I’ve never been to a desert golf course before today. Stunning is a good word…but what makes it that way is the stark contrast between the azure blue skies, the lush green fairways and the rest of the brown topography. When you get away from the golf course, it’s almost weird how…brown everything is! The houses are brown. The bushes are brown. The trees are brown. The mountains are brown. Most of the people are brown (okay tan, allow me some literary license on that one please). Yes, we are a long way from home, and while it’s about 40 degrees warmer here, it’s about 6 colors cooler on the spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating it…I just don’t know if I could live here…for long.
The golf however. The golf is pretty incredible. The fairways are seeded in Ryegrass and the rough is Bermuda over seeded with Ryegrass. Ryegrass is what we Midwesterners are most familiar with…that beautiful lush green grass you see on most golf courses. I’m told that Ryegrass is not as drought tolerant as Bermuda though…and I know it’s not nearly as tough to play on, but when you’re in a dry, hot climate, Bermuda is what you most likely will be playing on. Bermuda grass can be very difficult because it grows in kind of a web. Your ball can either sit on top of that web, or down in it, and it’s hard to tell just by looking at it. That means you never know how the ball will come out of it! You may catch a flyer out of it (where the ball just jumps off the club face), or it may come out like a brick. Over seeded Bermuda is a little easier because the Ryegrass grows up through it making it a little less “webby”. That was your horticulture lesson for today.
Aside from the grass…one look at the list of players who qualified to be here let’s you know that these guys are good. Real good. Tom had the pleasure of playing with Sonny Skinner again today – he played with him in the last round of the 1st stage qualifying. He’s a former tour player (Web.com and Champions Tour) and an all-around great guy. He’s from a little town in Georgia and has a great southern drawl. Tom first got to know Sonny when our friend JP took Tom down to Georgia on a “scouting trip” back in early Spring…the whole purpose of that trip was to play with a couple tour pros (Sonny and James Mason), pick their brains about the tour & see if they thought Tom should even bother trying to make a run for it. The result of that trip was a new confidence and a new friend for Tom. I think it’s going to prove to be one of his most important friendships out here as well. Sonny knows everyone & is kind enough to introduce Tom to the guys he knows.
I got to ride in the cart with Sonny during the round today. Such a knowledgeable, confident and methodical player. This is his 4th time in the Final Stage qualifier – which is always held at the Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale. His process of preparation was so thorough…truly impressive! He had an old yardage book with all his notes in it from prior rounds; but apparently they’ve redone the course a bit, so he would stop & check 3-4 sprinkler heads on each hole to ensure his book was still correct. (Fortunately, this course actually has a yardage book and MARKED sprinkler heads for yardage’s, unlike the Disney course – which had neither). Now don’t let the fact that he’s been here 4 times make you second guess Sonny’s playing abilities; Sonny is an amazing player, I got to witness that firsthand when he made 2 on a par 4 from 204 yards out…in the right rough! He likes to talk to his ball too, calls it ‘sugar’ (shug when he really needs it to be nice). He’s super positive and just a great guy. The fact that it’s his 4th time around just goes to show you that it’s hard, REALLY hard out here.
Making friends out here is important to the whole picture as well. It’s hard to go from knowing most everyone at a tournament (GAM), to knowing a few people at a tournament (USGA) to knowing no-one at a tournament (PGA). Sonny says he likes Tom…he can tell he has a passion for the game & a humble demeanor. If he only knew how humble Tom really is…and how that humility probably kept him from becoming a pro sooner! In fact, I’m pretty sure Tom is the only one who doesn’t know how good Tom is. Sonny says that’s unusual out here…that a lot of guys seem to think they walk on water (my words, not his)…I’m sure you understand what I mean by that.
Tomorrow he gets to play with Sonny again and Scott Perri in another practice round. Scott Perri was the ‘medalist’ at the Florida qualifier by 3-shots and according to both Tom & Mike, as good a golfer as he is a great guy. I am going to be working (remotely) so I won’t get to watch that round. Anyone who knows Tom knows practice rounds to him are like watching paint dry…you need to make sure it dries, you just don’t want to watch it! Today was a “meet & greet” for him and TPC Scottsdale. His plan tomorrow is to stir up a game with the other 2 guys to force him into more of a “grind” mode. That’s Tom’s version of practice. Usually his games are for who buys the drinks. Considering a Beam & Coke at the clubhouse was $10 and a double-Sapphire Gin was $21; it could get pricey…at least enough so that it should shift Tom VanWerkmeistersma into grind mode!
The clubhouse from 9 fairway is above