SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – With skies clearing and Peter Jacobsen and Co. addressing such topics as the Ryder Cup, Tiger Woods, the importance of clubfitting and how to play under pressure, the 2014 Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship got off to a rousing start Monday night.
Several hundred competitors from all over the country and parts of the world gave the popular former PGA Tour player and current TV commentator a standing ovation when introduced during the Players Dinner Monday night at Talking Stick Resort, the host facility for the Golf Channel Am Tour's regular and senior divisions for the next two weeks.
The dinner followed a 24-hour period of record rainfall in Arizona, where flooding closed down highways and streets as well as golf courses, including the courses at Talking Stick on Monday. The other host courses at nearby Grayhawk Golf Club, however, were open on Monday afternoon, for practice rounds as the inclement weather moved out of the area. The forecast for the rest of the week calls for clearing conditions.
Jacobsen, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour who works for the Golf Channel and NBC Sports, was joined Monday night by former PGA Tour player and TV commentator Curt Byrum as well as current PGA Tour player Charlie Beljan. Jacobsen, also known for his sense of humor and impressions of famous golfers, kept the proceedings light.
"You guys play a lot of golf intoxicated, which is very impressive," he mused. "We only have five or six guys (on the tour) who can do that."
With Byrum on stage, the topic quickly turned to the Ryder Cup, just a couple of weeks away at Gleneagles in Scotland. Both offered their theories on how the Americans can turn the tide on the Europeans. Jacobsen pointed out that The PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles is a Jack Nicklaus design and very American, which could give the U.S. team an edge.
Byrum added that the Americans coming in as an underdog also could work to their advantage.
"It always ends up being the team that putts the best in the last couple of sessions, right?" Byrum said. "So I think the Americans usually get tight because they're supposed to win. So I think if the Americans can loosen up and say, 'Hey look, we're in Scotland, we're underdogs,' and let it go, we've got a chance."
Soon after, Jacobsen opened up the proceedings to questions from the audience and it didn't take long for someone to ask if Tiger Woods should go back to his old coach, Butch Harmon. Jacobsen echoed Harmon's sentiments when he said that Tiger doesn't need a coach; he's already had the best instruction in the world. "He simply needs to go out and figure it out on his own," Jacobsen said.
All three experts stressed the importance of clubfitting over buying the latest and greatest equipment.
"I think getting fit properly will automatically take a couple of strokes off your game, no matter what else you do," said Beljan, one of the longest hitters on tour.
Then Byrum, who is from Scottsdale, gave the players in the audience this bit of advice for the week.
"I don't know about Talking Stick," he said, "but at Grayhawk, everything breaks toward downtown."
Jacobsen, of course, entertained the crowd with his Craig Stadler and Lanny Wadkins impressions, then nailed a Jason Dufner impersonation. On a more serious note, he talked about how important it is to narrow your focus to the shot at hand when you start feeling the pressure of tournament golf. But he had some more general advice as well, and it didn't pertain to golf. It was about how he and his wife Jan have managed to stay married all these years.
"I've been married for 38 years," the 60-year-old Portland, Ore., native said. "And the key to that is I had my spine removed 37 years ago."