November 11, 2008, 10:00 AM PST (UPDATED Nov 12) –Nine of the best golfers in the world, as this is written, are playing Rio Secco Golf Club (pictured), one of the best Las Vegas golf courses, while competing in the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge. This Las Vegas golf tournament pits three-player teams from the LPGA Tour, PGA Tour, and Champions Tour against each other in a team format, but a lot of it is fun and so far five players have shattered glass Big Break style, and Fred Funk saw first hand how Rocco Mediate 'intimidated' Tiger Woods at this summer's U.S. Open.
(UPDATE: The Champions Tour team won the event, giving that tour its sixth win in the 18-year history of the event. The Champions Tour team split while the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour teams tied and split $250,000 for each team. The event will be televised on Dec. 13-14 on ABC. The event reportedly raised $3.7 million for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.) While the actual professional competition of the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge is competed over one day, the entire experience for the sponsors, pros and amateurs takes place over several days with tournaments being played at some of the other best Las Vegas golf courses including Bear's Best Las Vegas and Cascata (the sister course to Rio Secco Golf Club.) And following the official Pro-Am event at Rio Secco Golf Club on Monday, the nine pros gathered at the Butch Harmon School of Golf to mingle and also film a clinic for the Golf Channel with elements from the Big Break series used during the segment.
The following are the players competing in the 2008 Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge: The LPGA Tour team is made up of Lake Las Vegas Resort resident Natalie Gulbis, Christie Kerr and Helen Alfredsson, the Champions Tour is Fred Funk, Jay Haas and Nick Price, and the PGA Tour is represented by Rocco Mediate, Stewart Cink and Kenny Perry. During the competition, the pros from each team tee off on different tee boxes to make up for the difference in driving distance among the three tours. The staggered tee boxes help ensure a level playing field for all competitors.
At the end of the clinic, each player shattered a pane of glass adorned with The Golf Channel logo in a skills competition based on The Big Break, where aspiring golfers play against each other in a reality-show format. Las Vegas' own Butch Harmon was on hand as co-host for the clinic, while The Golf Channel's Steve Sands was the master of ceremonies. In the first segment, Alfredsson, Gulbis, Price and Perry demonstrated several different elements of the golf swing, with the long and tall Alfredsson showing her big length off the tee. She said that when amateurs watch her hit the ball as far as she does, many men say that they want to start "Hitting the ball like a girl." Alfreddson won two tournaments during the 2008 LPGA Tour season including the presitigious Evian Masters, an event her LPGA Tour teammate Gulbis won in 2007.
Perry, a member of the victorious United States Ryder Cup team, was given the role of trying to hit three different clubs into about a 10'x10' box located 150 yards down the driving range, thus forcing him to dip way into his bag of tricks. He was forced to hit a fade, something that is pretty much foreign territory for the hook-hitting Kentuckian. "Nobody in the world thinks I can hit a fade," Perry said to the television and live audience, drawing laughter. But then he hit a nice fade and was successful dropping shots with his 7, 8 and 9-iron very close to the box, including his first shot, a picture-perfect 9-iron that was center cut all the way.
Price then showed how he controls his ball flight and said that one of the big reasons he enjoys the game is because of the way players have to 'work' the ball and create different shots to be successful. "Golf is a game played in the air and on the ground, and I love that," said Price, who also commented before the clinic that he spends as much time in Las Vegas as possible. Harmon was very impressed with Price's swings, and mentioned that it was a nearly flawless demonstration about how to control the flight of the golf ball.
Gulbis was the final pro to show her stuff during the first segment, and was left to answer the question of how a player can deal with pressure when the going gets tough. Moments before appearing on camera, Gulbis gulped some hot tea provided by a Lake Las Vegas Resort neighbor, and when she was asked how she deals with the pressure of having to answer a question about how to deal with pressure, she smiled and said, "Embrace the moment … and don't forget to breathe!". With that Gulbis went on camera and told the audience that the reason she plays the game is to get into pressure situations, and that the best thing a nervous person can do is to "Remember to breathe."
Gulbis was then the first pro to take a shot at the glass, narrowly missing on her first few tries. But when a fellow pro suggested that she "breathe", Gulbis stepped back, took a deep breath, and then shattered the glass with her next shot. The other three pros then joined her in breaking the glass, with the steely Price being the only one to be successful on his first shot. Not to be out done, Funk snuck onto the set and quickly shattered some glass of his own. The other five pros then filmed some short game segments at another part of the Harmon facility.
And just a short while ago on a perfect Las Vegas golf morning, the nine pros descended onto the range at Rio Secco Golf Club to prepare for the actual tournament where a purse of $1 million was on the line. The conversation was lively among the pros, who were watched intently by legendary golfer and ABC Television broadcaster Andy North. "The competition level is very good at this event because they do a great job of creating a situation where the teams are hitting the same clubs into the greens, and they have done a very good job at that over the years," said North, who has covered the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge for several years. "Anytime you tee it up as a player you may start the day with laughs and giggles, but then you get into it and you get upset if you hit a bad shot and let your team down. And that is something different that the players aren't as used to because this is a team game, and that's always in the back of their mind, especially on a course in the desert like this where a bad hole can really hurt the team."
The second group of the day was Gulbis, Mediate and Funk, and following Mediate's shortish but straight tee shot, Funk bounded to the tee and said, "Now I see why Tiger was intimidated!". The sarcastic comment was in reference to Mediate's sensational runner-up finish at this year's U.S. Open when he took Woods to a 19-hole playoff. "And Tiger is still intimidated!" Mediate playfully responded. "He's still in hiding!" Gulbis then knocked one down the middle from a shorter tee, and the 2008 Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge was officially underway. The only questions left to decide were whether the LPGA Tour could defend their title, and who would have the most fun.
"We are very pleased to be the host course for the next couple years and to support such a wonderful cause such as the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption," said Eric Dutt, VP of Golf Operations, Las Vegas, for Harrah's Entertainment, the owners of Rio Secco Golf Club and Cascata. "And it is very nice to have nine world class players out here playing Rio Secco, and it is an event that is generating some interest in the community based on the people I see out here today. And in the eight-and-a-half years that I have been here, the course is in the best shape that I have ever seen it, and we have worked hard to get it to this point."