If the pressure of playing Pebble Beach from 7,040 yards, with U.S. Open rough, Sunday hole locations and NBC cameras doesn't phase the average American golfer who gets to play in the 2010 Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge, neither should the collective star power of the celebrities who fill out the foursome.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was the most valuable player of his team's Super Bowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts in February, says he can hardly wait to test his 3-handicap golf skills on a U.S. Open setup. Neither can hockey legend and 10-handicap golfer Wayne Gretzky or Oscar-nominated actor Mark Wahlberg, a 14.
"Are you kidding?" says Brees. "This is a competitor's dream!"
Brees, Gretzky and Wahlberg, along with the Golf Digest U.S. Open contest finalist who gets the most votes during the voting phase that begins March 31 and ends April 30 at gdopencontest.com, will play in the third Challenge the week before the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach this June.
Like Tony Romo (13-over-par 84), Justin Timberlake (98) and Matt Lauer (100) in 2008 at Torrey Pines, and Ben Roethlisberger (81), Michael Jordan (86) and Timberlake (88) last year at Bethpage, this year's celebrity trio will get to play the identical course setup that U.S. Open competitors will face in a strict-rules-of-golf, count-every-stroke round.
Gretzky hopes to break 100 at Pebble, but says he'd be thrilled to break 90. "I haven't played much since Michael Jordan and I played together at his tournament at Paradise Island in January," says Gretzky, "but I'll start playing a lot in the next couple of months to get ready."
Wahlberg, who received an Academy Award nomination in 2007 for his role in "The Departed," has gone from a single-digit handicap to a 14 in the past couple of years. "I've got four films out this year, I'm producing four TV shows, I'm married and I've got four kids under the age of 7--I'm a busy guy," says Wahlberg. "Plus I've been playing some tough courses from all the way back and counting every shot. When you shoot 80s and 90s, your handicap gets up there." Wahlberg agrees with Gretzky that breaking 100 will be the priority but shooting in the 80s would be ideal.
The Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge will be televised by NBC Sports on U.S. Open Sunday, June 20, in the 90 minutes leading into the network's coverage of the Open's final round.