When I told a friend I was playing in the ShopRite LPGA Classic Pro-Am, he chuckled and warned me about first-tee jitters.
He was right.
Thursday’s round was on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, where the actual tournament is being held. My group was paired with So Yeon Ryu, who just happens to be ranked in the Rolex Women’s Golf World Rankings and is No. 1 in the Rolex Player of the Year point race.
I’m more of a Timex-style golfer, the kind that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
There were a few dozen spectators watching when the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, first up on the tee, David Weinberg.”
There was actually some applause, which surprised me since none of my relatives were there.
When I got ready to hit, my only goal was to try not to “Covfefe” all over my Footjoys.
Somehow, I managed to knock one down the middle of the fairway.
“Nice drive,” said Ryu, who has now replaced Phil Mickelson as my favorite pro golfer.
More compliments followed during the round.
I drained three birdie putts for our team in our first nine holes, producing high-fives from my three amateur teammates and first-bumps and smiles from Ryu.
“Perhaps you can teach me to putt,” she said, prompting me to spit my bottled water all over my caddie.
That kind of experience is why the ShopRite Classic’s pro-am is easily the most popular in all three major tours.
According to tournament executive director Tim Erensen, 300 groups of five golfers — four amateurs and a pro —- participate over the course of the two-day event. No other pro-am on the LPGA, PGA or Champions Tours even comes close.
“We have a 99 percent retention rate,” Erensen said. “Once someone plays in our pro-am, they always come back. The ones that don’t return have either died or moved away.”
It’s extremely popular for several reasons.
First, everyone is given the royal treatment. Besides the golf, the highlight of the event is the pro-am party at Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa on Wednesday night. Professionals and amateurs mingle at Borgata’s Event Center, where there’s an open bar and amazing food.
The players themselves are what really makes it special, however.
I played my first round on Wednesday at Seaview’s Pines Course with Elena Robles, a former contestant on several editions of “The Big Break” on The Golf Channel.
Robles was a terrific host, offering a few swing tips and sharing some stories about former boyfriends that would make blue comedian Ron White turn red.
Thursday’s round with Ryu was first class all the way.
We all walked the course with caddies. Mine was a kid from Allentown, Pennsylvania, who cleaned my club after every shot, dutifully waded into knee-high fescue to find my Titleist a few times and never once complained about having to tote two bags — I shared a caddie with another amateur — for the second time that day.
Both Ryu and her longtime caddie Tom Watson — no, not that Tom Watson — were engaging, funny and made a point of interacting with every member of the group.
“I think I might be in second place,” I remarked after one of my drives landed about 50 yards behind Ryu’s.
“I think you might be in fifth place this time,” Ryu joked after I topped my drive on the next hole.
I’m definitely going to try to play again next year.
Hopefully, I’ll still be around, both literally and figuratively.
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)
609-272-7201 DWeinberg@pressofac.com Twitter @PressACWeinberg