In pro-am, Medford's Pinkham enjoys trip of lifetime
Barb Pinkham's magical week had barely begun when it started to get better and better.
The Medford insurance account executive had been offered a company spot several months earlier in the pro-am at this week's Travelers Championship, the PGA Tour event in Cromwell, Conn.
When her plane landed in Hartford, Conn., on Monday, and to her delight, Pinkham had a text message saying Ashland's Jason Allred had Monday qualified for the Travelers.
A few hours later, Pinkham learned that Sergio Garcia, the renowned Spaniard who is ranked eighth in the world, would be her pro-am partner.
"I won't even be able to swing my clubs!!" Pinkham texted.
And the festivities hadn't even started. The ensuing three days were a whirlwind:
Tuesday: attend a golf clinic by pro Stuart Appleby prior to a practice round at Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Rhode Island; play one hole with Dustin Johnson during the round; attend a dinner that included a question-and-answer session with moderator Chris Berman of ESPN and pros Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and Garcia; attend a George Lopez comedy show.
Wednesday: play the pro-am with Garcia; attend a dinner moderated by Frank Nobilo and featuring Jason Day, Zach Johnson and Garcia.
Thursday: attend Women's Day activities that include presentations by Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post and a cooking demonstration by chef Ming Tsai of TV fame; watch the first round of the tournament, with enviable access to Travelers' 360-degree corporate tent with views of the final four holes.
"It was a wild three days, let me tell you," Pinkham said Thursday evening as she and her husband, Don, drove to Boston for a few sightseeing days before returning home. "One I won't forget for a long time."
The lingering notion she was left with was the variety of commitments the pros have.
"It's just unbelievable," said Pinkham. "You don't appreciate the pros and what they go through until you do something like this. I'm sure they get paid money to do those things, but it's lot more than just playing golf. They're not just showing up and playing 18 holes."
Pinkham, who works for Brown & Brown Northwest, was offered the spot by her company's regional president.
"She wanted to bring an all-women's team down there," said Pinkham.
It was a team that would hold up quite well in the pro-am, but before they got to that point, there was Tuesday with Appleby and Johnson.
Appleby provided a few tips.
"He talked about being an amateur versus being a pro," she said. "He was a very good speaker. It was interesting to listen to him. His big thing for amateurs is, you really have to keep your balance. If you don't keep your balance, you really can't make your turn."
Johnson played a par 5 with the women and hit from their tees. His drive was in the 350-yard range. Pinkham was on in regulation and was actually inside Johnson, 8 feet from the hole to his 12.
He read her putt, "but I couldn't execute it," she said. "But he was on in two and he couldn't execute his eagle."
At dinner that evening, Kuchar asked how many in the crowd were playing the pro-am.
"We've seen it all," he said, urging the amateurs not to be nervous. "Go out and enjoy it, have a good time."
On Wednesday, Pinkham's team certainly had fun. There were morning and afternoon squads at TPC River Highlands, and hers placed second at 14 under par in the early session. Only Watson's team, which won by three shots, did better.
The format called for each player, including Garcia, to play their own ball. One net score on each hole was used. They used Garcia twice.
"Sergio only had two birdies, so the others came from us broads "¦ with all our strokes," said Pinkham.
Garcia and the other pros she interacted with were engaging and gracious, she said. Both Johnson and Garcia read putts for her.
"Sergio helped me line up putts, and I did the same thing with him that I do with my husband when we play," said Pinkham. "He read the putt and I go, 'Really?' What a stupid thing for me to say. He's the pro.
"Don always says I don't putt it where I'm looking anyway."
Garcia has had a roller-coaster relationship with fans, particularly in New York, where he famously feuded with obnoxious spectators at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in 2002. They mocked his lengthy pre-shot waggle as he repeatedly re-gripped the club, and he responded with a single-digit salute.
Pinkham, a golf fan and owner of a 15 handicap, was privy to his past.
"I would say I was probably never a fan of his," she said. "Everyone has heard or watched over the years on TV, where he wasn't the most pleasant person around. But you see people, and once they mature a little, it changes them."
"It was interesting," she said. "I remember the waggle. That's no longer there. He's still slow, but then I'm way too fast."
Garcia readily interacted and joked with Pinkham and her partners, she said. Even that night at a dinner function, when he was depressed over Spain's World Cup loss, he came upon his playing partners' table and greeted them with a kiss.
Pinkham found the pro-am to be nerve-racking. She struggled on the front nine in front of big crowds before settling down on the back.
Her best hole was No. 18. She striped her drive on the par 4 and heard Garcia say, "Barb, that's your best drive of the day."
She hit her third shot to 20 feet, then, she said, "I had my friend Sergio read my putt, and this time was able to execute ... and the crowd roared."
Then she left the course as the pros do, "up this steep hill between corporate tents and ropes, and people are looking at you and going 'great putt, great putt.' I'm thinking, 'Just get me outta here.'"
It didn't register until later in the round that her caddie had her name on his bib. Afterward, the players' names were removed and signed by their pros as a memento.
When the tournament rolled around, the Pinkhams watched Allred, who teed off on the back nine, come by the holes in view of the tent. He got off to a slow start and they hoped for him to turn it around, but to no avail.
Then they hit the road for Boston, no doubt relishing a chance to relax.
For the record, Johnson and Garcia clearly were inspired after playing alongside Pinkham and Co. Johnson opened with a pair of 66s, and Garcia shot 65 in the first round and 69 the next.
Both are in contention and likely have a few more fans in their camp.
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