In the past I've used this column to criticize PGA Tour policy, but sometimes you have to give credit where it's due. Quite simply, the tour has made Wednesdays great again. The new pro-am format hasn't been conducted at every tournament this season, but where it has, the vibe in the locker room has been better.
The guys are happier because they love having to play only nine holes. Amateurs still go 18 and get to team with two pros instead of one.
It's a smart change for several reasons. From the veterans' perspective, most of us don't want to play a full round on the eve of a 72-hole tournament. If I draw the afternoon wave on Wednesday and an early tee time on Thursday, chances are I'll leave the course at dark and return before dawn. But nine holes to see the course conditions, hit a bag of balls afterward if the swing needs some work, then have a relaxing dinner—that's perfect.
For young pros, twice as many get the benefit of the pro-am experience. The old format maxed out at 52 pros, but now it's 104, or about two-thirds of the field. I tell rookies, you won't always meet potential business contacts, but always work on sharpening your interpersonal skills for when you do.
Obviously the ams who get paired with Tiger, Jordan, Rory and the other big stars are bummed to get only half the time. But the ams with the connections to land in those groups are generally doing more than OK in life anyway.
If there's one pro-am format I detest, it's playing the same par 3 all day. When a sponsor wants maximum value and is looking to expose you to all 22 groups booked for an outing, this is what they'll ask for. But a 185-yard walk is not enough time for meaningful human interaction. I'm like a parrot: "Hey, how's your day going? Where you from? Kind of windy today, isn't it?"
“IT’S ABSURD, BUT I LEGITIMATELY START TO FEEL NERVES AND PRESSURE.”
The first thing I always do the morning of one of these torture sessions is adjust the tee markers. If I have to hit the same tee shot 22 times, you bet I'm making it a stock yardage. My performance will follow a consistent curve. It takes a few attempts until I get the hang of the shot, and then I get hot, and it's actually kind of fun for a while seeing how close I can hit it. Then, by about the 14th hole, I get bored and start spraying the ball. It's an odd mental space. It's absurd, but I legitimately start to feel nerves and pressure. This is the one hole these people get to see me play, and I know a poor shot from me will partly ruin their day. Yet at the same time, I don't care. Just when I think I'm drifting into insanity, the cart comes to rescue me.
When a sponsor is going for bulk, I tell them I'd prefer to play three holes each with say, six foursomes. This is enough time to learn a little about each person and offer a tip. But if a sponsor is dead set on doing the par-3 "wind-up doll" dance, I'll give 'em what they pay for.
I've played in lots of pro-am groups where I've been the least accomplished person by a mile. I've met generals, actors, CEOs, stars from other sports, philanthropists and interesting people from all walks of life. Quite often, the honor is truly mine.
But a word of advice if you ever play in a PGA Tour pro-am: Don't be the jerk sticking his chest out trying to outdrive me or beat me on a hole. Every week there are always a few. Good news is, we don't have to put up with you for more than nine holes now. — With Max Adler