A fascinating insight into the intriguing world of Pro-Ams

Published:

Celebs, football legends, Senior Tour stars and TG’s Courses Editor reveal the highs and lows, the pluses and minuses of playing in golf’s nerve-jangling warm-up act…

Pro-Ams are like a certain savoury snack – you either love them or loathe them, with no in-between.

You can certainly put a lot of the professionals in the latter camp and at certain times, especially when stood virtually shaking like a nervous wreck on the 1st tee, a fair few amateur hackers as well.

Take former Newcastle and England goalscoring phenomenon Alan Shearer, a more than handy single-digit handicap golfer, for instance.

He recalls: "I don't think I've ever been as nervous in my life as when I played in my first BMW Pro-Am at Wentworth.

"I've taken penalties in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley in the semi-finals of the European Championship...but nothing compares to standing on that 1st tee with Lee Westwood and Declan Donnelly (Ant & Dec).

"Ant was going to play but I got there early in the morning and sent him a text message advising him not to wear white trousers in front of 20,000 people!

"I was literally shaking like a leaf... you don't want to make a prat of yourself! I'm a friend of Westwood's but you don't want to look a clown and I'm shaking as I'm putting the ball on the tee. I stood behind it and thought I'd never normally tee it that high - but I couldn't go back down in case I couldn't get the ball back on the tee! It was surreal."

Former Manchester Utd and England midfielder Paul Scholes agrees: "I've played in four or five BMW Pro-Ams in recent years and every time I'm thinking 'what am I doing here?'

"Then you get on the 1st tee and watch Rory (McIlroy) smash one down the middle while you're just desperate to get it off the tee because you're literally a shivering wreck after getting announced to the crowd.

"People remind me that I've played in front of huge crowds for Man Utd and England, but the fact is I could kick a football pretty well. Hitting a golf ball is literally a totally different ball game"

Actor and Cold feet star James Nesbitt played in last summer's Irish Open Pro-Am at Lahinch and admitted to getting a bad dosage of stagefright, saying: "I was terribly nervous which is odd because I don't really get nervous with my day job, well a degree of nerves...certainly when I was back on stage anyway.

"And if you're filming something like Cold Feet you've got a sense of responsibility and that can be nerve-wracking...but nothing compared to the nerves on the 1st tee of a Pro-Am! That can be horrendous particularly as I'm not a sportsman."

Mrs Brown's Boys star Brendan O'Carroll certainly had a shaky time representing Ireland in the Celebrity Cup at Celtic Manor, revealing: "I thought I was fine and confident – until I had a 4ft putt on the 1st hole to win and as I stood over it, my hands wouldn't stop shaking. I didn't actually 'feel' nervous... but my hands just had a life all of their own!"

What is it like to play in a Pro-Am as an amateur?

From an amateur's point of views, Pro-Ams can be a fun and joyous affair though much depends on the pro you're lucky, or not, to be paired with.

In December, I really struck it lucky in the Staysure Senior Tour's MCB Tour Championship at Constance Belle Mare Plage in Mauritius, being partnered on consecutive days by firstly jovial West Lancastrian David Shacklady and Swedish extrovert former Ryder Cupper Jarmo Sandelin. They proved perfect partners though following my woefully below-par contribution on the Legend Lakes courses at Belle Mare Plage, I'm pretty sure the feeling wasn't mutual...

pro am

On the other hand, a few days later Sandelin was celebrating his first victory in 18 years and his first on the Staysure Tour while Ormskirk-based Shacklady turned in another strong showing which earned him third place in the end-of-season Order of Merit – no mean feat considering he had virtually given up earning as living from the game and had readied himself to spending Christmas delivering presents as a UPS courier service driver!

'Shackers' can't get enough of Pro-Ams – he's played in well over 1,000 and has celebrated more than 300 victories! He admits: "I love 'em. I like the craic involved and I learnt fairly quickly that you can have a chat, have a laugh and take the mickey...I became a very good judge of people and how far you can push them with a joke.

