Part 2: Wirth a Shot? | See Part 1: Praying for Water Hazards
It was a dream come true for Elite Series angler Kevin Wirth when he received an invitation to play as an amateur during the Children's Miracle Network Classic, the seventh and final event in the PGA Fall Series. Wirth tested his golfing meddle against the best in the game at Walt Disney World's Palm and Magnolia courses, and proved that he can drive a golf ball just as well as he can sling a spinnerbait.
"This has been just awesome!" the Kentucky pro said.
"To watch the intensity with which these guys play, and see the techniques they use and the focus they have — it was just inspiring," he continued.
It was so inspiring, in fact, that Wirth ended up 21 under par for the two-day event, tied for fourth place out of the 128 amateurs that played. (Wirth shot 8 under par Day 1 and 13 under par Day 2 in a best-ball format.)
In order to be considered for a spot on the amateur side of a PGA pro/am, a golfer has to have no worse than an 18 handicap. Wirth's handicap is 8, and he only plays two months out of the year.
"I've played golf ever since I can remember, but about 10 years ago I became serious about my game. I met a guy that said I might be able to make the Senior Tour if I really worked at it, so I did. The first two years of lessons I never even took a complete swing!" Wirth explained.
Now, though, his lessons are relegated to the two-month Elite Series offseason.
"It's tough to go from flipping a baitcaster to making a chip shot. There are certain things that you do with your wrist while fishing that will absolutely kill you when you have a nine iron in your hand. But, after I knock the rust off and get my golf muscles back in working order, my game seems to come around fairly quickly."
When comparing his PGA experience to that of a fishing tournament, Wirth said, "The mental aspect is very similar. I visualize a cast on the water, and I visualize a shot on the fairway. When you make a bad shot, it's much like making a mistake on the water, you just simply have to shrug it off or the rest of your day is blown."
As for comparing the physicality of the two sports, fishing is much more demanding.
"A full day on the water is much tougher that 18 holes of golf. The number of casts a pro makes may be 10 to 20 times the number of club swings — if you are playing well," Wirth grinned.
When asked if he might seriously consider the Senior Tour based on his success at this PGA event, a broad smile appeared on his face.
"Well, I'm not sure where my fishing career might end up, but I'm not in any rush to play professional golf. Once I'm done fishing, though, and if I can get a couple years of solid playing under my belt, I'd dang sure give it a try if I can qualify."
Comparing his success to the amount he gets to practice now, he can bet it'd be worth a shot.
As far as I am concerned, God made golf courses because the water hazards become fantastic bass ponds. As a matter of fact, many Bassmasters catch the biggest bass of their lives out of these well fertilized, hardly pressured fish factories. Evidently, though, there are plenty of PGA pros and at least one Elite Series angler that appreciate the short, well manicured grass surrounding these micro fisheries.
That one Elite Series pro is Kentucky angler Kevin Wirth. He was invited this week to participate in a PGA Tour event, the Children Miracle Network Classic, being contested on Walt Disney Resorts Palm and Magnolia courses.
"I was invited down by Greg Waldron, manager of Fishing Operations for Walt Disney World. Greg was given a spot, and he offered it to me because he knew I played quite a bit."
In case you are a fan of chasing the little white balls around (and sometimes in) the water hazards, to be considered for an amateur you have to have no worse than an 18 handicap.
"I have an 8 handicap, and I really only get to play about two months out of the year, when the Elite Series is shut down," Wirth explained
"I've been playing golf seriously for 10 years now. It's my second passion after bass fishing. When I'm not on the water, I'm on the golf course!"
This PGA event, though, has been by far the most competitive environment Wirth has experienced in the golf world. How does the pressure of hitting a perfect golf shot in front of pros and an audience compare to finding and catching bass on the Elite Series trail?
"Man, it's so similar. You have to be so mentally focused on what you are doing. I was pretty nervous starting off the first day, and my first two holes suffered because of it. But once I relaxed a bit, I started making good shots."
One similarity between professional golf and professional bass fishing is the fact that many bystanders do not qualify either activity as a sport. So, which is most physically demanding: A full day walking the fairways chasing the little white ball, or a full day casting, chasing the little green fish?
"Fishing is far more physically demanding. However, if a round of golf lasted eight hours, it might be a different story," he admitted.
And although it was a thrill for Wirth to be rubbing elbows with some of golf's greatest players during one of their biggest events of the year, was there at least a little attention paid to those bass-holding water hazards of the Palm and Magnolia courses?
"Man, it was tough to ignore those ponds. And as a matter of fact, I'll bet you there were more golf pros fishing the course ponds on practice day than there were pros playing golf! I even asked a couple of them if they had any extra gear ... but then remembered that I should focus on the task at hand. It wasn't easy, though."
Wirth ended the event tied for fourth place. Beyond winning, the only thing that could have been better was access to a spinnerbait rod and 15 minutes to cast at the pond separating holes 5 and 6.
Boo's Bass List
Florida PGA pro Boo Weekley is a golfer with a passion for fishing. Some say he might be the best bass angler on the Tour. He was part of the winning 2008 Ryder Cup team and boasts over $5 million in PGA winnings. However, he recognizes good bass fishing on the links, when it's available. Bassmaster.com asked Weekley to rank the Top 3 golf courses in the nation, based on how good the bass fishing is within the water hazards.
Here is his list:
No. 1: Walt Disney World Palm and Magnolia courses: "These ponds are awesome. I've caught some real toads out here. Plus, I'm a Florida boy and I feel like I know how to catch Florida bass, so I'm comfortable with the bait selection and the water conditions."
No. 2: The Cliffs at South Carolina, The Valley Course: "The fish may not get as big up there, but there sure are plenty of them. You have to love it when you catch a bass on every other cast!"
No. 3: Doral, Miami Fla.: "I have to mention this place because you catch peacock bass. Those things are so mean and aggressive they'll hit topwaters just about all day!