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Playing with Pros

Monday morning I’m making the drive to Aurora to tip it up at Magna Golf Club as part of a group of invited media taking part in the Golf Town Invitational. To be frank, I’m still not sure what a “Golf Town Invitational” is, but I haven’t been up to Magna in a couple of years, and since it is only nine holes and will just eat up my morning, I thought it might be fun.

Apparently coming along for a tour around Magna’s pristine fairways is Sergio Garcia and David Toms. Doubt the media will get all that close to either of them, but it did strike me as the one of several occasions when I’ve had the good fortune to get a close up look at some of the game’s best.

The first time I had the chance to play with a pro was in 2002 at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic. I was in Mississippi as part of a so-called “fam” trip (“fam” is short for familiarization, and apparently neither travel PR types nor golf travel media are capable of that many syllables) and toured a handful of okay courses before getting a chance to play in the pro-am for the year’s final PGA Tour event.

A pro-am is an interesting process whereby a bunch of businessmen spend thousands of dollars to tip it up with a PGA Tour pro. Only the biggest benefactors of the tournament get their choice of player — typically the best golfers in the field are snapped up right away by the sponsor. Every golfer in the field has a responsibility to play in the pro-am, though some will go to great lengths to get out of it.

After Tiger and Phil are picked, the likes of John Daly gets picked quickly. Once the sponsors are satisfied, the rest of those selecting the pro-am are drawn at random. Land a number among the top 20 to pick (pro-ams are played morning and afternoon, one golfer to three or four amateurs), and you’ll get a shot at a well known player (Vijay Singh went well down the list at the last Canadian Open pro-am). Get towards the end and you’ll likely end up with a Nationwide Tour alumni trying to get his card back. Regardless, it is still likely to be the best golfer most will ever play with.

In my first pro-am, we picked Kirk Triplett, a Canadian Tour grad, who showed up dressed entirely in Nike wear for Halloween (the event was at the end of October…) as part of his Tiger Woods costume. Triplett was a delight, an interesting friendly guy who enjoyed his playing partners, all of which were trying to overcome hangovers and discover a golf swing.

At one point he asked where I was from in Toronto. My immediate response was to blurt out, “You’re from Arizona, what do you care?” before stopping myself.

“Um, I live in the Beaches”

“What part?” Triplett queried.

I was a bit stunned. Turns out during his several years on the Canadian Tour Triplett had made plenty of friends in TO. He knew the city well.

My second pro-am was also in Mississippi (more average golf and a cool PGA Tour event). This time we played with Matt Gogel, who had won at Pebble the year before after throwing up a big lead and letting Tiger win in 2000. Gogel, who is now retired from the tour, seemed a bit distant, admitted he didn’t enjoy pro-ams and spent most of the round talking with the Titleist rep about a driver change. Couldn’t blame him really — after all he was trying to make a living and I was just having fun.

Since then I’ve had the good fortune to play with Stuart Appleby, Ian [photopress:ThompsonandAppleby.jpg,full,alignright]Leggatt, Al Balding, and Charles Warren. Appleby was the most impressive player, with the good natured ability to enjoy a day where he was being well paid to play in a charity event.

I don’t expect Garcia or Toms will bother much with media tomorrow — the event is likely aimed more at Golf Town customers. But it is always interesting to observe these situations and see how the players respond. I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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  • I have had the pleasure of caddying for a well known Aussie for a proam 3 years ago and let me tell you, you think you’ve seen good golf until you see a tour pro play. The round was played at a top 20 course that he chewed up having never seen it before. On each tee he would ask me where to go and he put it there every time, never missed a shot, made and eagle and 3 birdies while entertaining, talking and giving lessons. The most impressive part is the flight of the ball, it goes up and up then just sits, the same flight every time, with every club in the bag. Golf Digest did a poll of PGA caddies last year and one of the questions was “what’s the least known thing about the players?”, and 65% of the caddies said “how good they are”, they will show up at your course, never played it, and beat the club champ by 3 a side, no problem. Impressive.

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