Our Intrepid Author Joins the Pro-Am Dawn Patrol

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MADISON, Miss. ' It was 4:30 in the a.m., a time when questions begin, Who in their right mind.
 
Leaving aside for now the issue of rightness (or not) of my mind, I hauled it out of the rack at this hour at the Hilton in nearby Jackson so I could be ready to play golf two hours later. Now, who in their right mind gets up that early to play golf at zero-dark-thirty?
 
Nearly a hundred people, as it turns out, who paid for the privilege of playing with a PGA Tour pro the day before the Southern Farm Bureau Classic. A healthy four-digit entry fee gets you into a group with a real professional golfer. Or, if youre a journalist on assignment, someone takes you on as the D player.
 
Either way, its a kick.
 
Its not as counterintuitive as it sounds. Sure, the Mississippi event is, in a sense, for the also-rans. The biggest stars (read: top 30 on the PGA Tour money list) are under the bright spotlight at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. No amount of prime rib in the Annandale Country Club restaurant can change the fact that this is the Tours No. 2 event this week.
 
Also, many of the players who come here know they need to have a good week to get into the magic top 125 in annual money so theyll be exempt for next year. But they may not know yet exactly how good a number they need to shoot or earn. And of course, 143 other guys are trying to do them out of every buck.
 
So I should expect my pro to be surly and distracted, right?
 
Wrong.
 
Mike Sposa, No. 130 on the money list and thereby the possessor of work cut out for him, as they say, probably has blood pressure in the 90/60 range. The guy simply doesnt get perturbed by an early morning with a collection of slicing hack monsters. Two kids, another on the way around Christmas, a big check to makeno problem. As we teed off in the gloaming, he was all smiles and handshakes.
 
I wont bore you with a blow-by-blow account of the round, but I will say that I was still sufficiently sleepy to stripe my first tee shot down the middle. Then I made the mistake of starting to think, and shots began to spray.
 
Too much brain, Mike said in condensed diagnosis. Just step up and hit it, like that first tee shot.
 
That remark dovetailed with something I had read about Ted Ray, the great British turn-of-the-century player. To think when we should be playingits madness, Ray said. How can you argue with that?
 
Of course, a big part of the pro-am experience is the inevitable tip from the pro. Not until our 16th hole did Mike come across. And tipwise, this guy can bring it.
 
Ive stood behind you for three driver swings, and when you lose it right, this is what happens, Mike said. And he proceeded to show me a simple move that regulated my shoulders through the swing and helped me into a Monty-like finish. Nothing condescending, just golfer-to-golfer help. On the next tee, I hit the ball so far they served an inflight meal on it ' and that flight didnt connect through the rough, Im here to tell you.
 
A lot of other fun stuff happened, some of which will be revealed in a TV story on Golf Central in the coming weeks. But heres what I really got out of my pro-am experience: The big-money entry fee for charity is worth it. The pros are, with few exceptions, engaging and fun to be with. The marketing good will for the Tour is immense. And the golf is a blast, no matter how you play.
 
Think about it: Can you run with Emmit Smith or shag fly balls with Barry Bonds? Exactly. Pro-ams are unique, and one of the best things about the pro game.