Amateurs get to live Cinderella story
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Amateurs get to live Cinderella story

Amateurs get to live Cinderella story

Monday, June 20, 2011

Providence Journal: 
By Paul Kenyon

BARRINGTON — Chris Willis wants to make sure that he conducts himself properly Monday when he plays golf at Rhode Island Country Club. He will be taking part in a golf outing unlike any he has ever had.

Willis and his partners, Nick Middleton, Ray Keough and John Shannon, will not be watching the CVS Caremark Charity Classic, as they usually do. They will be competing in it.

“The biggest thing on my mind is etiquette,” Willis said. “You want to make sure you do the right thing. You want to respect the game, respect the person you are playing with.”

The foursome will get to live out a fantasy of any sports fan. They will be playing alongside co-hosts Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade, Hall of Famers Ben Crenshaw and Juli Inkster, as well as reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer in the 13th CVS Classic.

They earned the right to take part in a new tourney program by winning the morning half of the Sunday pro-am. Sparked by Shannon’s net double eagle on the par-5 11th, the foursome combined with LPGA pro Vicky Hurst to record a net score of 17-under-par 54.

Monday, the Shannon-Keough-Middleton-Willis team will tee off at 10:40, just after the foursome that includes the teams of Suzann Pettersen-Brett Quigley and Inkster-Peter Jacobsen, and just before the group of Andrade-Bill Haas and Faxon-Gary Woodland.

The winners of the afternoon session, at an even more impressive 19-under 52, include another CVS employee, Mark Miller, a 22-handicap. His three partners, Marshall Hart, Rob Antrim and Dan Hargett are all CVS vendors who come in from other parts of the country to help defray costs of the event and raise money for charity. They won their part of the pro-am with the help of Morgan Hoffman, a former Oklahoma State star, who was playing in his first event as a pro.

They will begin play at 11 a.m. The two amateur teams will be competing for prizes, not the $1.55-million purse that the 20 pros will be vying for. But they will be walking the same walk, facing the same challenges as the pros. They will be warming up with, meeting and then taking to the course with the pros.

It is an intriguing addition to the tournament.

“We’re trying to create what we all seek, the ultimate golf experience,” said Greg Costello, the tournament director.

The team that won the morning session certainly likes the idea. All are average golfers, all with handicaps between 10 and 21.

“I gave up tickets to the U.S. Open to play here,” Middleton said. “This is the most fun golfing event I have all year, no doubt.”

It was great just to play in the pro-am. Hurst was a joy to play with, her partners said.

“It was her 21st birthday,” Keough said. “She was a great person to be around. She’d help us out, make suggestions, then get out and rip it.”

Monday it will go far beyond that. The crowds will be much larger than they were on Sunday. The amateurs will be introduced by tournament announcer Scott Cordischi, the same way the pros will be. The amateurs will see the difference in the way the course is prepared from the pro-am to the real tournament. They will have to perform the way the pros do with everyone watching.

Keough hopes to make it a doubly big day. He has tickets to the Red Sox game Monday night. He hopes to be able to play in the CVS and then head to Fenway. When he gets there he will have great seats — “Right behind home plate,” he said — but Terry Francona is not going to invite him out to take batting practice with his team. He is not going to ask him to shag fly balls.

At the CVS, though, he and his partners are going to be on the playing field. They are going to be part of the show.

“We’re going to have to really focus on everything we do,” Keough said. “We don’t want to hit anybody.”

Keough’s team won the chance to have the inside-the-ropes experience thanks in large part to their work on the par-5 11th Sunday. There, Willis hit a great drive, leaving the team 223 yards to the hole. Except that Shannon thought it was 240 yards. He hit his rescue-3 club 15 feet above the hole — or maybe it was 30 feet, one of the partners said — and made it for eagle. With his handicap stroke, it meant a net double eagle.

The format will be the same for the amateurs Monday, although with a key ingredient missing. The pro-am is held under a scramble format, meaning all players hit drives, but the team then selects only the best one. Everyone hits his second shot from that spot. Monday, there will be no pro to help.

Hargett was already thinking ahead even as he and his partners were celebrating their victories in the afternoon pro-am. Asked if he was nervous, he responded, “Yes, can’t you tell?”

The 20-player field in the 14th CVS is a strong one. It includes four of the top players on the LPGA Tour, U.S. Open champion PaulaCreamer, Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen and Hall of Famer Juli Inkster. The men taking part include Hall of Famer Ben Crenshaw and six players who will come directly from finishing competition in the U.S. Open Sunday, Zach Johnson, Davis Love III, Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker, Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar, the leading money winner on the PGA Tour last year.