Low Net

What our boss learns playing in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am

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This story first appeared in Low Net, a weekly newsletter dedicated to golf through the eyes of average players. The newsletter will be for Golf Digest+ members. To receive yours weekly sign up for Golf Digest+.

Have a topic you want me to explore? Send me an email at Samuel.Weinman@wbd.com.

Jerry Tarde is Golf Digest’s longtime Editor-in-Chief, and possibly the single biggest influence on my career, yet this time of year he’s also the guy we secretly hate because he’s playing the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

There have been times when I’ve sent Jerry a text and he’s responded hours later, “Sorry, practice round at Cypress,” which you might follow with a middle finger emoji to anyone else. But Jerry never loses sight of his good fortune, and I guess we’re also proud that he’s there.

Four years ago, Jerry and pro partner Nick Taylor not only made the Saturday cut at Pebble Beach, but they played in the final round pairing alongside Phil Mickelson and partner Steve Young. Then Nick went on to win the tournament, and as a pairing in the Pro-Am portion, he and Jerry ended up second to Kevin Streelman and Larry Fitzgerald.

If this seems like an altogether different world than the one you occupy, well, join the club. The closest I get myself is when Jerry responds to my texts while enjoying an Old Fashioned at the Tap Room. But at least this year, as Jerry was preparing for another pairing with Taylor in his 13th appearance (he and Nick ended up T-60 after two rounds), I also got him to answer some questions about the experience.

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Jerry Tarde at Pebble Beach, where you'd be smiling, too.

You are playing alongside a tour player when he’s in contention to win. The one thing you don’t want to do as his partner is. . .

Nick Taylor told reporters after he won that I was “a calming influence.” What he meant by that was, I wasn’t a distraction. I didn’t walk in his line. I didn’t talk unless he talked to me first. I kept up.

When you get to play with someone really good like that, what’s something you find yourself paying attention to?

You have to get over how far they drive the ball, because everybody on tour hits it 100 yards past you. Really good players just never let a bad shot run up their score. They’re always turning bogeys into pars. They mitigate their mistakes.

What is your best ‘This would only happen here’ moment?

I’m still as nervous teeing it up as anybody in the field. We’re all Jack Lemmon out here. The whole experience is incredible. On the sixth hole the year Nick won, he holed his shot from the greenside bunker for an eagle that pretty much stuffed Phil. Being right there in the middle of everything, well, that just doesn’t happen.

Is ‘please don’t maim a volunteer’ a swing thought? And if so, how do you manage it?

I don’t hit the ball hard enough to hurt anybody.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an amateur?

Showed up late for our tee time. I had to join my pro in the first fairway, but I’m not sure he noticed. He told me I was usually out of that hole anyway.

Have you mentioned my name to anyone there? For future reference, this week works for my schedule.

Actually, my caddie could use a caddie, Sam. How are your bunker-raking skills?

Questions from Low Netters

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We’re back to another round of questions from you, and since I’m not playing Pebble, I’ve got time to answer them. Have a question or idea? Send me an email and I’ll do my best to dive in.

You need to write about slow play and advice for people to play faster—Lou

Lou, I am going to devote more space to this in a future newsletter because slow play is a real problem. For now, though, a radical idea: I think one of the biggest slow-play problems is poorly timed conversation. Someone starts a story right before they tee off, and you’re standing there sort of listening but mostly thinking Is this guy going to hit or what? (FYI, I am guilty of this, too). Hence, what if there were specific areas where you are EXPLICITY PROHIBITED FROM TALKING? A tee box, outside of when there’s a wait, would probably be the best example. Is this so crazy? I don’t think so. It would actually make a difference. Would I follow this rule? No, it’s stupid. But you should.

I’ve recently simplified and shortened my swing for the benefit of making better contact. The ball goes straighter and sufficiently far to justify it. I lose less balls and keep the ball in play more often. Can you talk about this for struggling and senior golfers?—Robert

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Robert, you are stirring up some of my inner demons. Let me just say that I, too, have fallen into the “I’ll swing a little easier to make better contact” trap and it’s not that simple. A good swing is balanced for sure, but I have found too careful also causes problems. Backswing length is tricky. My colleague Jamie Kennedy introduced me to a phrase I love, “Nothing good happens after 10 o’clock.” It means if you think of your swing like positions on the clock, a lot can go wrong when reaching back too far. Instead, another colleague, Luke Kerr-Dineen, wrote about how you should focus less on how far back you take the club, and more on how wide you turn. It’s a way to generate speed and still feel connected and in control.

It is well known that higher handicap golfers are not competitive with low handicappers for gross prizes and vice versa for net. What handicap range can golfers compete fairly for both low net and low gross?—Dennis

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Dennis, while other people are trying to solve the world’s problems, this is the stuff I think about. The operative word in your question is “fairly”, because it assumes that everyone’s handicap is legit (speaking of the world’s problems, not always a given). As the newsletter name states, my 11 handicap has me competing mostly for low net and not thinking about gross. Remember, a handicap isn’t so much your scoring average as it is your “demonstrated ability”. Could a 5 handicap have a career day and shoot around par to compete in both? Yes, especially if it’s someone like my friend Thomas who used to be better but has struggled with back problems in recent years. Anyone scoring that low with a higher handicap seems fishy.