Behind the Scenes at Bay Hill: Walking With Manny and Eddie
By Stephanie Wei under Behind the Scenes

If you’re wondering why there aren’t any of the usual fabulous camera-phone pictures to accompany the text, unfortunately I’m not allowed to post photos — even of just random practice shots. According to the PGA Tour’s new media policy, I need a photographer credential and since my website is technically “for profit” and has advertising, it’s a violation. However, if Joe Golf Fan wants to take pictures and post them on their blog, it’s fine. Good news is I guess this site is now considered a “recognized news outlet”? Or is it? Well, going forward, you can find pictures on Twitter and the WUP Facebook page. Feel free to send photos to me if you’re ever at an event, too! Actually, that’s probably not allowed, either.

Anyway, Monday turned out to be a productive and interesting day for a Monday. As I ventured from the parking lot to find the media center, I ran into Hunter Mahan and his caddie, John Wood, at the chipping practice green. I asked if they knew where it was. Both were trying to recall if they did. John cracked, “I guess you haven’t played well enough here to know.” Hunter, smiling, said, “I guess not.” John suggested I go over to the putting green and ask around there.

Lucky for me, one of the first people I saw was Paul Goydos, the ’96 Bay Hill Invitational champion. He often just comes to hang out in the media center for fun, too. “Paul, just the person I was looking for — where’s the media center?” He told me and pointed me in the right direction.

As I walked across the putting green, I saw Matteo Manassero and my buddy Simon Wilson, the Tour shaft rep for True Temper. Manny recognized me from last week and greeted me with a big smile and hello. Seriously, he’s probably the nicest and most polite player out there, not to mention humble. He’s just a great kid. Oh, I guess he’s pretty good at golf, too.

I eventually made it to the media center, dropping off my very heavy work bag before going back to the practice area. There were guys putting and hitting balls on the range, but nothing too exciting.

I saw Manny and Edoardo Molinari about to tee off on the 10th hole. Simon, who was with them because he had just put a new shaft in Manny’s driver, invited me to come along. As I approached them, Edoardo quipped to Simon, “Is that your girlfriend?” Simon said, “No, she’s media.” A lot of players would freak out, but it didn’t bother Edoardo or Manny.

Walking from the 10th green to the 11th tee, we had to cross a road. There was a cop stationed to stop traffic for us, which Simon explained to Manny because it’s very American. While crossing, Simon cracked and gestured at Manny’s caddie, Ryan, who is Irish, “You might want to check his visa. He might have some warrants out on him.” The cop got a kick out of it and shared a laugh with us.

Manny, smiling, chimed in, “Yeah, he’s dangerous on par 3s.”

Apparently Ryan gave Manny the wrong club on No. 13 last week at Innisbrook. Ryan, shaking his head, said, “That’s the only time…”

It was a real treat to walk with them and watch them scope out the course.

On the 11th Manny tried out his new driver for the first time (he had been waiting for the grip to dry). He hit the first one on the heel, but the second swing was much better and he liked the ball flight.

For the equipment geeks, Manny and Eddie both use the same type of shaft — Project X, 6A4.

Edoardo’s approach into 11 green almost found the water. As he set up to the awkward lie to hit the chip, I joked, “Uh-oh, you might have to pull a Stenson!” After all, he was wearing all white, too. (See picture). Eddie hit a nice trip to about six feet. His caddie Colin Byrne, who writes a column for the Irish Times, said something like, “It’s not too tough to hit out of that rough, yeah?” Eddie nodded.

On the 12th hole, Edoardo looked like he bombed a beautiful drive with a little draw, splitting the fairway. With a straight face, he looked to Simon, who also builds the shafts for his clubs, “Eh, it’s too spinny, must be the shaft.” I’m pretty sure he was joking.

Edoardo’s second shot found the greenside bunker. Just after he hit, Manny, who was about 15 yards behind him, knocked a pitch over his head, startling Edoardo who ducked. We all laughed at Manny’s prank, except Edoardo.

On the 13th, a short par-4, the smart play is to hit 3-wood (or less) to take the bunkers bordering the fairway out of play. But Simon asked Manny to hit the new driver because he wanted to see how he fared against the wind. “Smack the s— out of it,” Simon instructed Manny. He did.

The 13th green is guarded by a water hazard. For practice, Manny first hit a knockdown 8-iron to about 15 feet. Then he floated a nice, high 9-iron to almost the same spot.

Manny is looking for a top ten (or better) to move up to top-50 in the world rankings, so he can return to The Masters — he earned a spot last year after becoming the youngest British Amateur champ in history. Finishing T20 at last week’s Transitions Championship, his ranking stayed at 55th. I’ll be rooting for him this week!

Oh, so if he doesn’t qualify for The Masters, when will we see him play in the US again? He’s still deciding whether or not to play in The Players. Good news for Tim Finchem — at least he hasn’t ruled it out yet! And for what it’s worth (which is nothing), I put in a positive word.

That’s all for now. Remember, if you’re not a fan of the WUP Facebook page yet, join now!

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)