Last week I played it at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, SC, the only Korn Ferry Tour tournament that combines amateur gamers (including 25 amateur celebrities), playing alongside Korn Ferry professionals. .
The talent of the Korn Ferry Tour is phenomenal. In 2019 Scottie Scheffler moved from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour and this season the Texan has won four tournaments in six starts, including The Masters in April. He became the fifth Korn Ferry Tour player 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 tied in the final round after winning his first major title before suffering a seizure on the 72nd hole, his nerves getting the better of him, his tee shot finding the creek to the right of the fairway and he stumbled home with a double bug.
Last year was my first year playing in the Celebrity Division at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, and I teamed up with Austin Eckroat, one of Oklahoma State’s many talents (Victor Hovland and Matthew Wolfe were his roommates), and it happened to be his first professional tournament.
Eckroat was part of the Cowboys team that won the NCAA title in 2018 and he earned Korn Ferry Tour status through PGA Tour University, which grants Korn Ferry Tour status to top seniors after the NCAA championship. And I’m happy to say he couldn’t have been nicer on and off the course, helping to make the experience for me the most memorable and fun. I also enjoyed chatting with his father, Steve, who is also his trainer, and his fiancée, Sally Merrill, whom he has known since they were 18 months old!
This year I played with Tom Lewis from England. He’s had four professional wins so far, but with his length off the tee and his precise iron shots, you’d think he’d have so many more wins! It’s so hard to win there! And he didn’t make the cut.
I’ve covered a variety of sports for several decades, as a freelance contributor to USA today sports early in my career, in addition to covering every professional 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 show on the first all-sports radio station, I continued to talk about all the professional teams in New York and, in addition, began covering professional golf tournaments that were played in the New York metropolitan area.
When I became the host of Conversations with Ann Liguori on The Golf Channel, and the Sports Inner View weekly cable show, I’ve interviewed a variety of professional golfers and covered a plethora of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events. And I love the sport and the personalities of the game so much that my main broadcast/sports focus for the past two decades has been golf coverage and interviewing fascinating people in the game.
So I’m used to watching and reporting on top players. But playing with these pros adds perspective and heightens appreciation for their level of ability and what they go through, day in and day out, to succeed. As an amateur player, I’ve had many opportunities to play Pro-Ams and have seen, in the ropes, how much depth there is in the professional game, of the LPGA Tour, the PGA Tour , Korn Ferry Tour, Epson Tour and other development leagues.
The amount of talent there always impresses me. Gambling is the hardest sport. 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 hard for even the 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 wide range of celebrities and features week-long programs for men and women, young and old.
Last week, I participated in a roundtable on golf for women and the importance of using golf as a business vehicle. Hall of Famer Amy Alcott spoke and led a clinic afterwards. TV host Lauren Thompson welcomed Alex Baldwin, the first woman in history to lead one of the PGA Tour’s six world tours as chairwoman, and several other women participated. Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez, winner of multiple world championships in four weight classes, talked to minority children on the shooting range and signed autographs for hours. Alvarez caught the golf bug just three years ago and plays every day that ends in “y”.
Last year, former MLB pitcher David Wells was one shot behind, heading for his last hole and he hit it, a par 3, to win his division and a new car for the hole. at once ! Michael McGovern, BMW Charity Pro Am Tournament Director, mentioned that the competitive edge with sports stars doesn’t get lost as they get older. “You look at David Wells and how he handled the pressure when he was on the mound for the Yankees, complete pressure player and when the pressure is on the ties he can still do it, at his age today. He won the tournament last year, and the car, all at once!
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, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champion, is an avid golfer and, as one might imagine, he smashes the ball off the tee. There are few topics I love better than talking to legendary athletes about their passion for golf and what they bring to the game in their respective sport. Clemens shared that playing golf the day before and the day after his pitch took over, made him much more relaxed on the mound and was a welcome outlet for him on the road. He plays golf as often as he can but admits 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 (Blackish) and Brian Baumgartner (Office) were among the celebrities in the field this year. And yours truly is happy to report that I played better this year than last year. I made a few birdies and had my share of pars, net birdies. Most importantly at this point in my life as an amateur golfer, my putting tempo is much better. It just goes to show that practice might not be perfect in golf, but when you have time to practice, it really helps!
Ann Liguori is a pioneer in sports broadcasting. You can hear his “Talking Golf” show Sundays from 7-8 a.m. on WFAN-NY, his “Sports Innerview” show Saturdays from 7-8 a.m. on WLIW 88.3 FM, and his weekly podcasts on SI Golf/Morning Read . . For more information about Liguori, visit annliguori.com.
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