California - Sometimes in life, luck appears to be with you, being located in the right place at the right time!
At the AT&T Pro-Am (located on three courses on the Monterey Peninsula), was one of those times for me.
I was enquiring about the possibility of securing a lift from the clubhouse of Monterey Peninsula Country Club to the 10th tee, a significant distance away. There were AT&T shuttle vehicles lined up solely for this purpose. However, I was told that these vehicles were solely for the benefit of the players.
A voice out of the blue then said I was more than welcome to catch a ride in their vehicle, as there were only two of them. This voice belonged to Wayne Gretzky, the legendary Canadian ice-hockey player, commonly referred to as “The Great One” and possibly the greatest ice-hockey player ever.
During the 10 minute drive to the 10th tee, The Great One shared a great deal of information about himself, his family and his career. He played 20 years professionally as an ice-hockey player (1979-1999) with four teams. Gretzky revealed that playing matches on the East Coast (Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, New Jersey) was far easier than playing on the West Coast. Games on the West Coast usually meant a two-week road trip while East Coast games were much simpler to handle logistically. He mentioned moving to LA in 1988 and never leaving.
Gretzky described how he knew it was time to hang up his skates when he no longer had the desire or inclination to complete the gruelling the regimen required for pre-season preparation.
Gretzky has mentioned he has five kids; three are no longer at home, with a 15-year-old and 12-year-old still enjoying the comforts of living at home. His 15-year-old son is a very proficient golfer who already has his focus on a golf career at College (at the bare minimum according to his proud dad).
None of his kids have been involved with ice-hockey. “Too much pressure?” was my theory. Not as complicated as that said The Great One. According to Gretzky, California is not geared up for ice-hockey and there are too many other sports to get into such as tennis or golf.
Gretzky was very quick to place my Aussie accent. He mentioned an impending trip to Australia in June this year, for some exhibition ice-hockey games, in Sydney and Melbourne. This was news to me!
At this year’s AT&T Pro-Am event, Gretzky was paired with his future son-in-law, Dustin Johnson, alongside Jordan Spieth and country singer Jake Owen. For those not familiar with the format of the AT&T tournament, it consists of two parts; an event for the best professional as well as the best professional and amateur team combined (a better ball format with the best score out of the professional and amateur used for each hole).
I watched some of this highly talented fourball (Jake Owen is playing off a handicap of 2 and Gretzky a 14), whilst they played the challenging Spyglass Hill course. I heard them calling Gretzky what sounded like God! With his pedigree this would not have been a total surprise! What they were actually referring to him as was Doc!
The reason being Dustin Johnson started calling him Doctor after a recent honorary doctorate was bestowed upon him. Gretzky disclosed with a smile, that even his kids now call him Doc!
Gretzky’s number during his professional career was 99. Gretzky admitted 9 was his favourite number when he was drafted into Junior ice-hockey as a 16-year-old. This number was already taken so he tried using 19 and after a few games was not happy at all with it. He expressed his dissatisfaction to his coach who suggested he try 99. The rest is well and truly history!
Good luck Doc and keep on being so humble, friendly and approachable!