Last week, I teed it up at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, South Carolina, the only tournament on the Korn Ferry Tour that combines amateur players (including 25 amateur celebrity players), playing alongside the Korn Ferry professionals.
The talent on the Korn Ferry Tour is phenomenal. In 2019, Scottie Scheffler graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour and this season, the Texan won four tournaments in six starts, including The Masters in April. He became the fifth player from the Korn Ferry Tour to reach world number one.
In the 2021 BMW Charity Pro-Am, Mito Pereira of Chile won. Pereira made headlines several weeks ago in the PGA Championship. He was a par away in the final round from winning his first Major title before suffering a melt down on the 72nd hole, his nerves getting the best of him, his tee shot finding the creek to the right of the fairway and he stumbled home with a double bogey.
Last year was my first year playing in the celebrity division at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, and I got paired up with Austin Eckroat, one of several talents from Oklahoma State (Victor Hovland and Matthew Wolfe were his roommates), and it happened to be his first professional tournament.
Eckroat was a part of the Cowboys’ 2018 NCAA title-winning team and he gained status on the Korn Ferry Tour via the PGA Tour University, which grants status to the Korn Ferry Tour to the top seniors after the NCAA Championship. And I’m happy to say, he could not have been nicer on and off the course, helping make the experience for me most memorable and fun. I also enjoyed talking with his father, Steve, who is also his coach, and his fiancée, Sally Merrill, whom he’s known since they were 18 months old!
This year, I played with Tom Lewis from England. He’s earned four professional victories so far but with his length off the tee, and his accurate iron shots, you’d think he’d have so many more wins! It’s just so tough to win out there! And he did not make the cut.
I’ve covered a variety of sports for several decades, as a freelance contributor to USA Today sports in the early days of my career, in addition to covering every pro team in the New York metro area, as a producer/reporter for ABC Radio Sports Network. Once WFAN started in 1987 and I was hired to host “Hey Liguori, What’s the Story,” a weekly call-in show on the first all-sports radio station, I continued to talk about all the pro teams in New York and, in addition, started covering pro golf tournaments that were played in the New York metropolitan area.
When I became host of Conversations with Ann Liguori on The Golf Channel, and the Sports Innerview weekly cable show, I interviewed a variety of pro golfers and covered a plethora of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events. And I enjoy the sport and the personalities in the game so much, that my main broadcasting/sports focus in the last two decades has been golf coverage and interviewing fascinating people in the game.
So I am accustomed to watching and reporting on the top players. But playing with these pros adds to the perspective and increases one’s appreciation of their ability level and what they go through, day in and day out, to be successful. As an amateur player, I’ve had many opportunities to play in Pro-Ams, and witness, inside the ropes, just how much depth there is in the pro game, from the LPGA Tour, PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour, Epson Tour and other developmental leagues.
The amount of talent out there always impresses me. The game is the most difficult sport. Just ask Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry, three superstars who have a passion for golf and are constantly humbled by golf. It’s so difficult for even the very best golfers to string together a number of wins, year after year, unless you’re Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods or Annika Sorenstam in their prime.
The BMW Charity Pro-Am attracts a diverse celebrity field and offers programs throughout the week for men and women, young and old.
Last week, I was on a panel about golf for women, and the importance of using golf as a vehicle for business. Hall of Famer Amy Alcott spoke and led a clinic afterwards. TV host Lauren Thompson hosted, Alex Baldwin, the first female in history to lead one of the PGA Tour’s six global Tours as president, and several other women participated. Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez, winner of multiple world championships in four weight classes, spoke to minority children on the range and signed autographs for hours. Alvarez caught the golf bug only three years ago and plays every day that ends in “y.”
Last year, former MLB pitcher David Wells was one shot behind, heading into his final hole and he aced it, a par 3, to win his division and a new car for the hole-in-one! Michael McGovern, Tournament Director of the BMW Charity Pro Am, mentioned that the competitive edge with sports stars, is not lost as they get older. “You look at David Wells and how he handled pressure when he was on the mound for the Yankees, complete pressure player and when pressure is on the line on the links, he can still do it, at his age today. He won the tournament last year, and the car, with one swing!”
I hosted an interview session with baseball legend Roger Clemens and nine-time PGA Tour winner and 18-time PGA Tour Champions winner Jay Haas. Clemens, seven-time Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champ, is a passionate golfer and as one can imagine, he crushes the ball off the tee. There are few subjects I like better than talking to legendary athletes about their passion for golf and what they bring to the game from their respective sport. Clemens shared that playing golf the day before and the day after he pitched, took the edge off, made him much more relaxed on the mound, and was a welcomed outlet for him on the road. He plays golf as often as he can but admits that his wife Debbie is the best golfer in the family!
Ozzie Smith, David Wells, Ken Griffey Jr., former NFL WR Sterling Sharpe, Larry the Cable Guy, actors Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) and Brian Baumgartner (The Office) were among the celebs in the field this year. And yours truly is happy to report that I played better this year than last year. I made a couple birdies and had my share of pars, net birdies. Most important at this stage of my amateur golf life, my putting tempo is much better. It just goes to show, practice may not make perfect in golf, but when you do have time to practice, it really helps!
Ann Liguori is a trailblazer in sports broadcasting. You can hear her “Talking Golf” show on Sundays, 7–8 a.m., on WFAN-NY, her “Sports Innerview” show on Saturdays, 7–8 a.m. on WLIW 88.3 FM, and her weekly podcasts on SI Golf/Morning Read. For more information on Liguori, visit annliguori.com.
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