Posted by: Mike Cornelius | May 24, 2020

Amateur Follies For All To See

A very, very long time ago – early February, to be exact – the PGA Tour paid its annual visit to the Monterey Peninsula for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Started more than eighty years ago by the entertainer Bing Crosby, the tournament has always been true to its name, with scores of celebrity amateurs partnered with the touring pros, not just for eighteen holes before the start of the tournament proper, as is the case at most Tour stops, but right through the main event itself. For the lucky twenty-five weekend hackers who combine with their pros for the lowest team scores after three rounds, the return on their very substantial investment is a chance to play on Sunday at a PGA Tour event.

Pebble Beach Golf Links, the superstar of the three courses used for the tournament, is one of the country’s premier tests of golf, and quite possibly its most scenic. In addition to the annual clambake, as Crosby used to refer to the tournament that bore his name for decades, Pebble has hosted six U.S. Opens, a PGA Championship, and multiple U.S. Amateur Championships. The holes along the Pacific Ocean on the latter part of the front nine and then at the finish of the layout are breathtakingly beautiful, and the swirling wind off the water often adds drama and uncertainty to the outcome.

Yet the AT&T rarely rates as appointment television for this viewer because the quality of the course and the beauty of the background cannot atone for the amount of time the CBS Sports cameras focus on those amateurs. This is especially the case if one of them happens to be an actor with a prominent role in a program that’s part of the network’s prime time lineup. During the long run of “Everybody Loves Raymond” a casual viewer of the golf tournament might well have thought Ray Romano was a regular on the Tour, at least until he swung a club. Unlike so many of the sports covered in this space, golf is a game that can be enjoyed by amateurs of all ages. But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s flying elbow swings, shanked shots, and chili-dipped chips deserve to be on national TV.

Which brings us to Tom Brady. The six-time Super Bowl champion who broke the hearts of New England Patriots fans two months ago when, a free agent for the first time in his career, he signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was on the other side of Florida Sunday afternoon for a fundraising golf exhibition along with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and old rival Peyton Manning. The Match: Champions for Charity, was a heavily hyped team event with Brady and Mickelson squaring off against Manning and Woods at a very wet Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, just north of Palm Beach.

Unlike 2018’s winner-take-all match between Woods and Mickelson, this made-for-TV spectacle had the extremely admirable purpose of raising money for several pandemic relief charities. On that score the event was a huge success, with various sponsors pledging $10 million before the first tee shot and, with contributions encouraged throughout the broadcast, $20 million raised by the final putt. The event’s sponsors deserve plenty of praise for that, and the four principals were troupers who gamely kept the show going through frequent torrential rain and near darkness at the end, either of which would have halted a Sunday round at a regular PGA Tour stop or a friendly foursome at the local club.

But that didn’t mean the golf by the amateurs was watchable. Both Brady and Manning had plenty of shots that reminded everyone why their Hall of Fame plaques will be in Canton and not St. Augustine. Of the two, Brady was especially bad at the start, spraying the ball in all directions. On the 2nd hole his drive sailed wide right into a fairway bunker.  From there he chunked his approach shot. The ball never had a chance of clearing a hazard between Brady and the green. He was no better on the 3rd, with one wit on ESPN commenting that “he might need a calculator to add up his score” on the par-5. To his credit, Brady maintained his sense of humor, wondering aloud “when does football season start” after yet another awful tee shot on the 4th hole. On Twitter, Brooks Koepka offered to donate $100,000 if Brady managed a single par on the front nine, and Jimmy Fallon weighed in with “I’ve always felt like Tom Brady and I had a lot in common, but after watching his golf game, I actually think we might have been separated at birth.”

The four came to the par-5 7th hole, where the round didn’t look to be getting any better for Brady, who found himself still in the fairway, a hundred yards short of the green, after three shots. As he pulled a wedge out of his bag, Charles Barkley, who for reasons unknown was providing analysis for TNT’s coverage, was merrily disparaging Brady’s game. Then the quarterback launched a tight spiral, make that lofted a high wedge shot, onto the green. The ball hit two yards past the hole, stopped, spun back, and rolled into the cup for a birdie.

It was the shot of the day, and as every weekend hacker knows, exactly the utterly unexpected, laughably outrageous moment that happens every so often when we’re out on a golf course. Brady jumped in his golf cart, drove up to the green, went to retrieve his ball from the hole, and split his pants as he bent over to do so. Just in case anyone thought one lucky shot was reason for putting his golf game on television.

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