Pro-Am day brings intrigue to PGA NationalFebruary 29, 2012
David Wood, Special to PGATOUR.COM
One of the unique (and appealing) aspects of the PGA TOUR is its Wednesday pro-am. You can't go to bat against C.C. Sabathia in Yankee Stadium or return serve against Roger Federer at Centre Court of Wimbledon or try to take Kobe Bryant to the hoop at Staples Arena. But today at the Honda Classic, held at PGA National Resort & Spa, 200 amateurs with handicaps running the gamut got to tee to it up on the mighty Champion Course alongside the best golfers on the planet.
The "Kenny G Gold Pro Am" started at 6:45 a.m. Tiger Woods and his four amateur partners teed off on the par-4 1st hole with a few hundred caffeinated early risers applauding the opening salvos. Of course, Tiger probably can't go drop off his dry cleaning without attracting a sizable crowd and by the time his group reached the 18th, 2,000 or so fans were following his every move. The dude is box office.
WHAT: The Honda Classic (www.hondaclassic.com)
WHERE: PGA National Resort and Spa (www.pgaresort.com)
WHEN: Feb.27 through Mar. 4
After his round Tiger praised The Champion Course, where he hadn't played since he was 14 years old in the final round of the PGA Junior Championship, saying, "It's in great shape" and "I'm excited to play."
When asked about the difficult Bear Trap -- Nos. 15, 16 and 17 -- Tiger said, "The par 3s 15 and 17 are the challenge. There's really no bail out. You have to hit a good shot." It will be quite intriguing to watch him play as the tournament starts for real in the morning.
One amateur thrilled to be playing The Champion Course in the pro am was Will Bain -- an IT exec from St. Louis, Mo. He won a free trip to the Honda Classic via a promotion co-sponsored by PGA National and retail giant Golf Galaxy. "This is a once in a lifetime experience for me," said Bain. "It was a great surprise to win and I'm excited to be here." A nice guy with an unassuming smile he did admit to being "a touch nervous." We wished him the best.
In addition to players like Woods, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler entertaining the crowds in the morning, the featured afternoon foursome had a wonderfully diverse combination of players: Greg Norman, Kenny G, LPGA teen sensation Lexi Thompson, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and NFL great Joe Theismann. How's that for an interesting group?
After a brief respite due to a rain shower, two things were immediately obvious when watching this group start its round. Number one is Kenny G is a flat-out excellent golfer. His swing is as sweet as his mesmerizing sax solos. He's one of the few celebrities whose golf handicap isn't one of vanity.
Number two is 16-year-old Lexi Thompson is going to win a crazy number of tournaments. On the range her piercing shots had every bit the length and trajectory of the TOUR players practicing next to her. It's the same feeling of watching young Tiger Woods when he first burst onto the scene -- this is really something special.
Despite a downpour or two, it was another joyous day at the storied South Florida resort. There is no doubt Tiger has generated huge local interest in the proceedings. The appreciative fans cheered on their golfing heroes throughout the day. Afterwards, the spacious comfortable hotel lobby teemed with people enjoying its hip iBAR as the room buzzed with excitement and good cheer. The Florida Swing of the PGA TOUR is off and running in grand style.
Oh, one final thing. I do believe I got to see in person the young lady who will become the greatest woman golfer in history. Not bad for a Wednesday.