Chuck Ealey and Bruce Gradkowski have dealt with the pressure of playing quarterback at the University of Toledo, not to mention the stress of playing professional football.
University of Toledo women’s basketball coach Tricia Cullop played basketball at Purdue, while Walleye forward Tyler Pilmore is carving out a professional hockey career.
But those four, along with UT men’s basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk and men’s golf coach Jamie Broce, dealt with a new form of pressure: Playing in The Image Group Celebrity/Pro Challenge at Highland Meadows, Tuesday’s primary event of the Marathon Classic.
Each of the celebrities was paired with a touring pro at the event, along with six guests from The Image Group, in a six-hole alternate shot format.
“It’s definitely out of my comfort zone,” said Kowalczyk, who was paired with Morgan Pressel. “First of all, to play with a professional is one thing, and to play in front of a crowd makes it more difficult.”
Of course, Kowalczyk had used a nontraditional training regimen: He had played just three rounds of golf before the event, had just returned from a recruiting trip, and spent the morning at practice as he and the Rockets prepare for a trip to Greece in early August.
“I don’t work at the game nearly enough to even have the right to be very good,” he said. “And I understand that.”
Cullop said she didn’t have much time to be nervous because she also was returning from the recruiting trails.
“I feel worse than a freshman — I haven’t spent enough practice time,” said Cullop, who was paired with So Yeon Ryu. “But it’s meant to be a fun event, so I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Cullop joked that playing wih Ryu might help last year’s winner at this event repeat as champion.
“I told her, ‘You might thank me later because, after some of my shots, you got to practice hitting shots from roughs and traps where you don’t normally hit the ball,’ ” Cullop said.
Gradkowski, who was partnered with Lexi Thompson, said he wanted to win the event. But he also said he didn’t expect to become overly competitive at the event.
“If this was a football game, like a Super Bowl, then I’d feel like I’d have to perform,” he said. “I’m just trying to hit one good shot.
“If I hit one good shot, I might just walk away.”
Ealey, who never lost a varsity football game in high school or college, teamed up with Brittany Lincicome. He was on the practice green more than an hour before the event to try and sharpen his game — and that work paid off as he and Lincicome won the event at 3-under for six holes.
But Ealey’s goal was to avoid embarrassment, not to try and match the pros.
“You want to do your best — and you don’t want to mess up,” he said. “But it’s more personal. I can only control the shot that I take.
“I don’t think there are a lot of expectations on me, like there would be if I was on the football field. People will say, ‘Oh, if he hits it well, that’s great,’ or, ‘He’s just a football player.’ So I can fall back on that.”
Touring pro Christina Kim, who was paired with Pilmore, said she tries to help her pro-am partners with tips when she can. “I tell them, ‘Everyone peeks, and everyone swings too fast,’ ” she said.
But she also tells them not to try and prove they are expert golfers.
“I tell them there’s nothing they can do to impress me,” she said. “I’ve seen the best, and I’ve seen the worst, and they’re probably going to fall somewhere in between. It will probably take me a couple of holes to figure out what my player’s tendencies will be.
“Once you figure that out, it’s easy to give them a couple of pointers here and there. But we’re just here to have fun and do something good for the community.”