Thursday, May 15, 2008 Updated: May 16, 12:45 PM ET
Bass 'N Birdies
By Nick Gebhardt ESPNOutdoors.com
LAKE LANIER ISLANDS, Ga. Fewer than 20 miles separate the docks at Lake Lanier Islands Resort from the first tee box at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga. But for seven PGA Tour professionals preparing for the AT&T Classic, a day spent fishing meant a world far from the hustle and stress of a pre-tournament week.
PGA golfer Brenden Pappas fishes with guide Stu Medlin.
"To be honest, I pushed too hard this year, so I'm trying to enjoy every opportunity now," said pro Kevin Streelman about why he chose to fish instead of practicing for the event, which teed off Thursday.
Fellow pro Jim McGovern agreed with Streelman. McGovern, who lives in Oradell, N.J., also enjoys following Elite Series pro angler Mike Iaconelli.
"I just love to get away from golf," McGovern said. "I do this because it's so relaxing."
Don't get the idea these golfers simply laid up to just watch a bobber float, though. A year's worth of bragging rights, a hefty trophy and several side bets were all on the line at the second annual Bass 'N Birdies Fishing Tournament presented by the Southern Company.
The fishing tournament and its sponsors helped raise $15,000 for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
"I went last year and I didn't catch anything," said pro Kent Jones from Albuquerque, N.M. "I had to come back and redeem myself — plus, it's just a great chance to fish."
Joining Jones, McGovern and Streelman on the fishing outing were fellow PGA members Robert Damron, Garrett Willis, Brenden Pappas, and Tag Ridings. The ever-competing golfers paired up with local fishing guides, with hopes of snagging the heaviest three bass and having their names inscribed beneath 2007 champion Brian Bateman.
Throughout the day, discussions about the tournament stayed at a minimum. Golf references, however, were quite common.
"You guys love the wind," Brenden Pappas told Stu Medlin, his guide for the day. "We hate the wind."
Experiencing a slow first hour, McGovern turned to the ESPNOutdoors.com camera boat with a look of relaxed desperation across his face.
"You can have the best caddy in the world and still not hit the shot," the New Jersey pro said, laughing.
Many of the golfers-turned-anglers grew up around the sport of bass fishing, but few found the passion much later in life.
"I've not been fishing for very long," said Orlando-resident Robert Damron between pitching a Zara Spook over a submerged mound. "But I found a spot at Bay Hill and it got me hooked."
Pappas grew up catching black bass in his native South Africa.
"I'm not much of a saltwater guy," he said shouting across the water. "I'm more of a freshwater fisherman." Pappas worked a worm across brushpiles to win the tournament with 9 pound, 5 ounces.
Pappas' former University of Arkansas roommate and fellow pro, Tag Ridings, finished in second place on the day with his 9-3 pounds, having found success fishing a fluke.
"We were both Razorbacks," Ridings said about his South African colleague. "And we had a college coach who was actually a better fisherman than a golfer."
Pro Garrett Willis, from Knoxville, Tenn., admitted to having fished "a few times" in his life.
"Now, I do most of my fishing on golf course ponds," Willis said. "That way I can't get too far from it."
2008 Bass 'N Birdies Results
Brendan Pappas, first place, 9 pounds, 5 ounces
Tag Ridings, second, 9-3
Kevin Streelman, third, 6-5
Kent Jones, fourth, 6-3
Robert Damron, fifth, 5-2
Jim McGovern, sixth, 4-2
Garrett Willis, seventh, 4-7