freshness of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which they immediately asked about after noticing my press credential. When I got to the front of the line, I gave Blair a three-question quiz. The last one was, Who’s the second-most famous native of Macomb, Ill.? (I was assuming she was No. 1.) “Ohhh,” she said, “I don’t know.” She thought about it for a few seconds then answered, “I don’t know. Who is it?”

Well, I don’t know. You’re the Macomb native. You’re supposed to know. Well, she’d left town at the age of 3 and didn’t know. “You mean I could’ve given you any name and you wouldn’t have known?” she asked with a big smile. Yes, I said, you could’ve said Joe Schlabotnik and I would’ve said, Yep, Joe Schlabotnik is definitely not as well-known in Macomb as you. She got a good laugh out of the exchange, posed for a photo and then two takes of a video handshake (who’s directing this video, Quentin Tarantino?) and couldn’t have been more pleasant. I hope she wins all five or seven or nine of the LPGA’s majors this year.

I got a good look at the new Ben Hogan irons. Some guys brought back the famed line of clubs and the good news is, they’re just as beautiful as you’d expect. I had a set of Hogan irons in the ‘90s for a while and they were sleek, pretty placards that vindicated me as a real player. Except when I hit a clunky 2-iron and remembered, Yeah, I’m probably not really good enough to play these. The new Hogan irons dispense with the iron numbers on the top, since other manufacturers have ruined the meaning of the numbers by decreasing lofts over the years in order to claim that their 8-iron goes farther than anyone else’s. Hogan just puts the loft on the bottom of the club. So I hit some 43s and some 27s and really nailed a couple of the 27s, which is basically a 4-iron. That’s one hazard of the Demo Day. I don’t need any more golf clubs but I leave there wanting more golf clubs.

My associate, Milwaukee radio host Chuck Garbedian, did a turn as Ben Hogan and I did a Q&A session with him in which he gave terse answers to vapid questions like the real Hogan might have. All in good fun, Mr. Hogan.

At Fourteen Golf, a boutique golf outfit that makes good stuff that nobody knows about, we stood in front of a rack of assorted wedges. A lot of them. Fourteen makes wedges in different lofts from 42 degrees all the way up to 60. So Chuck and I played wedge poker. He’d pull a 42-degree, I’d see him and raise him a 46-degree, then he’d pull a 48-degree and raise me back, and so on. One of us had to bail at 60 degree, so I guess he won the hand.

From there, we stopped at FlingGolf. It mixes lacrosse with jai alai and golf. Instead of swinging the club at the ball, you pick the ball up with a scooper-like head, draw the club back over your head and try to slingshot-fling it as far as you can. It’s not as easy as it looks but a good tosser might get one out there 200 yards. Chuck and I were going to have a fling-off but M.L. Carr was there, former NBA player — you can’t miss him at, what, about 6 feet 8 inches and with a big smile. I thought it was our good fortune he just happened to be there but no, he’s one of FlingGolf’s founders. So he took on Chuck in a simultaneous fling and it was pretty close. Chuck got off a good one but lost it right while Carr’s went pretty straight. I declared Carr the winner and later, when one of our guys went back for a follow-up, Carr joked, “Did you want to talk to me or Charles?” He meant Barkley, of course, and he laughed hard. FlingGolf looks kind of fun. You can actually putt with the strange-looking scoop head. It’s not all bad.

There’s a competitor out there with a very similar idea, WhipGolf, but time ran out before I was able to make my way around the Orange County 360-degree range to check it out.

Graeme McDowell was pouring beers in the Cleveland-Srixon area so we ambushed him with our video camera. I sidled in beside him behind the bar, told him we were filming him pouring beers and congratulate him on shooting down the stereotype of Irishmen drinking beer. He chuckled and agreed that it was an outrageous stereotype, moments after he’d taken another big sip of beer.

G-Mac was pouring his own craft beer, G-Mac beer, which comes in a can with an attractive green label. Keegan Bradley also has one, with a red label, and Freddie Jacobsen has one with a blue-and-yellow label. I asked G-Mac to give me the world rankings on the beers and he admitted, “Well, I’d have to make mine No. 1,” he allowed with a grin. “I made it.” He also noted that in the entire 45 minutes he’d been pouring beers for fans, only one had asked for a Keegan Bradley. He liked that.

The beer, G-Mac confirmed, will be available at Nona Blue, McDowell’s restaurant bar in Lake Nona, near Orlando International Airport.

I got a good look at all the new Titleist stuff in a stop at their hitting area, especially the 915D2 and 915D3 drivers. I didn’t get to hit them, due to a crush of people waiting in line to do likewise, but they are good-looking new clubs.

The crew and I ended up at a demonstration at the Nike area, where a robot (an Iron Byron swinging-machine, basically), hit the bejeezus out of some fairways woods. The fun part was watching NBA-er Ron Harper hit balls in the stall just to the right of the demonstration and keep an eye on the robot ballstriker. Harper has an athletic golf move and like every NBA player, he’s far more huge in person than on TV, where everybody on the court is at least 6-6.

After that, we attempted a comedic moment. I took a microphone, stood by the robot and asked questions like I was interviewing it. Chuck, using a second microphone, answered them from off-camera. I don’t know how funny our idea was but a bunch of people milling around looked at us like we were a couple of idiots. They probably weren’t wrong.

A stop at Scan4Beer on the way out was enlightening. You can get an app set up so you can message the nearest beverage cart on the course you’re playing and get in an order, then the beer cart person hustles over to your location. Forget that, I told the Scan4Beer girl (who was from Pittsburgh, by the way, just like me), where’s the nearest beer to me right this second? She studied her iPad, crunched some numbers, then reached behind the counter and grabbed a can — G-Mac beer, in fact — and said, “Right here!” She popped the tab and handed it to me.

You can learn amazing things at Demo Day. Really.

For more news that golfers everywhere are talking about, follow @golf_com on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube video channel.