"Pro-Ams have helped my game too because I don't walk down the fairway thinking I've got to do this, I've got to do that. Staying in a bubble for over four hours is really draining, mentally draining more than physical.

"I'm fortunate because I can switch straight back into playing mode, go back into my routine, 30seconds over the ball, hit it and then straight back out again.

"I've always liked the social side of Pro-Ams and join in the fun and games. After all, we're all supposed to be trying to have fun out there."

Sandelin is a veteran of around 600 Pro-Ams and says the strangest experience of all came in the 1999 German Open Pro-Am when one of his bullish amateurs asked in mid-round: ‘Jarmo, are you really playing in the tournament because I think I can beat you?’ “The things is, I’d just arrived from the States and was a bit jet lagged and didn’t play that well on the day. But it worked out ok as I beat Retief Goosen in a play-off to win the tournament!”

The Swede undoubtedly makes Pro-Ams entertaining, regularly screaming out one-liners much to the amusement of his playing partners. Every now and then he’ll remind himself, or his teammates, with cries of “do it, just do it” and when making a half-decent putt follows up with “I likey, I likey a lot.” Fittingly, after putting out at the 18th, he signs off with “the show must go on.”

At the back end of 2018 I struck lucky on the senior front again, this time teaming-up with Roger Chapman and Paul Broadhurst at Constance Lemuria in the Seychelles. Another below-par performance unfolded but not from my playing buddies – it was the forerunner to Chapman's first success in six years while 'Broady' this time ran away with the Order of Merit spoils.

So, it seems, if nothing else I'm something of a lucky omen and mascot and understandably there's already a queue forming to be my MCB Tour Championship partner in the Indian Ocean at the end of the new Staysure Tour season. Believe that and you'll believe anything...

Actually, one of my best-ever performances on a golf course (arguably the only one) came in a pro-am in Tunisia many moons ago. So much so that I was giving the pro, ultra-friendly Jamaican Delroy Cambridge, a good run for his money until the wheels, birdies and pars, dropped off late on.

Still, it was great fun – probably the most fun I've had on a golf course – even though it went unrewarded and we didn't feature among the prizewinners. But that's not what Pro-Ams are all about: as Shackers says, it's about the fun and frivolity, the banter and comradeship you have out on the course with your fellow amateurs, and hopefully professional, and if you experience that you're a winner...

How amateurs can perform better in pro-ams...

"It's all about focus," says David Shacklady, a three time European Senior Tour winner.  

"I've always said to people to try and put them at ease, 'don't worry there's not a shot I've ever seen. You name it, I've seen it.

"Two lads didn't show up for six holes once in Portugal after over-indulging the night before. I've also seen a guy top an iron shot so high that it went above his head and he flushed it – in the wrong direction – on his follow-through. I had to say to him, I hadn't seen that one!"

"But put an amateur on the side of a hill with a 5-iron and they'll probably flush it because they're not trying to throw the kitchen sink at it because they know if they do they'll miss it. I've seen so many amateurs when facing a difficult shot strike it beautifully whereas straight afterwards they'll tee it up and top it!

"The concentration level has got to be so much higher when they're faced with adversity and this is probably the nearest an amateur will ever get to what it feels like for a pro when they get in the zone and when a fine line becomes a minute line,

"If amateurs can concentrate on the repetitive motion which is what pros do all the time – you're trying to be a robot – and with the mechanics of the golf swing you want to repeat, repeat, repeat and that's one thing amateurs never do; they swing at it so wildly most of the time they can't get the feel of what it feels like when they've hit a good one.

"Most amateurs can tell you when they've played badly but most amateurs can't tell you when they've played well or, to be precise, why they they've played well."

And according to Sandelin: “Basically the standard of play doesn’t matter but if you hear the player counting the shots, seven, eight, nine, ten etc that’s not good. It doesn’t matter how you play so long as you know when to pick up the ball and get ready for the next hole.”

*A big thank you to the Staysure Tour and Constance Hotels Belle Mare Plage Resort (https://www.constancehotels.com/en/hotels-resorts/mauritius/belle-mare-plage/) for helping with this feature.