So I'm on the practice putting green a few minutes before the start of round three and I see our pro for the day, Jerry Kelly. I had reintroduced myself the day before and he knew we were going to be playing together so I say, "We're going to get em today."
No response. He keeps putting. So do I.
I say, "You're in a good spot, Bud." (He was in the top 10.)
He keeps putting. So do I. And I say, "Don't you think you got the tough scoring courses behind you?" And I was going to continue with, "Don't you think the Palmer and Nicklaus are playing easier than SilverRock and La Quinta?" But he cuts me off, looks up and says, "I don't really give a sh*t. I'm going out to play golf, you understand?"
"I do," I said. "I get the message. Loud and clear."
The message that I got: he's the pro; I'm the jackass amateur. I also got this message: He's the alpha-male of the group. If this was going to work, this would be his show, I would be pulling the curtains. Fair enough, considering I'm really just a jackass amateur and he's earning his living out there.
I'm a lot bigger than Kelly, but he's the kind of guy who looks through you with one of those crazy eyes. He looks at you like a hockey player from Wisconsin. He lives life and plays golf with the gloves off.
And I'll have you know, going forward, I would ask to be paired with Kelly for every pro-am. From the point on the practice putting green, he could not have been a better partner or a nicer guy. Mayfair and Trahan were perfectly nice as well, but Kelly took it to the next level. From helping us read putts and course management, to helping us with our swings. He'd pull us over for individual lessons, and, oh by the way, the guy is trying to win a tournament. On several occasions he forced us to have fun with the nerves and the pressures of playing with a pro in contention.
One of my partners, Mike Robinson, didn't finish a hole even though he had a chip, which, if he made it, would have been a par, net birdie. We had him covered and the team still scored a net birdie, but Kelly scolded him on the next tee. "Hit that shot next time," Kelly said "Don't deprive yourself of a special moment." Then he turned and smacked me in the arm and told me to start being a better team captain. He said, "What kind of team are you running here?"
On the sixth hole, Robinson was having a long conversation with his caddie about which club to hit--he had 270 yards into the green of a par 5. Kelly interrupted, "This ain't rocket science, just beat the damn ball down there."
Robinson says, "I can't help it, I'm a thinker."
Kelly says, "If you were a good thinker, you'd be swinging it better."
We all laughed.
My other partner, Colin LaRiviere, had a shot out of the bunker and Kelly said, "Hold on a minute, let me get out of the way." He walked over and hid behind the flagstick. Another big roar from the crowd.
Speaking of which, we were off to a hot start. And so was Kelly.
On the second hole, a 514-yard par 5, he was in the green-side bunker in two. He flopped it onto a ledge in the green and you could tell he hit it his spot. He said, "Be good." Then he turned and started walking back to his bag. As the crowd started reacting to the ball moving toward the cup, Kelly, without looking, says, "Go in."
It did. We were three under through two, and 13-under through our last 12 holes. We had gone from underachievers to overachievers and it was starting to get very exciting.
Our official scorekeeper, Judy Ryan from Manhattan Beach, Calif., informed us that she was the same scorekeeper for Jeff Overton's group the day before--the group that finished 21 under on the day. In 20 holes she had now been witness to 24 under.
I asked her for more details about the day before, if it looked like those guys were a pack of cheaters. She said, "It was the most magical thing I've ever seen." She said they actually missed more than they made. That she and Overton both agreed that it was the greatest round of hammin' and eggin' ever. Overton gave no "Boom Babys," in fact, Ryan said, he was pretty quiet throughout the round. "He made two eagles and lipped out a third."
(That same team shot 63 yesterday--9 under--so it was good to see the magic show was over.)
By the time we reached the 14th hole at Palmer Private, my favorite of the three courses so far, we had a gallery of at least 100 people and the Golf Channel camera crews were rolling up on us in carts. If I was nervous before, now I was losing my mind.
You can't help but hope you don't kill someone. Which is what I almost did on the 116-yard 17th hole. I had just made a par on the previous hole (hit it to eight feet and missed the putt), so I thought I was feeling good about my swing. Then I proceeded to heel a low-liner at the crowd; they all started to scatter. I heard, "Get down! It's coming right at us."
Thankfully no one was hurt. I walked up, apologized. Kelly birdied the hole. We moved on to 18, one of the best finishing holes in tournament golf. It's a 480-yard par 5 for the amateurs; I felt like I pounded my drive and ended up at the David Duval plaque in the fairway. I had 205 into the green, pin was back, slight breeze into my face, so it was playing 220. I picked out an 18-degree rescue club. Duval hit a 5-iron in 1999, which is when he made eagle to shot 59 and win the tournament. I held on too tight, cut one into the neck of the fairway, which left me with a 40-yard chip. The gallery thought I meant to do that, so they clapped. My caddie and I laughed that I got away with one.
This has been an absolute gas. In the middle of every round, even when I'm playing bad, I look around and try to soak it all in. Especially the scenery. The mountains out here are spectacular. My dad and his friend made the drive over from San Diego yesterday. They got there a little late, but when I saw him standing on the eighth tee, I got chills. It was great to have him there. I was remembering the first few few times we played golf together, I was probably 10 or 11. I was remembering the old 5-wood he gave me, the one I used to beat him for the first time, which had a whippy shaft and real wooden head. Some random reflections, but they were all very special. And after I hit a good shot yesterday, it was very cool to hear, "Nice shot, Matt'o." I'll hear that forever.
Golf is amazing, isn't it? It brings so many people together on so many different levels. Here I am, emotionally attached to my playing partners, who were complete strangers a few days ago. In three rounds we're ribbing each other like we've known each other for life. The fact that the pros share their world with us is also very special. Can you imagine playing tennis with Sampras? He'd serve it, we'd miss it, he'd win. How about trying to get a hit against Mariano Rivera? No chance you'd make contact. Wanna guard Kobe? Or, how about trying to catch a pass while going across the middle of the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers? You'd die. Of fear.
For the second straight day our team finished 11 under. We only jumped five spots (from T93 to T88), but it felt like decent golf again. And playing with Kelly was something I'll never forget. He shot 67, and missed a few makeable putts. He also holed out for that eagle, so, as we all know, the game has a funny way of creating a balance.
Today were in a good spot. The Nicklaus Private is another good scoring opportunity.
But I'm not going to give a sh*t. I'm going out to play golf, you understand?
*(I know I promised more pictures of the Hope Girls, and last night at the Jam Session, I got 'em, but I'll save the photo show until Monday.)