PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


Playing in a gas-leak-shortened Pro-Am at the CJ Cup is better than not playing in a Pro-Am


LAS VEGAS — I made the mistake of getting cocky.

Less than 24 hours before I was set to play in the Wednesday Pro-Am at the CJ Cup, I took an unwarranted pot shot at a coworker in a group chat. The coworker in question was Alex Myers, who infamously got in a measly three holes at the 2019 Northern Trust Pro-Am at Liberty National. Inclement weather forced Myers, Hideki Matsuyama and a pair of other coworkers—Nicole Rae and Ken Delago—off the course early, and they never got back on. Brutal.

Myers, to his credit, took it in stride, but the bad memory was brought back up in the aforementioned group chat by Joel Beall while discussing an over/under of my score for Wednesday. "Myers, you played in a Pro-Am once, right?" wrote Joel. "Are you trying to rile me up?" Myers sniped back.

Turns out, Joel was innocently asking, the memory of Myers' demise having eluded him. As the attention turned back to insulting my putting stroke, I did the dumbest thing ever—I mushed my own damn Pro-Am. "The score won't matter to me," I wrote as I looked forward to my round at The Summit Club, "because I'm getting in 15 more holes than Myers did."

WHOOPS! Even in sunny Las Vegas, a full 18 was not guaranteed. When the horn sounded 15 minutes before my 12:33 p.m. tee time on a bluebird 67-degree day, I knew something was very, very wrong. Maybe it was just some sort of horn malfunction. Unfortunately, it very much was not, as the horn was informing everyone that there was a gas leak.

A gas leak … outside? What kind of sick joke was this?

In reality, it was no laughing matter at all, as everyone had to be pulled off the course. There is an endless amount of construction going on in the desert surrounding the course—we're talking serious McMansions—and just off the eighth hole is where this gas leak occurred. It delayed everything by an hour, and caused my portion of the Pro-Am, the afternoon wave, to be shortened to nine holes. I had to open my big mouth.

But, like Myers came to find out at Liberty National, playing in a PGA Tour Pro-Am, be it three or nine holes of one, is still way, way better than the alternative of not playing in a PGA Tour Pro-Am. The gas-leak delay wouldn't deter me from getting the full experience, which I still very much did. Below is a blow-by-blow of some of the better moments of a fine Wednesday in Las Vegas.

• After crushing some absolutely exquisite shrimp tacos, I made my way to the range and met my caddie, Daren Johnson, who turned out to be first-team all-looper. Daren is a player himself, something I confirmed by looking up his U.S. Mid-Am scores from just two weeks ago at Sankaty Head in Nantucket, which he mentioned he played in. Obviously, I had to check that he was telling the truth, and he 100-percent was. Darren went 72-72 in the stroke-play portion of the event, missing out on a playoff for the Round of 64 by two shots. That's balling.

• Speaking of balling, I had the range session of all range sessions, and I'm NOT a range guy. I prefer to roll up to the first tee and figure it out on the course, but it would have been silly to not take a few hacks at this range:

• Once the stripe show was over, I rolled a few putts next to Abe Ancer, Mackenzie Hughes, Justin Thomas, Gary Woodland, etc. These guys literally do not miss on the practice green. Hudson Swafford rolled up, threw down a ball, picked a hole about 35 feet away and wacked it in the direction of another player's caddie, who jumped over Swafford's ball, which banged in the back of the cup. No problem.

• Gas-leak horn sounded, and without any idea of when we'd head to the first tee, Daren and I just shot the sh-t for a half hour and took it all in. A big highlight was seeing MLB outfielder Dexter Fowler strut on to the range in a pair of joggers that make Erik van Rooyen's joggers look like a pair of JNCO Jeans:

• Finally, we were up, only an hour and change after we were supposed to get the round underway. The original plan was to play with Alex Noren for the front nine and Patton Kizzire for the back nine, but an audible was called. We were now playing just nine holes with Noren and Kevin Streelman. Don't ask why or how that came to be. I introduced myself to both, and the first thing that jumped out were Noren's hands, which once went viral for being the most beat-up hands in all of professional golf. Can confirm. That man's hands appear to be torn to shreds. It's flat-out incredible he's able to play and practice as much as he does with the pain his mitts must be in.

