What It's Like to Play in a Pro Am
Back in 2018, I wrote an article for Golfshake encouraging golfers to consider getting involved in playing in pro-am golf tournaments. I set it as my goal for the year playing in many in Derbyshire and adjoining counties, having learned much from observing and being close to professional golfers.
When I was given the opportunity of playing in the Staysure Tour PGA Seniors Championship being played at the London Golf Club, I jumped at the chance.
Having received the invite and the joining instructions it began to dawn on me exactly what I volunteered to do. I was instructed to check the European Tour website on 31st July to view my time of play and team members. It still seems surreal, reading that back, that I had to check the European Tour website to see where I was playing golf on Friday. Wow. All of a sudden this became very real.
My son Alex agreed to be my caddie for the day, with the instructions from his mum to keep me under control and ensure that the blood pressure didn’t go off the scale.
We travelled down on the Thursday having seen on the draw that I was playing with two Ryder Cup legends Phillip Price (one of the leading Welsh golfers of all time) and Jarmo Sandelin; winning Ryder Cup golfers and clearly with no idea as to what they will to be faced with an amateur partner of my level of capabilities.
Getting my complimentary programme with my name featured was also a very strange experience. Our tee time was 1345 hrs, at 1335 Colin Montgomerie was due to play.
Alex as his first caddie duty checked if there were any parallel holes to ensure that my slice would not imperil this icon of the European Tour. Did this help with my nerves, hardly. Was it sensible? Yes!
Arriving at the Venue
We arrived at the venue using our competitor’s ticket three hours early. I went to the Tournament Directors’ office to register and receive a great competitor goody bag. This was another surreal experience being welcomed as a competitor with a badge that gave me Access All Areas.
Next door, near the tented village, we registered Alex as a caddie. He received course planners, hole positions and he was given a briefing and his own accreditation and badges.
We headed off to the driving range, a spectacular facility including short game areas, bunkers and the grass range.
It’s the first time I’ve ever used a driving range with the gallery in place and having to show my security pass in order to get onto the grass. I have to say it was very exciting. The sounds on the range was incredible with a host of European languages being spoken into a host of different mobile phones.
We stopped and watched Paul McGinley hit wedges to a variety of targets with a tempo and style that left me open mouthed. He was simply incredible. There were faces on the range that I recognised but I daren’t bring myself to speak to them as they were clearly focused on preparing and getting ready for the round to come. I wanted to compliment him on his work on the DDF Irish Open at Lahinch but thought better of it.
It really dawned on me looking at the level of concentration and effort being applied that this was a job of work to these guys and I needed to be mindful of this when playing with Phil Price and Jarmo Sandelin. If you can’t add to the team score please pick up was to be my mantra for the day.
Alex was really helpful on the range, settling my nerves, giving me tempo ideas, and generally calming me down. We had an excellent range session and I actually started to feel the nerves go from my body and just turn to excitement. With an hour and a half to tee time he suggested we go to the short game area and practice chipping. This is normally in my Achilles heel; with his help it couldn’t have gone better. I actually started to feel that I could do something today. Big mistake.
I then decided to go into the bunker and practice some sand shots. On the other side of the green Paul McGinley began to set up to practice his short-range chips. Alex immediately took over and got me to do a routine hitting a line that he’d made in the sand. This went really well until it dawned on me that the only reason, he had done this was that he feared for the life of Paul McGinley on the opposite side of the green.
I looked at him and said, “Shall we start with the golf balls now?” His response “No Dad, I can’t have you killing a Sky Sports golfing legend and Ryder Cup Captain.”
Big reality check. Was he right? Most definitely. Having waited, the first shots that I did make would actually have taken him out. Would my Staysure golf insurance have covered that eventuality? Much better never having to find out!
We wandered over to the tented village listening to the announcements of all the teams from the marquee behind the first tee. I couldn’t stand still at that point so I had to go for a walk.
I wandered into the stand that was being staffed by volunteers on behalf of Prostate Cancer UK and had a chat with the guys who were raising awareness, sharing information leaflets that could save lives in the future. All proceeds from ticket sales are being donated to the charity by Staysure. A fantastic concept that I totally applaud.
