'I'm not laughing at you' - the joys of the Pro-Am
PADRAIG Harrington giggled -- twice. Darren Clarke giggled -- once. Me? On those three occasions in which I was intimately involved, my response was (a) anger and embarrassment the first time, (b) ditto the second time, and (c) a big beaming grin as wide as the fairway the third time.
I hasten to add that (a) and (b), said anger and embarrassment scenarios, were not directed at Padraig or Big Darren. Not at all.
It was at yours truly in plonker typical hacker mode, just when the ego called for a pristine shot to impress the heroes of Irish golf. Now, the logical brain knows that you could turn cartwheels and do a Happy Gilmore run at the ball, sending it soaring 350 yards down the middle of the fairway, and the professionals would be unmoved.
That's because they -- and you -- would know that this is not the golf the hacker normally plays. Not a chance.
They can allow for an occasional wonder shot, but they know from your grip, stance, posture, ball striking and general technique that if you ain't got it, you ain't got it, and only a miracle would turn you into a real golfer. Such is the reality of a Pro-Am, or, as was the case in two of the scenarios listed above, special event days laid on by the golfer's sponsors.
Let me deal first with events (a) and (b), both at Portmarnock Golf Links around nine years ago.
Darren was doing a press promo for one of his sponsors, and part of the deal was that he would play two holes with each group of media folk. Nice work if you can get it, so don't be sympathetic to the pros. They're being well paid. It's part of the job. Save your sympathy for the 'Ams'.
For them -- certainly in my case -- it's a mixture of nervous excitement and trepidation at exposing yourself as a complete golfing mug. Pressure? There's nothing like it, much as you try to disguise it. So there I am on the first tee. Darren is standing there, to the side and back of me.
In my mind, what he will see is a perfect top-of-backswing position, just like those old instructional drawings of Ben Hogan with his head sticking through a pane of glass. My club will then descend perfectly on a plane, without breaking Ben's pane of glass, and the club will flow beautifully in tempo, caressing the ball off the club face and away it goes into the ether.
Such was the plan. Unfortunately, somewhere between Ben Hogan and the pane of glass, Friar Tuck came on the scene, and chopped down wildly as if killing a chicken for dinner, causing a brutal smothered shot, with said ball annihilating the worm population as it went dunk, dunk, dunk, 40 yards left into the rough.
Cue Darren laughter -- not mocking, but you couldn't blame him. "The way your hands came off the grip at the top of the backswing..."
Cue internal snarls and curses, and a big hurry to get away from the crowd at the first tee. "B****cks, wish I'd taken up this game at age three and got lessons every week since then," was the general tone of my thoughts as I slunk towards the buried ball.
Occasion number two was with Padraig, also at the Links, on a sponsors promotion. We were on the Index 1, par-four 12th. My ball lay just off the green, and I had about a 30-foot putt to the pin. Harrington and playing partners waited.
I went through my comprehensive putting routine -- the one I was making up as I stood over the ball -- trying to look like I was serious about what I was doing. Hadn't a clue. Self-talk is going "Line? What line? Is there a line? God, I can't see a line. Better hurry up. Can't hold up Padraig, he's watching, they're watching... aaarggh!"
Amid all that, brain was frantically trying to contact hands on club : "Smooth... smooth..."
Between the infinitesimal fraction of a second it took brain to power that message to the nerve-endings on the hands and the fingers, and their receipt of the impulse, sure it was all over. Putter head meets ground slightly before ball, which then rolls to an unsteady halt, four feet away from me.
Cue Padraig laughter. Again, not mocking, but yes, you've guessed it, you couldn't blame him. "I'm not laughing at you, it was your putting stroke. Lovely practice stroke, then when you make it for real..." Yep. No need to say any more P.
And cue, once again, verbal self-immolation. "Buttercups, if only you'd taken putting lessons once a week for the last year..." Then: "Why does this always happen to me...?" Whining and self-pity. Worse than self-directed anger. You really know you're gone when it gets to that stage.
Occasion number three. Padraig Harrington Audi-Links Pro-Am. The K Club. Hole No 2, par four. I'm in heavy-ish rough to the right of the green. Oops. Everyone else is on the green as I shape up with my sand wedge. Ball not lying too badly. Help!
Grip lightly. Keep head still as a rock (for once). No panic. Clubhead rises on backswing. Somehow the mind is nicely quiet. Feel clubhead slide through ball, which rises out of the grass, still rising, eyes now following it...HOLY MOSES!
IT'S DROPPED SOFTLY, AND ROLLED INTO THE HOLE! PAR! AMAZING PAR!
Cue Padraig laughter -- once the shock wore off. "Great shot, well done."
Cue external huge smile of delight from yours truly. Internal self-talk is babbling: "Look what I did. Pitch-in. In front of Padraig Harrington...fantastic."
The moral of the story is that if you get the chance, play in a Pro-Am. You'll find it a special experience. I mean, why should I be the only idiot to suffer the agonies...