A Day in the Life of an (Amateur) Tour Pro, Part 2

Sometimes your pro-am partners are as surprising as the pro. At the Canadian Open, our group included pro Kevin Sutherland, the CEO of financial ginat Pengrowth and rock star Tom Cochrane, Red Rider frontman - Lunatic Fringe, Life is a Highway

So you have paid your money, gone to the Pairings Party (see last post) and gotten your pro and your tee time.

Now what?

It is Wednesday (usually) and it is the big day.

Typically the pro-am includes breakfast (for AM tee times) and lunch (for PM tee times and finishing morning players), usually in the clubhouse, which is off limits to everyone except Tour players, officials, staff and pro-am participants and their guests. Eat well – there is not going to be a beverage cart out there, though there are usually snacks (cookies, fruit granola bars) and drinks (water, Gatorade, soda) on every second or third tee. More lavish events, like the FBR, have grills going with tons of cooked food around the course, complimentary burgers, sausage, etc for participants, but more often the tents are just busy setting up for the next day.

Amateurs can wear shorts or pretty much whatever they want, but since this is a pro-am, and the pros have to wear pants and typically look good, I like to get dressed up in my best golf shirts, pants and nice shoes. It is never going to be a better occasion for “golf formal,” so add to the festive atmosphere by not looking like a slob. Look good, feel good – feel good, play good.

When you check in at the clubhouse, or after your round, you’ll also get your swag. As I mentioned in my first post, this can include everything from golf shoes to luggage, humidors to wine and whiskey, and almost always a golf club or two.

If you are in a pro-am with caddies, and did not bring a friend or spouse to carry and share the experience, you’ll pick yours up here as well. The caddie comes in handy when navigating the range and fighting for space on the practice green.

Now it’s time to warm-up. This is one of the fun experiences of the pro-am – you will be sharing the putting green and driving range with the Tour pros and their caddies. If you see your partner’s bag on the range, and he does not look too intense, this is a good time to introduce yourself. Otherwise just warm up. Both the green and range will be roped off and you’ll have to show your credentials to the security guard – I like to add “Its, okay, I’m a playuh!”

Often the range is not big enough, and pros have first dibs, so you might have to stand there awhile waiting for a spot, so arrive plenty early.

You will typically go off the first or tenth tee, though a few of the more lowbrow events do shotgun (shame on you Viking Classic!) which I never like, as it defeats the whole flow of drama the golf course architect built into the routing. It also means you might start on an odd hole, like the longest par-4 on the course or an island green par-3, but hey, it’s all about fun.

Show up at the tee 10-15 minutes early. The official/announcer will introduce himself, you will meet your tour pro, and if you do not already know them, your playing partners (some pro-ams sell single spots, some only complete groups).

An official photographer will take a picture of the group with the pro, and each individual player with the pro, and these photos, often framed with a little plaque describing the event, will be waiting  for you when you finish, another “freebie” for your admission price.

Usually you will have walking scorer and another staffer holding a sign with your team name and score. Remember – these guys are all volunteers so be nice. Plus they often find your balls for you. Sometimes they even have volunteers along the course who run and stick little flags in the rough (or woods) where you hit your tee shot. I could use that everytime I play.

In all six of the PGA Tor pro-ams I’ve played in, the game has been low net with handicaps and par is your friend. What this means is that you all play your own ball, and depending on your handicap you may be getting one or even two strokes a hole. Whatever the lowest net score in the group is gets recorded as the team’s score. So if I get a stroke and make par, we get birdie – however it seems whenever I do this the pro makes natural birdie, and as we say in poker, “counterfeits” me. About the best thing you can do is make birdie for eagle, which fortunately I have done once in most of the pro-ams I have played in. Par is your friend means the team can get no worse than par. For this reason, the winning score in a pro-am is usually in the -17 to -22 range, so almost anytime you don’t make birdie your team is shooting itself in the foot. We were shocked at the recent Reno Tahoe Open pro-am to see a group come in at minus six. Our pro shot made five or six birdies himself, so it is unfathomable how with strokes a team could do so badly. In any case, the pro will be given a scorecard with everyone’s handicap holes indicated (when you first signup for the pro-am they ask your handicap, and often double check your card at registration), and the pro keeps the official score, which he gives after each hole to the walking scorer, who punches it into a machine so you can watch the real time leaderboards around the course.

The big thing to remember is that you are expected to pick up if totally out of the hole. If you have a putt or chip for par, and someone already made whatever you are going to make, go ahead and putt out and get a feel for the greens and enjoy the par even if it doesn’t help the team score. But if you hit your ball OB off the tee, and it is not a par-3, don’t hit a provisional – your hole is over. Whatever you do, don’t be hitting your third putt for double or triple bogey. It’s just rude. The pace is gong to be slow enough anyway – expect a 5 to 5 ½ hour round.

From the PGA Tour’s perspective, and your perspective having just spent thousands of dollars to play, the pro is there to entertain you. But not all of them realize that, and some hate pro-ams and are standoffish, indifferent or even rude to their partners. You don’t have to tolerate this, and just because a guy is playing on the PGA Tor doesn’t mean you can’t call him out or throw some back. The pro-am is actually a privilege and an advantage, because it is a second practice round available only to the top 50 or so players in the tournament, and they should be very happy to be out here playing with you, and it should give them an improved chance of winning and cashing a check, and they have been around long enough to realize that.

By the way, I have never played in an LPGA pro-am, but my golf writer friends who have all say that on the LPGA, which is basically fighting for survival, the players get it, realize the financial support of the pro-am is important, and are super nice, friendly and try to entertain their playing partners.

So you meet your pros, they announce you, your hands are shaking, you tee off and pray to hit the fairway. The first pro-am I played I, the FBR with Geoff Oglivy, my hands were shaking and I topped my first tee shot into the bushes in front of the tee box. It took eight holes before I stopped hearing my heartbeat pounding in my head. This is natural, everyone is nervous, and the pros have seen it all – there is nothing you can do that will embarrass you or stand out in their eyes. They expect amateurs to suck. In fact, I think pro-ams are harder on single digit players who expect a lot and think somehow they will impress the pro. They won’t.

Remember, you paid, you are here to have fun, your career is not on the line, so relax. Enjoy, the day is too short to fill it with worry. You will be nervous but try to be upbeat and the nerves will quickly disappear.

So that’s it. Chat up your pro, tell jokes, ask him about his charity (they almost all run one), his hometown, his favorite courses. Don’t ask him his opinion about Tiger Woods, religion, or why he lost a particular tournament. Keep it conversational and you’ll get conversation. Get nosey and you’ll get the silent treatment. Often your pro and his caddie will be willing to read putts for you and give you yardages, but keep you requests reasonable. Reach a par-5 in two and have a putt for eagle and net albatross, by all means ask for a read. Have that third putt for double bogey? Don’t.

Your gallery (wife, kids, husband, lover) can follow you outside the ropes, the mood is very informal, having a friend caddie is great fun (the caddies provided usually are not from the course anyway, they are from nearby clubs or volunteers, so you don’t give up local knowledge).

It is alright to ask for autographs (I have signed golf balls from each of my pro-am partners).

At the last hole, shake hands, then head back to the bar – I mean clubhouse – for lunch, dinner, the awards presentation, and if you are lucky, a trophy. End of a great day!

Next: How to pick the right pro-am.

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