Williamsburg, VA - For one week in most years, the PGA Tour stops in Virginia to play the Michelob Championship. Though a minor event on some pros' calendars, it successfully demonstrates on an annual basis the great golf that the Old Dominion can offer.
It also teaches the average golfer turned first - hand spectator the difference between professionals and the weekend warrior.
As one of the late season PGA events (and not part of the unofficial 'Tiger tour'), it typically is contested by those looking to shore up a good year - or by those looking to add some dough to their season totals in hopes of making the top 125 on the money list - and therefore assuring a tour card for next year without going through the perils of Q school.
Notable exceptions include World No. 3 - ranked David Duval, who won the event two of the past three years - and Jim Furyk, a consistent World Top 15 performer - both who took part and brought along large fan followings in the process.
The tournament is unofficially hosted by two time US Open Champion and Virginia native Curtis Strange, as he is the resident touring pro for the Kingsmill Resort - which hosts the event on its Pete Dye designed River Course.
Kingsmill and its three championship courses along the banks of the James River, share the local Williamsburg golf spotlight with the world renowned Golden Horseshoe Resort, and helps to highlight Virginia as an excellent current as well as an up and coming golf destination.
The event can also be seen as a prelude to the President's Cup - which will take place on the shores of Lake Manassas in Northern Virginia less than two weeks after the final putt drops in the cup in Williamsburg.
Those looking to walk in the footsteps of the pros are out of luck when it come to playing the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, however, as it is very difficult for anyone but the President and club members to gain access to that beautiful track.
As I noted in my Virginia Oaks review - you can see RTJ across the way on several holes at Virginia Oaks - but for most of us, that's as close as we'll get.
This shouldn't be a downer, however. There's plenty of excellent public golf to be played here in the Old Dominion where we won't have to pony up huge sums for memberships or snuggle up to a member to gain access. Kingsmill and Williamsburg Golf in general demonstrate this amply.
Within a half hour's drive are a number of excellent public tracks that will be all too happy to ink your name on the tee sheet and treat you as if you're a 'member for the day.' And statewise, Virginia has two of Golf Magazine's 18 Gold Medal resorts in the entire United States - the Golden Horseshoe and The Cascades, so golf travelers will have more than enough notoriety to choose from.
While I wouldn't describe the atmosphere at the tournament as having major championship tension, there is a certain charm to attending one of the smaller events on the PGA tour.
For example, it wasn't difficult to find a good vantage point from which to view the players. Never once did I have to fight for a good spot on the ropes to see a finely played shot or putt. The players actually were close enough to make eye contact and to say 'thanks' for a complimented good shot.
But anyone who's been to a PGA event gets some of the flavor of life on tour. I think it would be more useful at this point to give some of this writer's keen observations on how and why PGA tour pros are 'different' than the average player, of which the latter group I call home.
They don't waste shots. A big part of my scores every round are penalties. Pros just don't get 'em. Of the two days I observed (granted I could only observe one group at a time, and couldn't be everywhere at once), the only player I saw take a penalty stroke was Jim Furyk on the 18th on Sunday, when he hit his tee ball into the hazard on the left side of the fairway.
Pros have consistent swings, sure, but they also use their golf smarts to give themselves some margin for error. If there's certain death to the left, then if they miss at all, they miss right.
They Swing Easy. This is a malady I've tried to cure in my twenty years of playing the game. I've never quite been able to shake the urge to try and rip the cover off the ball. I guess it goes back to my days in Little League, but my mind seems to only understand - the harder you swing, the farther it goes. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I was standing at the mid point in the fairway on the 18th hole, watching each group in succession tee off from a distance - I could swear that they all looked as fluid as David Duval.
I had to consult my pairings list numerous times to see who they were, mainly because they all appear to swing so effortlessly - yet the ball flies so far. It seems to defy common sense.
They Have a Short Game. Professional golfers aren't intimidated by the short game. They realize that the tournaments are won and lost by how well they can get the ball in the hole from around the greens. The old saying "Drive for Show, Putt for Dough" couldn't be more true. With the new technology, it's not a rare occasion for even someone like me to hit a drive in the 270 range (and sometimes even straight). But when it comes to finishing out the hole, that's a different story.
Every dubbed chip, every bunker shot left in the trap, every three putt from 15 feet - adds up. Pros don't do this. The best of the players have the best up and down percentage. I'd argue that the single element that makes Tiger Woods so much better than everyone else is his ability to get out of trouble around the greens. And make the putts.
They Love to Practice. How many times have you arrived at the course five minutes before your tee time and gone right from the pro shop tee sheet to the first tee? You decide that warming up isn't that important, and take solace from your unwritten rule that will grant a mulligan on the first tee if you go at it 'cold.'
Pros come early. They stay late. They practice the non 'fun' shots, like half sand wedges and chips. They putt to get it right - not to two putt. They go from the 18th green right back to the practice tee to iron out whatever quirks they had in their swings that day.
They'll be like Phil Mickelson at the Colonial and putt nothing but three foot putts for an hour until they don't miss any. In contrast, the average golfer sees the 18th green as a perfectly manicured carpet that leads directly to the 19th hole.
They Don't Lose Their Cool. Finally, pros take the good with the bad - or most do, anyway. They remember that a good round will still probably have 70 shots in it, so why get all bent out of shape over one? Puts things in perspective.
I like to think that my trip to the Michelob Championship will help make me a better golfer. It certainly succeeds in promoting the best that Virginia golf can offer. And a couple days spent watching the best in the game may have given me some ideas on how I might become a little less 'average.'
October 5 - 8, 2000
Kingsmill Resort's River Course
October 4, 2000