It bought everything back into context and really helped get my head into a decent place. I then wandered into the Staysure Bunker Challenge parked next door to a new Bentley Continental. I didn’t feel unduly worried as the enclosure around this area was fully netted. No matter how badly I hit the ball I wasn’t going to cause anyone any injury. With hindsight, I shouldn’t have done this because it plummeted my bunker confidence to an even worse level. I actually concealed my competitor’s badge from the kids in the queue. They were all better than me.
Time to Play
I then realised Game 32 had been called to the tee. We were 33.
I have just realised that I have got into the professional way of describing this as a “we” just like Danny Willett.
We were a team, Alex and I, although any cock ups were clearly going to be mine to possess.
We were introduced to Jarmo Sandelin, the fact that his son Douglas was on his bag actually making things a lot easier for both of us. I was nervous for Alex, but terrified for myself. I couldn’t help thinking of my first tee shot in the Championship at TPC Sawgrass when my initial drive went four feet.
Phil Price (Ryder Cup legend) hit his tee ball magnificently, the announcer called out Jarmo Sandelin (another Ryder Cup legend) followed by another massive round of applause and he crushed a drive down the first.
The announcer then said, “and their amateur partner, Andrew Picken.” I went to the tee box and could scarcely hold the ball onto the tee peg. I remembered advice given to me by James Whatley, PGA professional and one of Derbyshire’s best golfers. He missed Open qualification this year by one shot and is a golfer I greatly respect. All he said was “Breathe”. Breathe, I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t as I had literally forgotten how to breathe.
I looked around. Alex looked pale. I was white as a ghost. I stood to my ball, breathed out slowly, and then everything went into slow motion. I hit a three wood the like of which I have not hit for years.
The ball screamed away and ended up three yards behind my two professional team members, both Ryder Cup stars, who were applauding my tee shot.
I turned and looked at Alex and said, “Shall we go home now, it’s not going to get better than this.” I was wrong, it did!
I walked away from that tee with the applause of the crowd ringing in our ears. It was a feeling that I will remember the rest of my life. Alex walked by my side, put his arms around my shoulder and said, “I am so proud of you.” I walked to my ball trying to hold back the tears. It was an incredible way to start a round of golf.
I hit my second into the rough and as both my partners were on the green in regulation and knowing that I couldn’t better their score went for the “Hail Mary” shot which failed dismally. The ball rose majestically upwards towards the flag, then dropped 20 yards short with a very loud splash. No reloads, it wastes time. Walk to the green, Don’t step on anyone’s line. Don’t get in their sight lines as they are putting. This professional game is tiring even when you have no ball in play. Blob on the first.
We made our way to the second tee box and Jarmo smiled and said: “Did you decide to play the shot from the rough or your caddie?” He knew the answer before he had asked. He said: “Having these young caddies on your bag is great so long as you remember that they can do things with golf balls that people of our age can no longer do.” He let out a belly laugh and made me feel a whole lot better. Even though these guys were playing for a living they were clearly going to try and make me as comfortable as possible.
The tee shot on the second went like a dream. Phil Price turned round and said, “just let me check your handicap, really? 19”. It felt amazing. Buzzing, I popped my approach shot onto the green, two putts for a net birdie.
We had our own gallery and they were actually being very supportive of me as well as the golfers they were there to watch. The 4th on the International Course is 197-yard par three. We were both really getting into this and Alex said. “Your line is exactly on the television camera to the left of the green as the ball will shape to hold the green avoiding the bunkers.”
I took one look at the television cameras pointing in my direction and completely went wobble. The resulting tee shot was 70 yards left on an adjoining fairway. The shouts of fore from me, my professionals, the gallery and the rest of the world were ringing in my ears. It was an horrific golf shot and my balloon was burst.
For the next few holes I struggled to get control of my tee shots and apart from a fighting four on the eighth over the water I failed to get on the card. I could hear mumblings of sympathy from members of the gallery.
On the 9th hole I saw what I think is the best golf shot I have ever seen. Phillip had been very unlucky with his tee shot as it caught the far edge of a bunker and rolled backwards but got held on the fringe so the ball was four foot above his feet and he had to stand in the bunker to get a firm footing. He needed to play almost a baseball shot it was that far above his feet. He played the shot brilliantly and ran the ball to the back edge of the green. The control to perform this shot was simply incredible and both Alex and I gasped as it was executed perfectly. Phillip made par.
Back Nine Horror and Magic
As we stood on the 10th tee Alex looked to me and said “Come on Dad, just enjoy this, I am.”
I relaxed and struck another epic tee shot leaving the three of us within 20 yards of each other. It was a magic feeling. My Mojo had come back.
