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Original Issue


"JUST RELAX," my caddie said to me encouragingly and without the
least bit of sarcasm. Relax? I was on the 1st tee of the
Tournament Players Club at Summerlin in Las Vegas on Oct. 16
with my four partners for the day: John Daly, the gifted bad boy
of golf; Darius Rucker, lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish,
the hottest band in the country; Richie Sambora, guitarist for
the famed New Jersey hair band Bon Jovi and husband of Melrose
Place vixen Heather Locklear; and Peter Morton, millionaire
owner of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Vegas, where I was
staying. Relaxing was not the issue. Staying upright was.

After what seemed an eternity, I summoned the strength to lift
my club. Then I swung down, actually making contact with the
ball, and through. "We have liftoff!" I exclaimed to myself.
Well, what we had was a pull hook, but I did get the ball in the
air. I wanted to quit right then, while I was ahead. I knew what
could happen.

In fact, a few days before, it had happened, on a public course
back home in New Jersey before I flew to Vegas to play in my
very first pro-am, Fairway to Heaven II, sponsored by the cable
music channel VH-1. It had been my only practice round before
the celebrity-filled event, and the results had not been
propitious: I lost three balls, dented my eight-iron on a rock
when I tried to chip out of the woods, and was nearly
decapitated by a wayward shot from an adjacent fairway. To top
it off, I shot the first 70 of my life--on the front nine.

All of which explained why, five days later and four hours
before teeing off in the pro-am, I had decided there was only
one thing to do: Make sure I picked a lucky golf cap to wear. I
settled on my old MIT cap from graduate school. The
cream-and-crimson-colored hat struck just the right note. If I
played decently--a huge if since I am a short, overweight female
reporter with a handicap close to five touchdowns--then I would
look kind of cool in the cap. But if I skunked, the lid would
provide a handy explanation for my ineptitude: I was a nerd,
probably never even played the game before.

Armed with my lucky cap, my 10-year-old Wilson starter set and a
dozen balls my father had given me from his found-ball
collection, I took the early shuttle to the TPC. Which was a
good thing, because it took me an hour to force myself out of
the clubhouse and onto the practice range. When I finally did, I
walked past Melrose Place's Daphne Zuninga and movie actor
Stephen Baldwin and found a place to swing between singers Amy
Grant and Alice Cooper (an inspired pairing if ever there was
one). With a pile of practice balls the size of Vesuvius beside
me, I began to hack away. I hacked absolutely every ball into
the ground. My caddie, Jim Bonnie, seemed stricken and quietly
urged, "Keep your head down, relax.... That was a little too
fast--just relax." I finally got a ball in the air, then a few
more. I was actually starting to feel comfortable when I
suddenly heard the announcement that my group was teeing off in
a few minutes. I took some quick putts on the practice green,
missing all but a one-footer.

The others in my group were nearby; Rucker and Daly were posing
for a photographer. I took a deep breath, walked over to my
partners and introduced myself. Daly took a few quick draws on a
cigarette before flicking it away. Soft-spoken and laid-back, he
was surprisingly warm. He remembered me, though not by name,
from a tournament I'd covered a month earlier. Rucker was, if
possible, even more laid-back. He is tall and stocky in a soft,
teddy-bearish kind of way--Winnie the Pooh with a goatee. When I
told him I was writing a story for SI, he said sincerely,
"That's cool."

I was feeling slightly sick to my stomach when I stumbled in a
haze toward the tee, negotiating my way through a small crowd
that had swallowed up Daly and Rucker just ahead. When I finally
arrived at the tee box, a large man wearing Oakleys and a scowl
stepped in front of me, raised his hand and intoned firmly but
politely, "Excuse me--players only through here." Head down, I
hesitated, thought about bolting for the parking lot, then kept
walking forward, muttering to the security guard as I passed,
"I'm a player." It sounded ridiculous, of course. I almost said
instead, "You're right. I'm an impostor. I promise to go
quietly." But I thought of the story I had to write. I thought
of the magazine. I thought of the hotel van not coming back for
another six hours.

