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December 06, 2001

ESPN The Magazine: Tee party
By Gene Wojciechowski

The Highlands Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club, site of the 83rd PGA Championship (Aug. 16-19), has brought tough guy Eddie George not only to his knees, but to his 12-pack stomach, to his turf-burned elbows, to his rock quarry-hard chin. There he is, to the horror of AAC members gazing from the windows of the stately clubhouse, stretched facedown on the 18th green, his borrowed Ping My Day putter held in his shoebox-size hands like a cue stick. Make the slightly uphill five-footer and he breaks 144. Miss it and ... shame.

Tuesday, Aug. 14
The 17th hole was particularly interesting because it overlooks a huge lake and you have to gauge the distance going downhill. It can be a bit tricky.

Even though I was sworn to secrecy, Eddie George is in Nashville and I'm in Bristol so I can tell you this without fear of bodily harm -- make that immediate fear.

Anyway, Eddie hit the equivalent of a small bucket of range balls while trying to get the ball on the 17th green. I reminded Eddie that there is a drop area. Then I realized this was probably not the best time for me to be telling Eddie what to do. So we just kept emptying out our bags of stray balls to let Eddie prove that he could hit it over the water - which, he never did.

But he certainly gave it an effort of "Tin Cup" proportions and we're proud of him for that. Though it would probably cost him a small signing bonus to repay us for all the golf balls we served up to him.

Five hours earlier, George was still a football god, the NFL's leader in rushing yards since 1997, a player so oblivious to pain he has started 80 straight games -- and an obvious choice for the Second ESPN The Mag Celebrity Mulligan Classic, which this year focuses on the PGA Championship.

So what if Eddie arrived 13 minutes before the early-afternoon tee time? Who cares if he used borrowed clubs? Big deal that he didn't hit a ball on the range, roll a putt on the practice green or have a clue about the Highlands Course layout. It's golf, right? Ray Lewis isn't hiding behind a ball washer, ready to drive his helmet through Eddie's spleen, is he? So how tough could it really be?

Yes, well, that was before Eddie and the fellas met the ghost of AAC original member Bobby Jones, before they got a whiff of course architect Rees Jones' redesign, before they met the ball-eating Bermuda rough that was already 30 inches deep and isn't due for a buzz cut until after this year's PGA champion is crowned. No wonder George needed a hug on the 18th.

This year's ESPN The Mag Celeb 4 contained a breathtaking array of golf talent: Dan Patrick. ESPN SportsCenter anchor and radio show host, man of a thousand haircuts, former college hoops player, pretty boy. A charter member of the group, Patrick took part in last year's pre-U.S. Open Celebrity Mulligan Classic at Pebble Beach, where he shot a highlight show-quality 82 and, even more incredibly, did it after claiming he played to a 12 handicap, which would have prompted an official inquiry at most clubs. This time Patrick showed up with a more believable 9, but made sure to mention he was tweaking his swing and, well, who knew what was going to happen out there. Whatever.

Kordell Stewart. Steelers QB and offseason Atlanta resident, fresh from a recent celebrity golf tourney in Lake Tahoe, where he shot an opening-round 104, followed by 95 and 90. "But I beat Charles," he says, referring to the Great Barkley, whose swing looks like a huge fast-twitch muscle gone nuts. Barkley played in last year's Foursome at Pebble, recorded an FM station number (100) yet somehow finished second in medalist honors to Patrick. Stewart, a supposed 15, takes his place.

Mike Mills. Bass player and keyboardist for R.E.M., but also a serious, longtime golf wonk from nearby Athens and the only member of the Celeb 4 to show up wearing pressed long pants, just like the pros. The man loves the game so much -- he's been to the last couple of Ryder Cups -- he doesn't seem to care that it's hotter than a Malaysian jungle.

Eddie George. Titans running back who's playing his fourth round of golf ... ever. That would be okay if this were a Nashville par-3 muni. But this is the ever-loving AAC, where the Highlands Course measures 7,213 yards from the tips and will play to par 70 for the PGA (thanks to only two par 5's) but 72 for our guys. At Highlands there are more trees than Georgia-Pacific can swing a chain saw at. Water comes into play on eight holes. And you need a tracking satellite to find your ball in the rough.

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