The 12th is a beautiful, elevated par three over water. Jarmo and Phillip played great shots. I took a 7 iron for a 180-yard carry and absolutely flushed it. Over the green, into rough and on a hideous slope. As Alex and I walked to the green, Phillip was grinning as he said, “You know those kinds of shots are never the players fault. You struck that beautifully. It’s always the caddie!”
@golfshake @LondonGolfClub @StaysureTour @StaysureGolf I had the pleasure of being the amateur playing with @Philpricegolf and @jarmosandelin today. Simply Magnificent golf and company. One of the most enjoyable rounds of golf of my life. Thank You???????????? https://t.co/nQtPGpDILY— andrew picken (@pickenan) August 2, 2019
Throughout the round I was monitoring the relationship between Phil Price and his caddie, Pete Futcher. This reinforced for me the concept of the team golfer. Pete offered advice, clearly knew his golfer's swing intimately and was empowered to give thoughts and opinions as equals. Pete was brilliant throughout our day helping both Alex and I to get the most enjoyment out of the experience.
As we got to the 14th hole I realised that Phillip had birdied three of the last four and looked at the scoreboard to see that he was now in contention for the lead. I got incredibly excited. Looking at him he seemed to be calmer, more relaxed, just in control. His ball was on a string. His tee shots were immaculate. His wedge play spectacular. I dare not say anything in case I jinxed something.
Our gallery was enlarging as the spectators realised that something spectacular was happening. He birdied 15, 17 and 18. I am convinced that this was for no other reason than to keep me off the card.
Here is our very own @pickenan playing in last week's @StaysureTour PGA Seniors Championship Pro-Am @LondonGolfClub with eventual champion @Philpricegolf.— golfshake (@golfshake) August 5, 2019
We see a little club twirl there! pic.twitter.com/Jmvye77Zy5
My tee shot on 16 had drifted two yards off the fairway into groin height rough. One of the galleries had watched it closely and marked the spot with a used plastic beer glass. (Later recycled, I hasten to say). I tried to play out. Steep back swing, hit through. Smooth tempo.
The hosel was grabbed by the grasses and it turned over in my hand. The ball screeched left, big left, at head height. Straight for the tournament leader and his caddie at 70 mph. I screamed Fore, FORE, FORE.
The ball screamed over them. I immediately apologised and surrendered the ball to the jungle and the hole. Both guys laughed loudly and tried to settle my embarrassment. People in the gallery laughed once they realised that I hadn’t actually decapitated the leader of the tournament.
We got to the 17th tee and I said to myself it can’t get worse than that. Relax and enjoy. I played a decent tee shot leaving the ball in the semi-rough pin high left of the green. Chip and a putt. Par nett birdie recorded. The gallery gave me an incredible ovation, probably out of pity, but it felt good all the same. Phillip birdied the hole.
My tee shot on the 18th was a strong one that drifted off-line into the rough in an elevated position leaving me standing in a bunker. One of my gallery, fore caddies had spotted the ball and knew exactly where it was. As I walked towards him, he simply smiled and said: “Good luck with that one, bud”. My caddie selected the club and I played a nine iron, baseball style moving the ball 130 yards down the fairway to rapturous applause and a fist pump and high-five from my favourite gallery member. I have never felt like that on a golf course in my life before, it was incredible.
I walked to my ball, spotting a crowd of more than 100 people and several TV cameras there to watch Phil. I hit the best wedge shot I have ever played to 25 feet to more rapturous applause. This was the stuff of dreams. A two-putt par on TV. Phil birdied. His sixth on the back-nine.
What Phillip Price did in the second round was a simply magnificent performance that I feel privileged to have witnessed at such close quarters. I have not the words to describe how amazing this experience was for both Alex and myself.
I was thrilled to see that my playing partner, friend and absolutely top bloke, Phil Price won the 2019 Staysure Tour PGA Seniors Championship.
Gentlemen, it was a wonderful day that will live long in my memory. Thank you for your time, patience and ability to duck quickly.
Has this experience given me my fill of pro-am golf? No chance, I would do it again in a heartbeat. These brilliant golfers are accessible, want to promote the game and even run classes for spectators after the play has closed. Spectating at this type of event is a real delight. Playing in it was incredible and I am now a complete convert and will be watching the Staysure Tour with additional interest for the rest of the season.
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