Golfing for $250K, duffers hit hazards

Pressure-filled show filmed in Ocean City

May 13, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

BISHOPVILLE -- John Rosinski has difficulty breathing.

His hands are clammy.

And he's just carrying clubs, not swinging them.

Rosinski caddies in the St. Joseph Pressure Challenge, a reality show that will air on CBS tomorrow and next Saturday.

Over three days last month at the Links at Lighthouse Sound, across Assawoman Bay from Ocean City, the network had David Feherty, Bill Macatee and what had to seem like 8 zillion cameras on hand for the 26 men and three women who took dead aim at $250,000.

Nine consecutive pars are required to claim that big prize, cash accumulates on each hole and a bogey means elimination. Handicaps of 8 or higher are eligible, which precludes a low-handicapper like Rosinski, a four-time club champion at nearby Ocean Pines.

CBS invited print reporters to view the proceedings, without disclosing particulars, so let's just say that Rosinski draws a good bag, toting for Brice Mindrum, a 33-year-old check processing manager from Utah who admits that his handicap dropped since his initial audition.

"If you had a chance to kick a field goal for a million bucks at halftime of the Super Bowl, wouldn't you practice every chance you got?" Mindrum says. "Before casting call, I was hitting balls every day, on my lunch hour and after work. When I learned I made the cut to come here, I told my boss I needed three weeks off. Hit a lot of balls, a lot of days when I played 36 holes."

Mindrum feels considerable stress on Day 1, when nine of the final 29 are eliminated in a closest-to-the-pin contest. Sherry Brodie, a fourth-grade reading teacher from New Jersey, stiffs a 7-iron to less than three feet, but her prize is being the first on the course the next morning.

"On the weekend," Brodie asks, "doesn't the leader get to go last?"

Everyone is playing with house money, something Rick Weber experiences every waking moment.

Weber, 49, got a degree from Towson University, went into the restaurant business here and manages the Bonfire on Ocean Highway. On a motorcycle vacation in New Zealand in 2001, Weber lost control, consciousness and most of his left leg. Weber is an 11 handicap, despite a prosthesis that has the toe on his shoe several inches off the ground on address.

"Not to sound arrogant, but I've faced pressure," Weber says. "This is just golf. Whether I take your money or you take mine, at the end of the day, we're going to sit together and spend it on a drink."

Those who stress over paying for snakes (3-putts) with their Saturday foursome do not get past the screeners from Golf magazine, which received 1,100 online applications for the show. That number was whittled through what amounted to screen tests.

Introverts need not apply. Ken Barnes, a loan officer from Arizona, looks as if he's auditioning for the WWE after he cracks a big tee shot on No. 1. Everyone plays solo, accompanied by a gallery, those omnipresent cameras, Feherty and a Worcester County sheriff guarding a vital prop, a Plexiglas attache holding all that money.

"It's just as easy," says Bill Herbst, who owns the Hacienda, another Ocean City restaurant, "to hit a good shot as it is a bad one."

Like Brodie, Herbst doesn't last long.

"It's always been an incredibly difficult game," Feherty says. "Then you put people on the ropes and an [obnoxious] TV person like me alongside you. ... "

Listen to Feherty chat up Azam Baig, and you discover that the cadence of Irish and Pakistani lilts are remarkably similar.

Baig is a pediatrician with a large practice in Annapolis. He played cricket and tennis in his native Pakistan, and didn't swing a golf club until his son, now a University of Maryland freshman, began to play. A quick study, Baig plays out of South River but holds memberships elsewhere.

"I'm a member at Pinehurst, and volunteered at the [U.S.] Open last year," Baig says. "You see a tour player miss and ask, `How can you not make a 3-foot putt?' Then you get out here and find out."

Players are allowed lifelines in the form of strategic advice from teaching pro Brian Mogg and three mulligans, no more than one per hole. Baig uses one on No. 2, after a toddler babbles on his backswing. On day three, Baig collects e-mail addresses, recruiting for what he calls "man trips."

Several of his new friends have a working knowledge of aerodynamics. Weber was an Air Force brat. Mike Sczepanik, at 60 the oldest contestant, worked ground support for the Air Force in the Vietnam War. Rosinski, whose local knowledge helps Mindrum, is an airline pilot.

The prize money doubles with each par, as a player can earn $2,500 on No. 2, $15,000 on No. 5 and $125,000 on No. 8. Players can decline to move to the next tee at any time and walk off with their winnings. Those who get to the sixth tee are guaranteed $10,000, but a bogey before that makes winnings vanish.

"I know it looks cool, going down like Tin Cup," says Steve Poppe, 44, a financial planner from Arizona, "but I wanted to leave here a winner."

Mindrum, a husband and father of two young children who says he lacked "mental toughness" when he played collegiate golf for Weber State, finds a solution to that all-or-nothing dilemma.

"Any indecision on any tee," Mindrum said, "I'm gonna quit."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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