Photo by David Mulvaney of www.pacificphotodesign.com
You can find this story in print here
Billy Tanay once smashed a drive over 500 yards in a long drive competition. That’s the shot the now 59-year-old sees in his dreams.
In terms of his golf life, however, that shot is like another lifetime ago for the Seattle resident as age and injury had eroded his skills and limited his play.
Tanay didn’t recapture that titanic distance during a dream playing opportunity in January, but he perhaps got the next best thing: Three days of playing and practicing amongst the pros.
Tanay won an online contest sponsored by Hyundai to participate in the pro-ams of the first three PGA tournaments of 2016. After being the only one chosen from around 17,000 entrants, he slogged through the rain in Kapalua alongside J.B. Holmes, strolled in the Palm Springs sun next to Stewart Cink and hiked the lush fairways of ocean-side Torrey Pines paired with Billy Horschel.
Tanay didn’t card a birdie over three rounds, but you’d never know it from the wide smile he flashed walking off the final green on Torrey’s North Course in January.
“It was a great day,” he said. “Being around these guys in an environment like this, it’s hard not to have a great day.”
Tanay’s Bunyan-esque stature towered over his group, including Horschel, but he admitted feeling humbled by the game at which he used to excel. He played sparingly a year ago after having reconstructive shoulder surgery. He then made about “six to eight” trips to the driving range after getting the call about the contest in early Dec.
In his prime, Tanay had a drive measured at 486 yards in a long-drive competition. That’s his recorded record. The aforementioned 500-yard drive comes with a bit of lore.
“It was off the end of the grid. They couldn’t find it. But it was estimated north of 500,” he said, adding, “Unfortunately, I’m at least 100 yards short of what I used to be.”
A reminder from J.B. Holmes to take the club away “low and slow” helped but Tanay says he never really regained his old swing during his three-week “whirlwind golf career” in January, though he did have a promising range session at Torrey.
“But I lost it on the first tee,” he said. “It’s frustrating to get this opportunity and not play well, but I’ve just lost touch with my swing after being away this long.”
The highlights, instead, belonged to Tanay’s professional playing partners, most notably J.B. Holmes on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
“J.B. Holmes played so well in Maui even though it poured rain and we had 30 mph wind for the first nine holes. It just didn’t affect him at all – and it killed everybody else.
“He had a 20-foot putt and got his hat blown off. He still drained it.”
Tanay said moments like that were the real lessons of his tour.
“Just watching them play you can learn so much. It’s fun. It really is.”
Tanay’s wife Debbie traveled with him to each stop and called it a thrill to see her husband have the experience.
“But I think I’ve been more nervous than he has,” she said. “He just gets up there and plays.”
Tanay said his competitive long-drive days got him accustomed to crowds. He wasn’t fazed by the galleries, nor hitting alongside the pros.
“All three were fantastic to play with. And the caddies and everybody were just great.”
Horschel gave Tanay a signed caddie bib after the Torrey round. Tanay said he’ll also have a few autographed group photos arriving in the mail from his tour.
“Those are fun,” he said. “They’ll take up a nice wall somewhere.”
But Tanay said the best takeaway was a re-discovered love of the game.
“This made me realize how much I miss getting out there and playing like I used to. I will get out and play a lot more from this point. It put me back in touch with the game,” he said.
Michael Stewart of Hyundai, who played with Tanay at Torrey, said that’s the outcome Hyundai wanted for Tanay and what it hopes to instill in more players.
“Golf has been a great sport for Hyundai. All of golf is a good audience for us and we want to get more people interested in playing,” Stewart said.
Tanay will have a new set of TaylorMade RSI irons in hand while he ramp his rounds in 2016.
“I’m glad I jumped at the chance to do this,” he said.