Had the pleasure of playing in an LPGA Australian pro-am last week with French pro golfer Joanna Klatten. Jo's a regular visitor to Aus and at time of wiriting has just blitzed the field to shoot a course record 63 in the last round of the NSW open and to win by two.
Jo's a star in the making and delightful company to boot, but I wanted to share and recommend the opportunities to observe great golfers at work by playing in pro-ams like these.
For the newbies, every pro tournament has a pro am where the top pros play with three enthusiastic amateurs, mostly celebrities or sponsor invites in an 18 hole tournament on the eve of the tournament proper. Most of the male pros detest pro ams and would rather be anywhere else, but the sponsors need looking after and so they're happy (ish) to spend five hours with a groups of 24 handicappers who want to know what club they hit on the par three. Despite the fact that the pros tees are usually in a different postcode.
Women's pro ams are an altogether different affair. Whether it's because the money isn't so plentiful or whether it's because they are, well, women, all of the women's pro ams I have played in have been an absolute delight. And if anything you learn more, far more compared to playing with a tour pro.
The last few times I've played in Pro ams on the men's circuit I've been teeing off with people who hit it easily 100 yards further than me off the tee. People who hit wedges into long par fours when I'm tossing up between hybrid or 3 wood. People, to be frank that I have little in common with. Not great conversationalists either, if I dare generalise.
The women's game is different. Whilst many of them hit it a long way, few of them ever hit shots at full strength. The pace of their game seems more measured. And best of all...they seem to be having a great time.
Here's a couple of things I learned last week.
1. Leave the driver in the bag. In 18 holes, she hit driver once. It's a fact that she hit is so far that it took us ten minutes walk to get there, but despite that power and potential she hit driver once. She hit a four iron off the tee on a par five (you ever done that?) because getting on in two was impossible. And guess what...yes, she hit every fairway.
2. Have a really good look at the line. Nobody wants club golfers to follow the lead of Jim "hang on I will have another look" Furyk but I noticed that while everyone else was putting she was studying the line like a hawk. Standing six feet away, just to the side of the line of the putt looking at what it would do as it ran out of pace, looking at the low side of the putt as Dave Stockton tells his pros Rory and Baddeley. And then best of all, having done the prep, when it was her turn to putt, it was one look at the line, aim and fire. Usually followed by the sound of ball hitting the bottom of the cup.
3. Swing smooth. The key lesson from playing with or just watching lady professionals on the TV. Take it back smoothly and swing it smoothly. Not soft. Smooth. As Sevvy famously said, don't worry about swinging slow or fast, just think of keeping a constant speed from backswing to follow through.
If you'd like to enjoy a round of golf under tournament conditions in great company where you'll learn more than a month of lessons, find a ladies PGA pro am near you and turn up and play. You won't regret it.