Life Is Good
Free clubs, free money and only a few screwups as the Pebble Beach Pro-Am rolls on
By Ryan French
“Let’s go get some free stuff.”
Those were Mark’s words as we headed for the equipment trailers on Monday. Life is good on the PGA Tour. (This will be a recurring theme in this piece.)
The Tour trucks are workshops inside of 18-wheelers. They are packed with state-of-the-art equipment. The trailers travel from tournament to tournament, and early in the week they are humming as players tweak their gear or test out new stuff. They have become high-tech and very fancy: TaylorMade’s has an upstairs!
For the AT&T Pro-am, the trailers are next to player parking. We had quite an arrival. We got lost on the way, then accidentally got in the valet line, then almost went the wrong way on a one-way road, and finally got into player parking by blowing in through an exit. We have tried our best to show we belong out here. This was not one of those moments. But we finally got parked and headed for the equipment trailers.
Mark was looking for new wedges, a driver and a 3-wood. He has been with Srixon for a long time and loves the company’s stuff, but when he lost his status, he lost his contract. He still carries a Srixon bag, but he is free to use anything. We stopped at the Srixon trailer for new wedges and a driver. The staffers said they were short-handed but would get the clubs to him first thing Tuesday morning. (Would they say that to Brooks Koepka? Probably not.) But Mark did nab a bunch of hats, three dozen balls and some gloves.
After that, Mark decided to take advantage of his free agency and went searching for a 3-wood. His first stop was at Callaway, and he found one he really liked. A staff member told him to go hit the club on the range and see what he thought. The range at Pebble Beach is frickin’ perfect. As with every Tour event, there was a table with new balls, sorted by brand. I grabbed a bucket of Srixons.
Meanwhile, Mark had gone to register and he came back with a giant bag filled with welcome gifts: a wine decanter, a kid’s lunch box, a Chipotle gift card and a water bottle.
Mark hit a few wedges, then a few 7-irons, then grabbed the new 3-wood. The first three shots were absolute missiles. He looked back at me, laughed and went back to work. The rest of the shots were mostly very good. The 3-wood went straight into the bag. He hit it a bunch on the course and loved it there too. It will be in the bag for the week. A $400-plus club for free.
A quick note about the range at Pebble: As you can imagine, it is immaculate. One person is dedicated to walking up and down the range picking up broken tees with pinchers. The water bottles in the cooler are perfectly in order. The grass is so perfectly manicured that I felt guilty watching players taking divot after divot.
After the range session we got back in our (new) Lexus courtesy car and headed to Monterey Peninsula Country Club for a pro-am. As we pulled into the parking lot, we realized we had made another rookie mistake. There were shuttles from player parking. Mark headed in to register, and I took the bag and went to the range. Mark found me there and the first thing he said was, “The biggest mistake of the week just occurred in the clubhouse.” I laughed and asked what happened. “The good news is I get paid $3,000 for this pro-am,” he said. He had no idea there was compensation; he was just happy to get more reps. “But the bad news is, I gave a rent payment away.” He went on to explain that the nice woman who informed him he was getting paid at the same time asked if he would like to donate any part of that back to the Boys and Girls Club, the beneficiary of the pro-am. “I panicked,” Mark said. “There were a lot of people around, I had no idea what was reasonable to give back, so I just said half.” We both started laughing. (For the record Mark would have given some back; after discussing it, we thought $500 would have been a fair number.) We will be talking about this one for a while.
The three guys we played with were really great, and that is all you can ask for. Mark is outgoing and happily gives advice and reads (as all players should; these people pay a lot of money to play with them). Mark shared stories about his career, and everyone enjoyed themselves.
As I said in Monday’s journal, it’s hard at a place like this to snap into work mode, and even more of a challenge during a pro-am. The ams come back to the tee with you and Mark wanted to make sure they enjoyed themselves, so he wasn’t fully concentrating or going through his normal routine. It was easy to forget we are here for the biggest event of Mark’s life. He hit too many bad shots in the first 12 holes. He came to the tee on our 13th hole and said that his game was a little loose. I said, “Let’s grind a little bit on the way in.” Mark continued to give advice and lessons between his shots, but when it was his turn to play, we did our normal routine, talking line, wind and strategy. He birdied three of the last five. If we play well this week, I believe those holes could be important. Prior to that I could sense his frustration. After those closing birdies, his mood really picked up.
Today is a practice round at Pebble Beach, the first time either one of us will have seen it. Another pinch-me moment. Then there’s the lavish pairings party tonight, when we find out who our amateur partner is going to be for the week.
The event is closing in on us, and we can’t wait. Even as we get settled in here, it feels more and more like a dream.