While hard-core golf addicts take great pleasure in analyzing Phil Mickelson’s smooth left-handed swing from a pristine fairway, the rest of us are drawn to the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for a different reason—to witness failure.
Taking a break from our humdrum lives, it’s somewhat refreshing to watch comedian Ray Romano toil each year to make the tournament’s final day (he’s 0 for 14), to compare ESPN anchor Chris Berman’s swing to a rusty gate, to see the perfectly coiffed actor Andy Garcia blast three times from a sand trap, cursing through a clenched cigar.
With their faults exposed, humbled before us, every swing counting against them, celebrities put themselves in vulnerable positions during the PGA Tour’s last remaining pro-am event. Out on the course there are no do-overs, no publicists spinning their failures, no places to hide—just an amusing series of pratfalls, assorted miscues, and many chagrined faces.
“I hear some snickering, sure. You just keep playing,” said Berman, an 18 handicap, before the 2014 tournament. “But I hear so much encouragement from folks, and it’s always appreciated. Listen, I’m the high handicap here, but I don’t care. I shoot 94, that’s what I do.”
For fellow hackers in the gallery, it’s nice to see someone else struggle on the golf course.
“People may think I have time to practice golf, but [the AT&T] is in the middle of football season,” he says. (Berman hosts “NFL Countdown,” among other programs on ESPN.)
“And it’s snowing at home,” he adds. “Where would I practice in Connecticut? I putted in the basement two weeks ago.”
For decades, no celebrity came to symbolize futility on the fairways at Pebble Beach more than the late actor Jack Lemmon. He fought hard each year to make the cut, but despite playing in the tournament 35 times, he never teed it up on Sunday for the final round.
Lemmon’s failure became legendary. One year, the appropriately named actor was so deep in a rain-soaked sand trap that he lost a shoe. In 1969, ABC’s Jim McKay told a nationwide television audience: ‘And now here’s Jack Lemmon, about to hit that ll-important eighth shot.’
The modern-day version of Lemmon has to be funnyman Romano, whose lengthy efforts to play Pebble on Sunday led to an HBO documentary called “Making the Cut.” Despite playing golf nearly every day, and hiring some of the top swing coaches in the world, Romano has not made the cut at Pebble in 14 years as a participant. Only 25 lucky amateurs get to play on Sunday each year.
Romano calls himself a “ham-and-egger,” a slightly derogatory phrase to describe an ordinary person, someone who’s in the fight but never crowned champion. The phrase is derived from early 20th Century coal miners who held boxing matches; the winner got money, the loser a ham-and-egg breakfast.
He knows that he will never be an accomplished golfer, but he can’t stop his quest, no matter how silly he may look at times.
“I can’t sleep leading up to this tournament,” Romano said before his first round in 2014. “It’s the best week of the year. It’s like Christmas morning every day. I’m a lifelong hacker, but I’m obsessed with [making the cut]. I obviously need therapy.”
Despite his shortcomings on the course, Romano takes his golf game seriously and tries to block out the crowds, the expected wind and cold, and his own primal fear.
“You’ve got to Zen it,” he said. “You’ve got to take the positive and go with it.”
Romano, of course, hopes to be playing on Feb. 15 as he returns to make his 15th appearance at the tournament. Berman, with his garish sweaters, “sword”-wielding shenanigans and witty repartee, has agreed to return as well. Other celebrities confirmed include pitcher Matt Cain and his battery mate Buster Posey from the San Francisco Giants; professional surfer Kelly Slater; actors Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle and Chris O’Donnell; musicians Joe Don Rooney (of Rascal Flatts), Clay Walker and Huey Lewis; and comedian Tom Dressen.
All told, 156 professionals and 156 amateurs will tee off on that Thursday, many of them with dreams of winning a big chunk of the $6.8 million purse and a Waterford Crystal trophy, or just the pride of surviving their own ineptitude to play on Sunday.
And we will be there, too, watching, politely marveling at the skill of the professionals, and snickering a bit at the celebrities, who are suddenly and remarkably—in full view of the
Spectators can view practice rounds beginning Monday, Feb. 9, through Wednesday, Feb. 11. Wednesday features the popular 3M Celebrity Challenge, on holes 1, 2, 3, 17 and 18 at Pebble Beach. The tournament runs Thursday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 15. For more information, go to www.attpbgolf.com.