The author got an inside-the-ropes look at a legend, plus a golfing education from a sage playing partner
Posted: Wednesday February 28, 2007 11:55AM; Updated: Wednesday February 28, 2007 11:56AM
My Friday 7:10 a.m. tee time -- first group, first round -- was fast approaching, and there was no daylight in the sky, and now in the clubhouse dining room Fuzzy Zoeller was asking if he could join me for breakfast. Zoeller, winner of the 1979 Masters and the '84 U.S. Open, a man who makes everything look easy, asking me, your garden-variety duffer with a golfing nervous disorder, if he could sit down with me.
I put my newspapers in a pile and down sat the Fuzz. Two guys, loading carbs. Two fellow competitors (in a manner of speaking) playing in the Outback Steakhouse
Pro-Am, one of the best stops on the Champions tour. Whatever you think Fuzzy would have for breakfast, double it.
We talked about T-Bonz, the Augusta steak house favored by Fuzzy, and a seafood biker bar on Washington Road he likes as well. Florida's Indoor Clean Air Act must have been killing him. We were at the TPC Tampa Bay, a public course in a town called Lutz. As Fuzzy knifed his way through a sausage link, I snuck a look at my watch. Getting on seven.
The previous night, at a "mandatory" players-only meeting, I had learned, with no fanfare, who my playing partners would be, but I hadn't met them. The field comprised 72 pros, many familiar names among them, and 72 amateurs, some of them well known: Bill Murray, the actor; Jim Courier, the Hall of Fame tennis player; Joe Theismann, the football legend. Most of the other amateurs were loose-limbed Tampa businessmen who had made a tidy sum in some real thing: restaurant supplies, trucking, insurance, air-conditioning and refrigeration.
The AT&T National Pro-Am, the fabled Pebble Beach event, is choked with self-important Wall Streeters and corporate chieftains (and many obscure pros). The Outback chain is now part of a massive public company, but the Outback Pro-Am field was filled with locals who could afford to spend about $12,000 for several days of golf that benefited various Tampa Bay children's charities. (The Outback people gave me my spot, knowing this story was coming, but not knowing what would be in it.) My pro, according to the slim packet I was given at the meeting, was Dale Douglass, a 70-year-old former Ryder Cupper whose calm swing and demeanor I had long admired. The other amateur was Ron Campbell, the president of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. His pro was Gary Player. You know the list of golfers who have won all four modern professional majors? It's five names long. I didn't need my 5 a.m. wake-up call.
It was cold, dark, rainy and windy on Friday morning when the four of us congregated on the 10th tee, our first hole. Player was wearing all black, his longtime calling card. Douglass and Campbell were wearing nothing but black, too. I was wearing brown shoes, tan slacks, a green windbreaker and a lucky red hat from last year's British Open. "Looks like somebody didn't get the memo about the team uniform," said my pro, the comedian.
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