I've played as much golf as any 33-year-old non-professional golfer could ever hope, but I'd never had the pleasure of playing in a pro-am until the opportunity arose at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. I signed up and eagerly waited to see who I'd be paired with. "WINbee" Park? Michelle Wie? Paula Creamer?! Nope. Jing Yan.
A common perception of the LPGA Tour is that it's predominantly made up of Asian golfers lacking in English and personality. But that couldn't have been more wrong in my experience. Who is Jing Yan, you say? She's my new favorite golfer, that's who.
Aside from Jing's abundant golf skills and how cool she was with our group, I was intrigued by her back story. Jing grew up in Singapore and went to the University of Washington. However, she turned pro after one semester because she badly wants to make China's Olympic golf team in 2016. Just 19, Jing had only played in four LPGA events in 2015 as a rookie because she started the season with just conditional status. A recent T-11 at Kingsmill, though, has her in good shape for the rest of the year. Go Jing!
Back to the event, the ShopRite pro-am bills itself as the biggest pro-am in pro golf. It takes place over two days and at four different courses and a large collection of caddies has to be imported to handle the demand. Our group that included Jesse and John, a couple of sales guys, and Christina, a recent college graduate just entering "the real world" as an accountant, was fortunate to play the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. The Bay Course is where the actual LPGA event is contested and as we all found out, playing it with Jing on a weekday felt as far from being in the real world as possible.
If you ever get the chance to play in a pro-am, DO IT. Here's a rundown of what it was like.
After checking in, you go eat lunch in a big room with all the LPGA players. They leave their golf bags outside the door.
If you're lucky, a player will come sit with you. No players sat at my table. However, Lexi Thompson almost ran into me going for a bottle of water.
After you've finished eating, you go to the range to practice. The range is divided into two sections: one for players and one for amateurs. At first, this was disappointing, but then I realized it's for the best. The LPGA doesn't need any of it's players being hurt by a hosel rocket. If you'd rather chill by the players' practice green, you can get an autograph or a picture with a star. Hey, there's Stacy Lewis!
Then it's time to head to your first hole. And when it's your turn to tee off, someone will announce your name.
You'll even have a (small) crowd watch your opening drive.
Jing says she enjoys the pro-ams. Because of the competition, they make her focus more than if she was just practicing by herself. Maybe she's just being nice, or maybe she feels that way because she's only done two of them.
The format is a scramble, which is always fun. But it's even better when you're playing with a tour pro. Jing always went last and didn't hit one bad shot all day. Look at this finish. Pure.
Jesse and John bet $1 for each time the group used one of their shots and they liked to pose for photos after particularly good ones. John came out on top (that closing eagle putt was the perfect way to end the day), but it had everyone, including Jing, yelling "Dollar!" throughout the round. And having Christina hitting bombs from the women's tees was another big key to Team Jing's success.
There are prizes on every hole for either closest to the pin or longest drive. The pros are not eligible for these prizes, which gives ample opportunities for amateurs to feel good about themselves. Hey, look at me!
There's also ample food and drink on every hole. It's a wonder every pro golfer doesn't look like Tim Herron.
Some holes even have buckets of beer and full bars set up.
Don't mind if I do. It is a scramble, after all, and we've got Jing.
The amateurs shared two caddies, but we also had Jing's caddie, who happens to be her dad, Ming, a veteran golf commentator for ESPN in Asia.
And you tend to listen to a man who keeps notes this detailed.
Of course, Jing knows a thing or two about reading greens and she constantly helped her team as well.
But having a pro player and caddie help you with yardages and reads isn't the only way you'll feel like a pro. You'll have marshals making sure everyone is still when it's your turn to hit.
And it's pretty tough to lose a ball when you have people looking for you.
Even if there aren't a lot of people watching, there is definitely a different atmosphere than your normal Sunday foursome.
That's not to say you won't have as much -- or even more -- fun.
Especially if your team plays well (thanks, Jing!). That's us posting a 58 to finish T-3 out of 58 teams in our wave. Not. Bad.
And when you finish, you get a framed photo of your group.
Of course, we all thought we left a couple shots out there, but everyone was happy with our score. And it's probably better we didn't win for Jing, who says players believe in a pro-am jinx. Hey, what's good for Jing is good for me.