PGA Tour Viking Classic – Madison, MS

It was a long drive for a Monday pro-am and watching a divots all week. I caught the 11 0’clock ferry Sunday morning and pulled into Annandale CC about 10:30 Monday morning. The pro-am went off as scheduled with carts on path only because of wet conditions; it was the only thing that went off as scheduled all week. We decided, well Willie decided, to walk the course. I was a tired puppy when I showed up at my in-laws by marriage, Brad and Joni Garrison, that night.

Rain had been falling on the Jackson, MS area for the last month, and the clay foundation Nicklaus built this course on in 1981 had turned to Mississippi mud. We tried to play a practice round Tuesday morning but rain started falling late morning, cancelled our practice round after four holes, but we did hit the rock pile for the rest of the afternoon. Willie’s teacher, Justin Poynter with the Jim McLean school, was in town so we worked hard the next couple of days.

Willie didn’t hit it very well during the pro-am and hadn’t played a competitive round in about a month so the practice was needed. When it’s just player and caddy on the range there is a lot more interaction, but when the instructor is around it’s time to stay out of the way, maybe ask a few discreet questions, and leave them to their work.

Some of it gets a bit technical and I try to get a layman’s grasp on what they’re working on so I can pick up swing faults and tendencies during the round. The instructor notices minor swing flaws standing behind the player with a camera in hand and replaying it; it’s a bit different during the round when you’re facing the swing and you only get to watch thirty full shots with your naked eye. A good caddy, after he has been with a player for awhile, will notice subtle changes in ball position, posture, and alignment. A quick mention of a slight swing fault early in the round can save a bunch of strokes.

Our junior pro-am was rained out Tuesday. What a shame, the local high school kids had worked hard all year to earn their spot alongside a pro for nine holes. Willie, as a past champion and sponsor’s exemption, was obligated but we were actually looking forward to playing with the kids. There have been many lifelong friendships develop from these junior pro-ams; the pros make a special effort and the kids really appreciate it.

My in-laws live across the street from Annandale CC at Reunion GC, a newer more challenging design than the tournament course, and an easy commute for me. Apparently the owner of Reunion wasn’t allowed membership at Annandale so he built his course directly across the country highway, and put his maintenance area in front of Annandale’s main entrance. The feud has been going on awhile and during the week many of the pros played their practice rounds across the street.

Reunion has a 4-6 inch sand cap over its clay base and 260 drains. Annandale has no sand and only 16 drains throughout the course; there’s part of the reason we didn’t play any golf this week. Mother Nature was cruel but if the Annandale membership had addressed the drainage issue awhile back we’d have played this week.

Rain delays are no fun and there has only been one other tournament cancelled in PGA Tour history. This was the first time nobody hit a shot. It was rather strange because it was warm and sunny Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and when the tournament was washed out officially Willie was across the street playing Reunion. If we continue at Annandale the drainage problems will have to be addressed.

We passed the time beating balls, eating from the Viking grills, watching a couple of good stymie games on the putting green, and telling stories about other rain delayed tournaments. Golf Channel and XM Radio announcers were everywhere looking for a story to fill airtime. Years ago a caddy holiday would have been spent in a local watering hole, and maybe the other side of the tee time did just that, but we had to be out there early every morning only to be sent home after three or four hours of delays.

It’s a shame for the Jackson, MS area. This is the big event of the year and Viking Company, a manufacturer of high end kitchen equipment, does a great job hosting the event. There are no pro sports teams around, this is it for the year, and there was always a large gallery. The locals support this tournament tremendously it’s too bad Mother Nature and poor drainage took it away this year.

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