The format was a scramble. Each player in a group hit his or her
own tee shot. Then each hit his or her second shot from the spot
where the best drive landed, and the third from the spot of the
best second shot, etc., until the ball was in the hole. My first
drive--that pull hook I mentioned earlier--landed on the downslope
of a mound to the left of the fairway and behind some trees. We
used Daly's 296-yard drive instead. I was the fourth player to
hit my second shot, a nice, high eight-iron that landed softly
in the center of the green, some 20 feet from the pin. Morton,
though, had played a beautiful fade and was only 15 feet away.
Rucker stepped up first to try the putt and drained it. Birdie
3. Only 10 minutes into the tournament and my team was already
on a roll.

At the par-4 2nd hole, I hit a decent tee shot about 180 yards
down the right side of the fairway, and my effort received a
smattering of applause from the gallery of 20 or 30 fans. We
used Morton's drive, some 25 yards beyond mine, but none of us
hit the green with our second shots--in fact, Sambora and Rucker
flat-out duffed theirs. Not even Daly got it onto the putting
surface, coming up short and to the left. It was Rucker, again,
who went first with his third shot, pitching in from 10 yards
out. Two holes. Two birdies. Daly yahooed; Sambora shook his
considerable hair in disbelief; I high-fived Hootie.

By the turn we had seven birdies, two of them off Rucker's
putter. I contributed a couple of missed putts, one near whiff
and a lost ball that disappeared into a rocky valley well short
of the green on the 163-yard par-3 5th hole. To make it worse, I
let the team down on this hole. None of the men had gotten his
tee shot onto the green, and when they turned to me, the last
player to hit, Daly implored, "Come on, Ame, we need you."
Seconds later my ball could be heard ricocheting among the rocks
below. I had never felt so low.

Coming up to the 10th we were all disappointed to have birdied
only seven holes on the front side. At least two other groups
were already under par in double digits. To break the tension,
Daly pulled out his putter on the tee and launched a drive that
landed, according to his own estimate, about 275 yards out. The
crowd cheered wildly for The Man. Daly downed what had to be his
12th Diet Coke of the day.

When I fluffed a fairway wood on my second shot on 10, Daly, who
had been watching, strolled up to me. "You know, Amy," the
British Open champion said solicitously, "you should choke up a
little on that club and hit it more off your left toe. And you
should start your swing with your weight already back on your
right foot, like this. That's what I do."

On the next tee he stood just a few feet away, watching, while I
lined up my driver off my left toe, planted my weight firmly on
my right foot and let it fly, hitting the ball absolutely flush
and striping my drive 205 yards down the right center of the
fairway. I was ecstatic, and I could tell Daly was pleased too.
After taking a prodigious gulp from his soda, he smiled, said,
"Yeah!" and gave me a high five. I thought the golfing gods had
never been so kind.

At the 13th I finally contributed a putt for the team, making a
five-footer for birdie. I was feeling pretty fine as we made our
way to the 14th hole. Rucker and I chatted about football; he
revealed that he has a Miami Dolphins logo tattooed on his right
hip. Daly said he once thought about having his scalp tattooed
with the words GRIP IT AND RIP IT but didn't because he knew he
would "just get suspended anyway."

When Daly drove the green on the short 288-yard par-4 15th, we
were all faced with a slippery, slightly downhill 22-foot putt
for eagle. Morton putted long; Sambora just missed left; Rucker
burned the right edge. It was left to me, then Daly. I stepped
up and felt curiously calm and confident. As the ball left my
putter it seemed to spin with perfect pace. I could feel the
ball being drawn inexorably to the hole. Dead-center perfect, it
dropped in. I raised my arms in a victory salute, feeling like
Jack Nicklaus when he won the '86 Masters. High fives all
around. I thought to myself, My life is complete. Unfortunately,
our round wasn't, so we played out the string, finishing the
tournament with a score of 14 under par, good enough to tie for
eighth place. The winning score was 19 under, shot by Paul
Azinger's team, which included country and western singer Vince
Gill and film actor Robert Wuhl.

I didn't care about not winning. It was enough to have gotten
golf tips from John Daly and heard all about Darius Rucker's
love affair with the Dolphins (and how they make him cry). And
it was enough to realize that on the fairway to heaven, pull
hooks, lost balls and putts that refuse to fall are more trifles
than tribulations when your partners are Hootie and The Man.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREG CAVABetween shots Daly gave the author a hand with her swing.[Amy Nutt and John Daly]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GREG CAVAAs Rucker took dead aim, (from left) Daly, Morton and the author were behind him all the way. [John Daly, Peter Morton, and Amy Nutt watching Darius Rucker hit golf shot]