It was the fourth hole of the third round, I was in pocket (out of the hole), standing behind the green, and like I did too often for a 7-handicap, I was watching the action. One of two amateur partners was chipping up from the left side of the green; Kelly was on the right side of the green, waiting to hit his long birdie putt. My best friend from high school, Todd Curran, was my caddie, and at that moment, Todd decided he would monitor the flag while the amateur partner hit his chip; then, in theory, he would pull the pin for Kelly’s putt. The chip came up, went by the hole, and Todd, with an energetic tug, pulled the flag. Job well done, except the metal cup came up with the flag.
“WHOA, WHOA, WHOA,” said Kelly, from across the green. Todd froze. The gallery leaned in. I had long stopped breathing. We’ve all done it, but not in a pro-am. Todd had the flag in his hand, the cup was up and leaning on it’s side, halfway inside the hole in the green. I looked down at my toes. Friends for life, but sophomore year in high school, when I got hauled off by the cops for throwing eggs at a car on Halloween night in Healdsburg, Calif., I made the trip to the station by myself. Now, it was Todd’s turn to go it alone.
Kelly broke the absence of motion by walking up to the hole--slowly--and he pried the flag from Todd’s sweaty palms. Then Kelly got down on his knees. He performed a modified version of superintendent surgery. He dropped the cup back into the hole--very carefully--and looked closely to make sure the lip of the hole had not been affected.
Overall, Kelly was cool about it; he knew no one felt worse than Todd. The lesson: When amateurs mix with professionals, which goes for players AND caddies, let the pro or the pro’s caddie do most of the work around the green.
Which gets me to my point of this blog: should you ever be lucky enough to play in a pro-am, congratulations. But I’d advise you tread cautiously, because it’s more involved than just showing up and putting a tee in the ground. These are 10 things you should know:
No. 1 Your caddie can and should rake bunkers, clean your ball, wipe your irons, help you read putts, figure yardage, pick you up when you’re down, and celebrate with you when you make a 2-net-zero, but defer to the pro’s caddie when it comes to everything else, especially when it involves the pro.
No. 2 If you’re not sure, ask. “Am I up?” “Do you want me to come up?” “Do you want me to finish?” All could be considered inappropriate depending on the context, but I can assure you, they’re all appropriate in a pro-am. (“Am I up?” is especially popular in La Quinta.) The pros appreciate being asked. And I could tell, they all love a quick and clean ending to a six-inch putt.
(I made par from here, but I was a foot away from picking up.)
No. 3 Pick up. If you hit one O.B., in the water, or leave one in the bunker--twice--you’re out of the hole. You know how I know that? YOUR PARTNER IS A PRO. (He or she has your net-double bogey covered).
No. 4 Wear pants. At the very least, pack a pair. When I got to the range of the first round, I was 30 minutes from being the first amateur to hit a tee shot at the 2011 Bob Hope Classic, and I was the only player showing knee. It was a swift trip to the clubhouse, and $56 later, I was entertaining the onlookers with a bad case of the butterflies. Shorts are not allowed in most pro-ams (unless you’re a woman).
(In a week full of memories, this moment for me and Curran, left,
was better than the rest.)
No. 5 Wear sunglasses. I don’t play with sunglasses--never have--but in a pro-am I was wishing I had carried some in my bag. If you get paired with the right pro, the scenery outside of the ropes can often be visually appealing. Take D.J. Trahan, for example, who was being followed by Kristin, a leggy blonde who is Trahan’s girlfriend. She’s from Orlando, and just like some of the rides at Disney World, she’ll leave you feeling dizzy.
No. 6 Speak when spoken to (or, after the pro holes out for eagle from the greenside bunker). If I had waited for Billy Mayfair to start up a conversation, I’d still been waiting. But after any one of his birdies, he seemed a lot more cordial than, say, after he jacked one O.B. on the 11th hole.
No. 7 Engage with your gallery outside the ropes. Assuming you have a loved one, or 12 or 112, it’s probably best to go outside the ropes to catch up on subjects such as blisters, hangovers or Trahan’s girlfriend.
No. 8 You’re in a team event, but in the case of the Hope, the pro is playing for his living. If you’re on the green and on the same line as your pro, but you’re closer to the hole, offer to putt first. And if and when you do, get that putt to the hole so he or she can get a good read on the break.
No. 9 Be aware of the cut line. Again, in the case of the Hope, the pro’s score matters. I felt like a total ass when I finally realized that rookie Zack Miller was grinding to make the cut; the team was chopping to finish in the top 100. Miller made the cut and we finished 98th, but the point is, the round, or rounds, are about the experience of watching the pro from inside the ropes, not necessarily your team score. (I’d add that the team score becomes more of a focus for you and the pro if you’re playing in a pre-tournament pro-am, but otherwise, your focus should be on having fun.)
No. 10 The rounds are not over until the pros emerge from the scorer’s tent and have signed their scorecard. Which is the perfect time to ask them to sign a ball, get together for a group photo or to apologize, again, for tending the cup.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Feel free to add to the list in the comments box below, or hit me on Twitter: @Matt_Ginella