Extra Points: ShopRite Classic Pro-Am Always Fun
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The crowd gathered around the first tee of the Pines Course at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club roared when the starter announced that "Dave Weinberg" was on the first tee Wednesday morning at the ShopRite LPGA Classic Pro-Am.
Actually, there was no crowd. And there was no roar. But it was still a cool feeling.
I've always been a big fan of the ShopRite LPGA Classic, especially since I first began participating on the Pro-Am in 2017. It's by far the largest pro-am on any professional golf tour, with approximately 300 groups of five - four amateurs and a pro - spread out over two days on Seaview's Bay and Pines Courses along with nearby Galloway National.
And whether you're a scratch golfer or can't break 100, tournament organizers and sponsors give you the first-class treatment. Besides the golf, there's the after-party at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which this year was held outdoors near the pool at the beer garden.
Despite its popularity and success, however, the ShopRite Classic tournament was not mentioned in a Golf Magazine column on pro-ams that appeared in its July/August issue. That prompted me to send a "Letter to the Editor" that appeared in the September/October edition.
I alluded to my first trip to the after-party four years ago, where I grabbed a margarita, headed to a table and saw a couple guys with plates stacked with Tater Tots.
"At what other Pro-Am can you find a Tater Tots station?!" I wrote.
Because of its size, tournament officials recruit players from outside the LPGA Tour to put the "Pro" in the Pro-Am.
In addition to the 132 players who are competing in the ShopRite Classic this weekend, the fields also featured current and former members of the Symetra Tour, former college players, and others from the golf industry such as social media star Paige Spiranac, who boasts 3.2 million followers on Instagram and nearly 473,000 followers on Twitter.
In past years, I was paired with former "The Big Break" contestant Elena Robles, top-ranked LPGA star So Yeon Ryu, former UCLA golfer Brittany Mai and LPGA tour veteran Julieta Granada.
So Yeon Ryu, no doubt remembering my putting tips during our round in 2017, fired a 6-under 65 to take the early lead in Friday's first round of the actual tournament.
This year, my group, which included 97.3 ESPN host Mike Gill and former TV-40 sports anchor Pete Thompson, was paired with Jennifer Neville. Jennifer, who lives in Tampa, Florida, played collegiate golf at St. John's University and spent a couple seasons toiling on the Symetra Tour before taking up a career as a social influencer and celebrity astrologer on Instagram and TikTok.
"It started out as just something to do for fun," she said. "But it's really blown up in the last few years."
We didn't play especially well - my excuse was a cortisone shot I received in my aching left knee a day earlier - but we had a good time.
Jennifer's shoulders probably could have used one after carrying us for 18 holes. We used her drives on almost all of the par 4s and 5s, though one of us would occasionally channel our inner Bryson DeChambeau and put one in the fairway. Most of our drives, however, ended with our forecaddie Tommy trudging into the woods to retrieve them.
Pete drained a couple of birdie putts, and Mike also had some nice shots, and I managed to stick a 140-yard approach about 5 feet from the pin on the par-4 11th hole, thus putting me in the running to win a "Mocktails" gift basket.
I don't know if it was because the stars or the moons didn't align - I forgot to ask Jennifer - or if it was because we didn't play well, but we finished with a 5-under 66.
Normally, that's not a bad score, but in pro-ams - where you don't count anything worse than par - it's much closer to the bottom of the leaderboard than the top. Consider that Paige Spiranac's group led the way at 16-under 55.
But as always, the after-party made up for it.
Much to my dismay, there was no Tater Tots station, but I made due by piling a half-dozen toppings on a golden mound of mac-and-cheese, followed by a couple margaritas.
I don't know if it was because of the cortisone or the tequila, but my knee stopped hurting.