• The format, unfortunately, was a best-ball shamble, meaning the four amateurs hit their drives, we picked the best drive from the four, and then played our own balls in. Noren and Streelman played their own balls, which counted toward the team score as well. Any time you get to play a place like The Summit Club, you want to play your own ball and see how you stack up (I may be in the minority on this though). But whatever … I was playing golf with two tour pros instead of working. I somehow survived.

• The first tee at The Summit Club (pictured at the top of this article) is one of the sicker opening tee shots in America. I chickened out and hit hybrid, but got it airborne, which was all I wanted with the first-tee nerves setting in. Off we went. Streelman made an easy birdie on the short, downhill par 4, making the rest of us irrelevant.

• At the par-5 third, Noren clipped a perfect chip with his third shot that hit one of the other amateur's balls and it stopped a few feet from the hole. "Ahhh, cheating," said Noren, confirming his stance on the controversial backstopping topic. I asked him if he always makes his playing partners mark it, and he said for the most part, he does. "It's sort of based off feel," he said. "Like, you know if you might hit the guy's ball or not." It's not always necessary, though, as he later explained. If you're definitely not going to hit it, it definitely improves pace of play to not wait on a guy to go mark a ball that's nowhere near where yours is going to land.

• Speaking of pace of play, I asked Noren about the infamous J.B. Holmes icing at Torrey Pines at the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open, when Holmes spent an inordinate amount of time in the 18th fairway on Sunday evening while Noren was in contention. "It still hurts," Noren said. "But it's not his fault, J.B.'s always been like that since I was playing against him in college [Holmes at Kentucky, Noren at Oklahoma State]. The tour doesn't enforce it [slow-play penalties], which is unacceptable. I think you should be allowed a general amount of time [to hit a shot], but if it's four, five minutes, c'mon."

• On the fourth tee, the topic of gambling came up when I mentioned that was one of my main focuses at Golf Digest (like and subscribe!). Streelman then said, "So, what do you want to know? I was on fire last night in Wheel of Fortune." No, Streelman wasn't talking about the TV show, he was talking about the Casino game, which he apparently crushed it on at Green Valley Ranch Casino in Henderson. "They were calling me Kevin Wheelman," he added. Legendary. He also later said he basically broke even after three hours, which, in Vegas, is a massive victory.

• At No. 5, a shorter uphill par 4, we had 130 yards left on our approach shot and Daren told me to play it 135 because the miss is long. Noren and Streelman hit theirs first, Streelman to about 20 feet and Noren to around 12. Yours truly stuffed a 9-iron inside of both tour pros (I have no pop), which got me a little jacked up, can't lie. What did not get me as jacked up was having me putt before the pros so they could see the line, JUICING the birdie putt off the right edge, and then watching Noren just trickle one in with relative ease. My Masters invitation is never arriving in the mailbox.

• The best moment of the day between Noren and Streelman, that I may have prompted by asking Noren when he last played (it was at Dunhill), was Streelman saying "dude, that shot you hit on 17 [at St Andrews] ..." to Noren. For those wondering, it was this one:

"Downhill, ball below his feet," Streelman explained to our walking scorer as Noren sported a sheepish grin. "Downgrain, too ..." Noren said, in case anyone forgot. Meanwhile, I was going full Chris Farley in that famous SNL skit with Paul McCartney saying things like "that was so awesome. Do you remember that?"

• The par-5 sixth, which features a sick elevated tee with a prime view of the Vegas strip, is where the first "comfort station" is. You name it, this place had it. I was transfixed by the bagel bar, sacrilege for a proud New Jerseyean who believes New Jersey is the only place you can get a proper bagel. Hand up, I was wrong. The Summit Club sesame with vegetable cream cheese (one of five different cream cheese options) was simply divine. It may very well have flipped my game on it's head, because I proceeded to lace a drive down the middle and then made a pair of 4-for-3s on two of our last three holes. By the way, the pros chow down, too. Noren went smoothie, bagel AND a hot dog. For a man of his size, it was an eating clinic.

• For the last few holes, Noren and Streelman entered serious grind mode, final prep for Thursday's first round. We shook hands and went our separate ways at the ninth green, then had to drive past the back nine, which caddie Daren told me had some of the best views on the course. Oh well. Still got in nine holes at a PGA Tour Pro-Am, six more than Myers.