Play a Round
The 69th annual AT&T Pro-Am promises more great in-between moments.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
Of all places to end up on the fairway at Pebble Beach’s par-four 16th, Chi Chi Rodriguez’s golf ball rolled onto a piece of lettuce. But the charismatic Puerto Rican didn’t call for a ruling, and he rebuffed the nearby marshal’s rule-breaking offer to have the lettuce moved. He simply said, “I’ve been chopping lettuce my whole life,” and proceeded to stick his approach shot within 10 feet of the pin.
It made me feel better about dropping the lettuce.
At the time, I was a kid with only the vaguest idea what a double bogey was, but I had watched them ruin grown men’s days for years. Tucked into blankets and secured in a kid’s basket, I was just turning 1 when first planted to watch golf from windswept spots commanding views of the fifth green at Spyglass and the perpetual Pacific beyond.
My love affair with the former Bing Crosby Pro-Am would evolve. Like so many lucky locals, I found a way to get involved—for me it was carrying scores—and before long found myself walking down the 10th fairway at Pebble with pros like Jack Nicklaus and amateurs like Dr. J.
Only two tournaments truly cultivate the pro-celebrity golf thing, offering fans a chance to see a few hundred pro swings to aspire to and a dozen celeb stories to remember. And the AT&T regularly shows up its only rival, The Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. This year, the Hope again had fewer celebrities (even conceding Maury Povich). And it’s played in Palm Dessert.
For some reason, though, after witnessing pros at the AT&T hit range buckets’ worth of fall-down shocking golf shots, I can only remember only a handful—among them a Jim McGovern 150-yard eagle on the 18, a slippery Brett Olge putt there to wrap up the ‘93 title, and a Phil Mickelson hack out of the ice-plant on four at Spyglass to set up the fourth of five straight birdies a year ago. The rest have evaporated like the thick morning mists at Poppy Hills.
But the in-betweens on the fairways, tees and greens—the outbursts, the shanks, the one-liners from guys like Chi Chi—those linger for years.
Case in point: I was 5 when I dropped the lettuce. Of course, there are fresher in-betweens, like Carson Daly’s response at the 12th green at Pebble last year after a man squealed “Go Carson!” in mockery of Daly’s small army of female TRL-obsessed followers: Daly discreetly pushed up his name-brand shades with a manicured middle finger.
They include the outbursts—the ones that Bill Murray has a preternatural gift for (and a tic to perform). He loves to wait just until his mild-mannered pro playing partner Scott Simpson is about to putt and complete silence envelopes the green to shout, “Scott Simpson, everybody!” He also seems to enjoy jump-starting his rounds with a little crowd participation. While it didn’t get as much attention as his tumbling pirouette with an elderly fan at Pebble a few years earlier, the following year he attempted to share a golf seat with an attractive woman at the first tee at Spyglass and fell on top of her in a twisting straddle.
They include the shanks—like Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana sending a drive whistling into the oaks off to the left of the 14th fairway at Pebble. He found a lady prone on the grass behind the ropes with a dimpled welt on her lower back. He wasn’t Joe Cool after that—his game fell apart—but he was Joe Compassionate, making sure she was completely attended to, with an assist from his stroller-pushing wife Jennifer.
They include the personal touches, like former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. (who Montana visited mid-round at Cypress before he began playing in the Pro-Am himself) giving his scorekeepers the same classy treatment that made him a legend among NFL players. “Thank you, really, for tracking my scores,” the max-handicapper said. “Give me your address. I want to send you something.” A box with a windbreaker, a team pen, a team picture and more arrived within two weeks.
With a robust line-up of big egos and funny men, the in-betweens will be at a premium this year. Donald Trump’s back. While the guy’s self-image is bigger than his bangs, he also can reveal a self-deprecating streak. Last year, after an errant iron left him over the first green at Spyglass, he looked over an argyle-socked marshal patiently before addressing his ball. “Go ahead, you can say it...” he finally said. “I’m fired.”
Speaking of ego, Rush Limbaugh’s unabashed sense of self-worth (and conservative play) may not fare well with Spyglass’ unforgiving fairways. And should his “talents on loan from God” falter, he won’t be able to regulate the feedback as closely as he does at his radio station.
Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake is famously malfunction-prone—and that was in a discipline where he was a pro. Here’s hoping his good-luck charm Cameron Diaz graces the gallery (and maybe even dusts off the impressive golf game she showcased in Something About Mary at Pebble’s driving range).
Best of all, guys like George Lopez, Ray Romano and Bill Murray just don’t turn it off. And Samuel Jackson can be funnier than all three.
In short, Dubai can keep the Tiger Woods they paid $3 million for. I’ll take a goofy Bill Murray who can stomach a bump or two on the greens. Tiger has made some amazing shots in his limited appearances here, but I’ve forgotten most of them. I won’t soon forget Murray playfully engaging a teenage fan with braces at Pebble’s first green: “When you get those off,” Murray said, raising his eyebrows, “Call me.”