It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 December, 2004, 12:00am

Professional golfers must love playing in pro-ams. Get in a stress-free round of golf and know the course a bit better, have a few laughs with a couple of hackers and then top it all off with an evening of dinner and drinks in a scenic Hong Kong harbour-front restaurant. Problem is some of the hackers can be real hackers, high-rollers who are actually playing their first or second round of golf but whose ego forbids them from admitting it. Talk about slow.

And then there are the ultra-competitive hotshots who can actually play and want to try to show up the pro by out-driving him.

That stress-free round? Forget it, the pro is usually too busy going over yardage and reading the greens with the caddie, especially when it's the first time he has seen the course.

The free meal and drinks are nice but every tourney the pro plays in puts on a nice spread, so nothing new here.

'It can seem a bit redundant,' says Welsh golfer Bradley Dredge. 'But I have to say that this one in Hong Kong is one of the best. Sometimes it takes six hours to play a pro-am round, here it was four hours.'

The pro-am of the Omega Hong Kong Open at Fanling has become so popular they actually need two days to play it and, on day two, Dredge draws the short straw and gets to tee off with me at 8.06am. Also joining in are Frank, who is in electronics, and Bill, who is an I.T. guy.

Nothing against Dredge, he is a rising star on the European tour and finished 18th in the order of merit the year before, but the big names like Nick Faldo, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez and China's Zhang Lianwei were teeing off at a far more reasonable hour with some of the top names in the local entertainment industry. Dredge is hardly chuffed.

He and his caddie Rick couldn't be more accommodating. When I mention that I have not played in over a month he tells me to relax and enjoy.

'Think about the good shots,' Dredge says, 'forget the bad ones.' Clearly, there will be a lot of forgetting today.

By the time we get to the third hole, I mention to Rick that this is already the longest I have gone in a round of golf without a beer break. 'I'm with you on that mate,' he says with a smile. A native of Manchester, Rick is now based in Thailand but travels the world with Dredge. 'Been on his bag for almost five years,' says Rick. 'Been doing this professionally for close to 10 years. Ah, it's a brutal job.

One screw-up and you're done. But there are only three rules for caddies: turn up, keep up and shut up.' Rick admits that his guy is as decent a pro as you could ask for, but still he takes nothing for granted. He scribbles furiously in his yardage book while tilting his compass like the most experienced mariner. And when I finally hit a good drive, Rick pokes me in the ribs and adds with a laugh, 'About time you did something, mate.'

Yeah, all good fun, at least in our group. A couple of amateurs playing behind us remark how their pro was not really engaged and said very little. But Brad seems to understand how blessed he is to be making a decent living out here. 'Beautiful day,' he keeps saying and he is right, it's a gorgeous morning at Fanling.

Back home in Cardiff it's cold and wet but Dredge still can't wait to get back for a two month break with family. Dredge is on the bubble, he will have to raise his game a bit to achieve his ultimate goal of making the European Ryder Cup team.

'The intensity is unmatched,' he says. He knows English Ryder Cup golfer Paul Casey fairly well and is amazed he could get caught up in a media firestorm by badmouthing Americans. 'Paul is a bright guy,' says Dredge. 'I think it was just a flippant comment that got blown out of control. But you have to be guarded with the media.'

For now Dredge has bigger issues, like solving Fanling's woeful greens. But his putter gets warm on the back nine and he start to roll in a string of birdies. 'We picked our pro well,' says Frank. I tell Brad that if he putts like this on the weekend, he's going to be bringing some hardware back to Wales. But somehow my putter must have got in his bag as he shoots four over par in the first two rounds and misses the cut.

Our pro-am team finishes much better at 11 under par, a competitive score. One problem though. 'Bandits,' says Brad. 'Good golfers showing up at pro-ams with high handicaps.'

That night at the dinner, some of the same Canto-Pop stars who seem to win every year, win again. And so I ask a tourney staffer why some of their golf games improve but their handicaps don't.

'One of the great mysteries of life, mate,' he says. 'One of the great mysteries.'