I’m not sure I knew exactly what to expect as Will and I headed out to Nashville Golf and Athletic Club for our first Web.com Tour event. Both of us have been to numerous PGA Tour events but not any along “The Path to The PGA Tour”. The forecast was calling for rough weather and it looked like it could be a complete wash. So we had our fingers crossed the weather man would continue to do his job extremely average and be wrong.
We turned into the course and had to do some serious convincing that our media credentials were legit and not stolen. We were able to park near the club house saving us the shuttle ride from Ravenwood High School. Pulling up listening to Old Town Road probably didn’t do us any favors with the local law enforcement manning the entrance to the tournament. It’s wild that the caddies have to take a shuttle but the media gets to park on property. No worries, we gave Jonathan a ride back over to his car after the round.
Jonathan was caddying for OU stand out, friend of the site, and native Memphian, Grant Hirschman. Grant had Monday Q’ed into the tournament in San Antonio the week prior, made a Top 25 which got him into this week. After two solid days he had made the cut and was headed into the weekend for the 2nd straight week. Some of you are probably thinking, “Why is Webb harping on this?” Well it’s a big deal. This means after Knoxville, when they reshuffle priority, Grant will get four guaranteed starts. I can’t stress enough how big that is for a guy trying to make it with no guaranteed status.
Fly was already bitching about how heavy the staff bag was before they even got going. The range was littered with pros ranging from young guys like Grant and Braden Thornberry to vets like David Lingmerth and Martin Flores. With bad weather being forecast, they were going off in threesomes on both nine’s trying to get as many guys off as possible. 78 players made the cut, so that would be a tall task especially with 4 groups having to finish their 2nd rounds that morning. We made the trek to the first tee and off we went.
First off, this course is not meant for anyone other than mountaineers to play golf on. Will had his Apple Watch on both days and we walked 6.5 miles and climbed over 25 flights of stairs each day. We didn’t even walk up to all of the tee boxes and still felt like we were hiking the AT. Imagine having to walk that and try to go low. Needless to say these guys had their work cut out for them. The picture below doesn’t even do the elevation changes justice.
NGAC, or Nashville Golf Links of America as Zac Blair has called it, is a weird layout, isn’t designed to walk, and might have the smallest greens that I have ever seen. It showed, the winner finished at 15 under with the majority of guys hanging out in single digits after 4 rounds. The front nine is definitely the tougher of the two nines, while the back hosts 3 par 3’s and closes with 3 par 5’s in the last 6 holes. The last of those is what got Robby Shelton into a playoff with the red hot Scottie Scheffler, which he would go onto win.
Grant being a “local” guy meant he had family and friends following him throughout the week. Most of the patrons were WAGS (wives and girlfriends), family, coaches, and a few golf nuts like us. There were a lot of guys that were out there on the island just grinding. In any given group there might be a 23 years old, fresh out of college riding a ton of momentum from a decorated amateur career, playing with 10 year journeymen who has bounced up and down between tours, fighting to get into events, make cuts, and ultimately make a living. The polarity was pretty jarring. Every putt is worth money and even though it isn’t worth hundreds of thousands like it is on the PGA Tour it’s cash none the less. Honestly, that might make them worth even more.
The difference in T-27 and T-18 was $2000. That includes points for “The 25′ but just as important hotels, meals, gas, paying your caddie, getting to KC next week, and the list goes on and on. The angst and strain shows on a lot of guys faces. They are grinding, firing at every pin, going for broke because out there pars aren’t going to win you much. You’ve got to be bold. The talent pool is so deep. It only takes a bad lie here, a lip out there and a wayward tee shot to look up and have dropped 20 places like that. Grant fell victim to some bad breaks this week. He played well enough to shoot -10 under but couldn’t catch a break on those pesky greens.
It really made me realize that this is a job and an extremely tough one at that. Yes it’s a sport and a game, but for these guys it is their life. Most have sacrificed more than we know to chase a white, dimpled ball around a patch of grass. So, the next time you are wishing it was you out there, or thinking that it can’t be as hard as it seems, think about it long and hard because I promise you it is.
I think I enjoyed these last two days more than any golf tournament I have ever been to, excluding Augusta. Seriously though, between the two of us, we talked to double digit players and caddies. A number of those were during their rounds. Caddies would ask us if we were going to follow for a few holes because their guy needed a boost. There is no lucky rabbits foot on my key chain, but you could see the bump a guy would get when he heard the claps after a nice two-putt par from 40 feet, or the thumbs up from up by the green when their blind approach landed 10 feet from the hole. Those little moments help keep the train on the tracks and headed toward the station. It also drew you in as a spectator and made you feel apart.
Grant would talk us through what he did on a shot walking between holes, there was plenty of time between most of them, or ask us if we saw how bad a lie was. Some of the loopers would give us looks of pure relief when their man would save par, or make a short birdie putt. It truly was an interactive experience that I was not anticipating. We’d walk inside the ropes, cut across holes, crack jokes and really got the feeling we were apart of the round.
After each round we would hang out by the scoring area and just talk about the round with Fly and Hirsch and listen to all of the other guys that would come up and talk to them. They would talk about where they were in the reshuffle or where they were headed next. A few guys were drinking a cold snack after signing their card before heading to the airport or hotel. They are just guys like the rest of us who play golf, they just happen to do it for a living. Those moments are what made it click for me and even reinvigorated me to keep doing this blog. If these guys can keep getting off the mat, when the golf gods knock them down, then making more content or putting my thoughts on paper is the least I can do.
Most importantly, if there is a Web.com event coming to a town near you, go out and watch. Interact with the players, caddies, family, friends, volunteers or anyone else out there. If you do that, I truly believe you will find it to be one of the purest forms of golf entertainment.