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Stars Lead By Example at the Galleri Classic in Rancho Mirage

By Tim Cotroneo

Playing in a Pro-Am can be unnerving, for even the steadiest golfer. Imagine walking up to the first tee of the Galleri Classic Pro-Am and discovering a two-time Masters champion is your playing partner. Adding to the excitement of this moment, you notice the most swashbuckling player on the Champions Tour is playing in the group behind you.

As you try to compose yourself, a golf hall of famer walks by followed by a contingent of fans. The man known as Mister Cool stops to take a few practice swings and showcase his smooth as butter follow through. The amateur pauses, admires the swing, and thinks it’s okay to dream.

Rubbing elbows with this heady golf company is a lot for an amateur to digest, especially once he realizes his drive on the 450-yard, Par 4’s first hole is just minutes away. The good news is this is all happening in a blue-sky weather setting that is Rancho Mirage paint-by-numbers perfect.

The Build Up to Your Round of Rounds

The excitement for the amateur playing in a Pro-Am is a feeling that builds to a crescendo. A cavalcade of thoughts goes through one’s head. How is your game leading up to the event, who will your playing partners be, and is there a certain protocol for this round compared to playing with your pals back home?

The three-day Galleri Classic event is held at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Golf Club  located about 10 miles southeast from Palm Springs. The Dinah Shore course was previously home to 50 years of LPGA golf history, with a Who’s Who of women’s golf standing in the winner’s circle.

For the second year running, the PGA Champions Tour is flexing its senior muscles in the Palm Springs region. Hundreds of volunteers combine forces to make sure this March event runs like clockwork. The energy level is on high alert as the amateurs arrive on the evening before the Pro-Am for something called the Pairings Party.

Playing with One of the Best

There’s a buzz in the air as the amateurs arrive on the patio separating the Mission Hills two-story clubhouse from the practice green which is adorned with one dozen international flags. The wide-eyed amateurs discover there’s delicious food, your favorite beverage, music, and even John Daly decked out in pants featuring every color in the rainbow.

Someone points out a giant barcode sign to the left of the band. At 7 pm, there’s an announcement that if you take a photo of the barcode, the tee times and the professional you’ll be playing with is revealed.

An amateur from Minnesota is elated to learn that he’ll be playing with Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal. This 23-time winner on the European Tour, and two-time Masters champ, is known for owning one the finest short games in the history of golf. On the day of the Pro-Am, the Minnesotan and his playing partners will also find that Olazabal is as congenial a professional athlete as you’ll ever find on the planet.

A Green Reader Extraordinaire

The Mission Hills Dinah Shore Tournament Course was designed by Desmond Muirhead and opened in 1971. On that year, the pro tour average driving distance was 270-yards. Last year Stewart Cink led the Champions Tour with an average driving distance of 304 yards. So how does the Dinah Shore Course continue to challenge and compete?

The greens at the Dinah Shore run at 12 on the Stimpmeter. These greens also feature more undulations than a Beyonce music video. The Champions Tour professionals thrive on lightning-fast greens. But for those who’ve never come close to wearing a green jacket, where do we turn when a 30-foot putt includes a roller coaster between you and the flagstick?

The amateurs will learn there’s help on the way from none other than Jose Maria. The World Golf Hall of Famer offered tips on where the break should be, and advice on how to lightly massage the golf ball on a downhill left to right break. Between holes, the amateurs expressed quiet gratitude amongst themselves for Olazabal’s generosity. Early on they noted that this would be a round to remember.

Finish with a Flourish

It’s hard not to appreciate the picturesque conditions that accompany the start-to-finish Mission Hills Golf Club experience. Guests are welcomed by a half-mile, palm-tree-lined entrance, an impressive clubhouse, indoor/outdoor dining, plaques commemorating the course’s star-studded history, and a flower-rich landscape that makes the course pop with color. The Dinah Shore Tournament Course is a must-play when visiting the golf mecca that is Palm Springs.

Looking back, the amateurs lucky enough to draw Olazabal as their professional will remember the Galleri Classic as their moment in the sun. As for the golfer from Minnesota, something grand would occur on the closing hole. 

The Dinah Shore’s 18th green is legendary for Poppie’s Pond, a lake where many LPGA winners would take a televised dive after hoisting the winner’s trophy. On this day, Olazabal pointed to a spot on the green where he thought the amateur’s putt would break on a 50-footer. The Minnesotan’s putt rolled true to this exact spot and seconds later the ball dropped faithfully into the hole. The smiling amateur locked eyes with a beaming Olazabal. It was hard to tell who was happier, the teacher or the student.


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