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Living the PGA Dream

By: David Wood


"Nice shot, Dave! Man that was pure! Would you mind coming over and taking a look at my set-up?"

"Sure, I'll take a peek in just a sec." I had just replied to Bernhard Langer after smacking a drive over the 300-yard sign at the far end of the driving range.

Just then, Duffy Waldorf walked over and let out a low whistle of admiration as another of my perfect drives disappeared far off in the distance and said, "You got all of that one big guy! I need a few minutes after you help Langer if you don't mind. I want to make sure I'm releasing my hands at the bottom like you do."

"No prob, Duffster. I'll take a look-see in a few. Just glad to help. We wanna get you back in the winner's circle."

Basking in the admiration of my peers put a smile on my face. Why not help them? After all I had won two majors that season - both in playoffs against Tiger - and I was well ahead in the money title. It seemed the least I could do.

At that moment reality reared its ugly head as I awoke in a sweaty panic. I wasn't on the range, but rather in my hotel room with the sudden realization that I was going to play golf that morning with actual real-life PGA professionals in the Wednesday Pro-Am of the State Bureau Classic at the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Miss. My handicap is substantially lower in my dream life.

This wouldn't be a casual round with my pals at the municipal West Seattle Golf Course. There'd be gallery ropes and grandstands and marshals with spectators snickering as I chunked another wedge into the drink or hit one so far right off the tee it landed in Alabama. What if I whiff on the first tee with all those people watching? I called down to the front desk to see if they had any Beta-blockers on hand.

No scarier prospect for an amateur run-of-the-mill golfer like me exists than to be on a driving range hitting balls in a slot between two seasoned PGA professionals, but that was exactly where I found myself. Fred Funk, a few paces to my left and belying his smallish build, was rifling irons off into sunny morning mist like heat-seeking missiles. In the next spot over to my right, David Duval was smacking drivers so straight and sure I wondered how it was possible he hadn't won a tournament in several years. Each time he cracked another one, I marveled at the sharp, crisp WHACK! In 30 years of golf, not one of my shots had ever even been in the same hemisphere as that crystal-clear sound.

In between these two golfing quasars was me - a black-hole with a rapid swing and anxious hands - shanking brand-new Titlist Pro-V 1 range balls at an alarming rate. Bobby Jones once said that a golfer should only have one swing thought in his head at a time. But as I clanked mis-hits like a Little Leaguer hitting weak foul balls, 400 swing thoughts swam through my brain like a school of minnows in a rain barrel.

Though known to hit a shank or two over the course of a golfing year, I had hit 10 in a row and was probably closing in on the world record for "Most Shanks in a Five-Minute Period." Forget about hitting anything on the sweet spot, my only goal was to not hit one straight right and kill David Duval. That wasn't something I wanted on my epitaph, or his.

Before I killed somebody on the range, I went over to the practice green where John Daly was stoking 10-foot putts one-handed with a smoldering cigarette dangling out of mouth. He couldn't have looked more bored. Despite his laissez-faire attitude, ball after ball had no choice but to go in after being struck with his velvety touch. Desperately, I wanted my 10-footers to disappear into the cup as well, but few did as my hands shook from nerves like a junkie coming off an opium jag. Meanwhile, Big John's nonchalantly hit putts quickly disappeared into the hole like gophers scurrying home late for dinner.

Our 10 o'clock tee time arrived. The amateur part of our group consisted of three other golf-loving media types and me. All of us were on a Mississippi golf junket with the PGA event being the pinnacle of a week in the warm autumn sun and playing the game we adore. We were all as excited as 6-year-olds on Christmas morning. Everyone hit nice drives off the par-4 1st except yours truly, who sliced one into the pines on the right. While a poor shot, it was at least in play. I hadn't whiffed. I took my first full breath since waking up from my dream.

Our PGA pro was Olin Browne, who couldn't have been kinder as he introduced himself on the first tee and immediately knew all our names. Though he's been through these events - which the players are required to play in - hundreds of times, he put us at ease with golf talk and PGA gossip. Since we were total golf addicts, he was preaching to the choir. Mr. Browne continually encouraged us throughout the day. He is now a golfer I root for.

During the round, we amateurs all had our moments of glory and contributed positively to the team score. Dan boomed his signature long drives, Carey hit several beautiful irons near the pin, and Gary played steady as a rock. Olin pulled me aside on the third hole for a quick 10-minute lesson that got me back into the realm of decent golf. Lo and behold, I even made a couple of pars that our team needed, including sinking a 12-footer on the 18th with a few hundred spectators watching in the grandstands. Seeking the better part of valor, I decided not to go into my Chi Chi Rodriguez matador dance.

We all shook hands and Olin invited us to have lunch with him in the clubhouse. I told him I�d be there in 20 minutes. First, I wanted to run over to the driving range and see if any of the pros wanted me to check out their swings.

David Wood - writer, corporate speaker, and humorist - is the author of the soon-to-be published book "Around the World in Eighty Rounds." With several appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman," Wood combines humor with his love for golf and adventurous travel. For comments or inquiries on having him speak to your group, contact David at David@DavidWoodSpeaking.com. His website address is www.DavidWoodSpeaking.com.