The Best Job in Golf? A Playing Marker
Dec. 1, 2014
My first tee jitters came on the second hole of the USGA Four-Ball Championship qualifying at Poppy Hills, as I hastily loosened up my shoulders with Michael Angel Jimenez-like gyrations.
Less than 15 minutes earlier, I had been walking the halls of the NCGA on a Monday morning, when I was stopped half way.
“Are you slammed today?” Assistant Rules and Competitions Director Ryan Farb asked me.
As I fumbled around with an answer, Farb threw out this carrot: “Want to be a playing marker?”
“Yes!” I reflexively responded. “What time do you need me?”
“9:30 a.m.” Farb said before jumping on his radio to confirm my acceptance.
I checked my phone. It was 9:32 a.m.
I flew out the door to my trunk, grabbed my clubs and jammed on my golf shoes. By 9:35 a.m. I was catching a cart ride to meet the four-ball team I would be playing with: Dash Lindsell and Andrew Tilton.
They were supposed to be playing with Tianlang Guan, the Chinese golf prodigy who qualified for the Masters at the age of 14.
But he didn’t make his tee time. Instead, they were stuck with lowly me, a 4 handicap who last played competitive golf at Stevenson School as a senior in 2003.
Talk about a letdown.
I walked with Dash and Andrew the rest of the first hole, catching up on their playing background (both recent college grads) through small talk, and sneaking in windmill motions when they weren’t looking.
There was already a group back-up on the par-3 second, which meant by the time I hit my first shot, I would have a small gallery made up of the group behind us. Playing in that group?
Just Tim Mickelson, current Arizona State golf coach and brother of Phil.
Dash and Andrew smoothly stuck their shots onto the intimidating green, before I proceeded to bend a wild hook onto the cart path left of the green.
Which one of these three is not like the other?
It was safe to say that I wouldn’t be impersonating Honululu’s Brent Grant and shooting a 63 on my own ball. And I wasn’t about to beat Rory McIlroy.
All kidding aside, stepping in as a playing marker is one of the best gigs in golf. I got to play a championship setup, hit all the fun shots, play with a go-for-broke four-ball mentality, all without having to grind over any 3 footers.
Maybe that’s why you didn’t hear a curse word out of me all day. And I was paid to play!
Does that mean I’ve lost my amateur status?
How Poppy Hills Played With a USGA Setup
But the best part of playing as a marker today was checking out how Poppy Hills held up against amateur golf’s gorillas who mash the ball 350 yards.
I was certainly the Corey Pavin of the group, with Dash obliterating his drives. On the fourth hole, Dash carried his drive more than 300 yards over the waste bunker before going for the green with an iron from 260 out. And with the tees moved all the way up to the 1 Poppies on No. 8 at 326, Andrew carved a fade over the trees that finished 5 yards short of the greenside bunker.
I even had some fun on the 291-yard 14th, hoisting a driver over the trees and putting my tee shot into the back bunker.
But even with the risk-reward scoring opportunities that were created through the setup, Poppy Hills was a stout test. The scoring average for the 92 players was 75.045 on a layout that stretched to just 6,684 yards. Only 26 of the 46 teams shot par or better, despite soft greens that were more receptive than anything our members have seen since Poppy Hills reopened, and hole locations that weren’t especially barricaded.
Only about half the holes tipped out all the way back to the Jones Trail tees, while there was a nice variety shots on the par 3s, and two separate drivable par 4s. The low team score was an 8-under 63 by Mickelson and Jake Yount, who ham-and-egged it with nine birdies and one bogey. (But they could have used my birdies on Nos. 6 and 14!) It was a funny weather day — I put on sunscreen on the fourth tee and was hiding in the trees during a downpour by the middle of the fifth hole — but the rain made scoring conditions pretty prime.
And while my competitive days are behind me, the format is immensely fun — so much so that I would consider playing next year if I could find a ringer to take me.
I will certainly watch the championship at Olympic Club next May with great interest.
And maybe I’ll bring my clubs up there…just in case.