Once upon a time, I was playing golf with Annika Sörenstam and Alice Cooper stole my golf ball.
It was a 2006 media outing sponsored by Callaway Golf at ChampionsGate National in Florida. Sörenstam was the featured brand ambassador, hopping around playing a hole with each group as we tried out all the latest equipment the company was pushing. Cooper, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, participated as another ambassador and played in a foursome with GGP’s own Steve Eubanks.
Waiting to hit on the long par-3 fifth over a marsh, I’d elected to try out one of the new Callaway hybrid clubs. That’s when Annika rode up and joined us on the tee. Suddenly petrified with a club I’d never hit before, I was thrilled to make solid contact even if the ball sailed 30 yards over the green and onto the nearby 17th tee box. Annika hit the green, of course.
Driving through the marsh, we saw a group pull up to the tee where my ball visibly rested. Alice Cooper got out of the cart, walked over to my ball, picked it up and put it in his pocket. When we got there, I politely played dumb and asked if anyone had seen a ball on the tee. Alice – outfitted with the same free golf balls we all were using – looked around as if searching and turned back to say, “No … maybe it went in that little alligator bog over there.”
Dumbfounded and unwilling to publicly confront the celebrity shock rocker, I retreated to my green empty handed. Annika and my playing partner, Steve Elling, were doubled over laughing as they watched the whole scene play out. At lunch, I said to Eubanks: “Your boy Alice stole my golf ball and lied to my face about it.”
Eubanks laughed: “Yeah, he did.”
Only in golf. That was my one shot playing with Sörenstam, but if you hang around this game long enough, you’ll cross paths with someone whose degree of celebrity or skill may quicken your pulse as if you were standing on the first tee of the Masters.
Invited to exclusive Isleworth once for a Golf Channel outing, I showed up first thing in the morning hoping to find some semblance of a swing on the driving range. My dewy solitude was wrecked when a guy arrived and set up right behind me. Tiger Woods greeted me suspiciously, wondering what a media guy was doing on his range. Terrified with the world’s greatest golfer 20 feet behind my back, I hit an entire bucket of 7-irons wishing only to get them airborne.
At Córdoba Golf Club in Argentina, I was invited to play nine holes with Ángel Cabrera’s swing coach, Charlie Epps, his daughter, Mimi (runner-up in the 2001 North & South Women’s Amateur), and two-time Argentine Amateur champion Roberto Monguzzi. Three of our four caddies had played in the Argentine Open the week before. I was outclassed at every turn. My borrowed clubs were an old set of Cabrera’s Pings. You don’t know pressure until the caddie hands you a 5-degree lofted driver and tells you he bet on you to hit the first fairway. (I did not hit it or get it airborne and tipped a lot of pesos that day, though I doubt it was enough to cover my poor caddie’s losses.)
Playing with strangers can be intimidating, but not everyone brings out the dreads. On a recent visit to Philadelphia Cricket Club’s St. Martins course, I was meeting a media friend there. He said his buddy, David, would be joining with us. “You’ll recognize him,” he said.
When I stepped to the practice green, there was Boomer from St. Elsewhere. Despite standing 6-foot-4 – he more recently played George Washington in the HBO series John Adams – David Morse was the least intimidating celebrity I’ve ever played with. Charming, friendly and as eager to figure out this infuriating game as the rest of us. We even played an emergency nine together.
Thank goodness Alice Cooper was nowhere nearby to steal my pleasure.