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Ray's Golf Swing Highlights

RAY ROMANO would like you to know one thing: He is not a golf flake. A lot of people got that wrong impression after his debut performance last February in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, when he duffed it around and cracked jokes while playing in front of Tiger Woods, who was going for his sixth straight win. But don't let Ray's swing fool you. He takes the game very seriously. "People who saw me at the AT&T might have thought I'm like, 'What's this, a golf club? How do you hold this?'" he says. "But I've been playing since I was a teenager."

In fact, when it comes to his golf game, he's the hardest working man in showbiz. An 15 -18 handicap, he often stops by his club, Lakeside Golf Club (located near the Warner Bros. lot where his hit CBS sitcom, "Everybody Loves Raymond," is shot) to hit balls before or after work. And his swing has improved markedly since the AT&T, thanks in part to a day spent with David Leadbetter, a gift from the company that syndicates his show. "It cost $6,000, but it included lunch," Romano, 42, deadpans.

Opened in 1924, Lakeside is a relatively flat par-70 course with long par fours and tiny, tricky greens. There's just the two of us playing without any stakes since Romano has "sworn off gambling," he says. "I used to gamble to a fault. Now, I just make mental bets with myself. Like if I don't break 90, I can't watch TV for the rest of the week." On the opening hole, a straight-away, 384-yard par four, he pushes his drive into the trees on the right with a 5-wood. "I'm going to play smart today," he says, before punching a 6-iron back to the fairway. A fat pitching wedge and a poor chip lead to a double. He decides to play smart again on the par-five second by hitting a 3-wood instead of his new 7-degree Ping TiSi driver, but he pushes it right and into the driving range. "There's nothing worse than hitting three off the tee, except hitting five," he cracks, then rips a nice drive right down the center. But another 5-wood into the trees leads to a triple.

Although Romano just misses making par on the par-three third, he doubles the long par-five fourth after catching a tree with his drive and topping a 5-wood. He starts to right the ship on the uphill par-four fifth with a perfect drive over the bunker that guards the dogleg. "I don't think you heard me," he boasts. "That was a 3-wood." But he takes a bogey after three-putting to a difficult pin placement.

On the 163-yard sixth, a 7-iron to the middle of the green produces a two-putt par. A big guy, Romano can launch it when he gets a hold of one, as he does on the 434-yard seventh, hitting his drive 260 yards. But he hits a lot of fat irons, like his 6-iron approach, which leads to a bogey. After another 260-yard drive on the par-four eighth, the guy at the snack shop says, "Have a good round," but the typically downbeat Romano responds, "Too late for that." He proves himself right by doubling the hole, then recovers to par the 240-yard ninth after hitting a 5-wood left and pitching to a couple of feet.

On the 10th tee, we start talking about Pebble. Because Bill Murray wasn't there, Romano was CBS's "go-to" guy. "I had two pressures to deal with there," he says. "I had to have a swing thought and a joke thought." But the big problem was playing in front of Woods during rounds that lasted six hours. The media blamed Romano for holding up history when, in fact, play was slow on all three courses. After the rain-delayed third round on Sunday -- in which he pulled a funny bit on the 10th hole, playing along the beach while battling waves and a dog -- he switched on "SportsCenter" hoping to find some good reviews. He got just the opposite. "Everybody loves Raymond," the sportscaster announced, "but not if you have to play behind him like Tiger Woods."

Ouch! The criticism stung, but a lot of good has come out of playing Pebble, he says, pointing to the Tight Lies 5-wood that arrived unsolicited at his office. After parring 10 and bogeying 11, he uses the club to tee off on 12 and 13, two short par fours: A bunkered approach on 12 and tree trouble on 13 lead to double bogeys. We both hit our drives right on the dogleg left, par-four 14th and have to punch out, which Ray does nicely with a 4-iron. But it's another bogey after failing to get his third shot close from 74 yards.

He bogeys the 160-yard 15th after missing a short putt, but curls in a downhill nine-footer for par on 16, then gets a break on the long 17th when the trees on the right spit his drive back into the fairway. With 230 yards to the hole off a downhill, sidehill lie, he says, "Get your pen ready to write something good after this shot." But, he pulls his 3-wood left and winds up with double. "There goes breaking 90." A bogey on 18 leads to a 92 and resigned disgust. "I play golf because I need more reasons to hate myself," he says. "When you do a show called 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' you need to balance it out."

Date:: November 2000
Author:: Conner Mcaffe
Source:: Golf Magazine

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November 12, 2005

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