I had the great fortune to be invited to attend Friday’s second round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in nearby Bethesda, MD. I had been to Congressional once before almost 15 years ago. Cherie and I were guests at a lavish wedding reception, complete with Congressional C.C. china settings and a 10 piece band. I remember standing out on the stone portico that evening overlooking the 10th hole, and hearing my friend Steve King’s philosophical words, “Today we’re guests. If we were to show up here tomorrow, they’d have our asses arrested.” That is exactly how I felt as I trampled the golf course with my buddy Matt for 9 hours. I did not belong. Fortunately, I was not at risk for being arrested, either, unless I sneezed during a backswing or innocently picked up a stray golf ball (“Hey, does this belong to anyone?”). I was safe for the day, and we made the most of it.
Television coverage of the event did not provide viewers with the full flavor of the day. Sights beyond the grass, the little white ball and the player’s colorful fashions were largely ignored. While golf was the main attraction, there were a number of other things to see, hear and experience, that perhaps the TV audience wouldn’t find as interesting as I did. I will do my best to share those with you, and hope that you find them somewhat interesting, or at least more interesting than watching golf on TV.
What am I missing?
The difference with watching golf live and being there is that while on the grounds, you are only watching one group play at a time on one hole. Often, you are only seeing one of their shots on the hole, either the tee shot, the approach, or the putts on the green, depending on the size of the entourage following and the length of the hole. There are 18 holes in play simultaneously on a Friday afternoon. At best, you are missing 94% of what is happening on the course at any one time. If you want to go to a golf tournament, prepare to be patient and prepare to relax. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to manage the disappointment when you are watching one hole and a crowd roar erupts at another.
I found that the instances of hearing the shout, “You da man!” increased proportionally as the day got longer and as Miller Lite sales eclipsed Heineken sales for the day. I also found that post-putt cries of “It’s in the hole!” were usually coming from individuals who were not alive when Bill Murray first made the phrase famous in Caddyshack. Hey, punk, I was shouting “It’s in the hole” at golfers before you were born, so shut up and get your own catch phrase.
It’s Not Fenway
Players no longer use wooden clubs, so isn’t it time to upgrade the scoreboards at these venues from the manual billboards with removable names and numbers to a jumbo HD screen with commercial messages running along the scroll? Let’s get with the times.
Cell phones and PDAs of any kind were banned from the course (although I did see approximately 4-5 people with contraband phones in use). It was nice to be disconnected for the day, but it was even more pleasant that everyone around me was disconnected from the outside world. There is nothing more frustrating at a live sporting event than seeing someone with their face buried in their phone while the action happens around them.
“It’s gotta be the shoes.”
I walked about 5 miles during the course of the day. Watching golf in person is an athletic event in and of itself. The course is not flat. There are hills and uneven terrain. To all those wearing flip-flops or high heels: the U.S. Open is not the Kentucky Derby. Dress for walking next time. My feet hurt just looking at you.
Welcome, Young and Old
While there were very few children under 7 (there were some), the age range of the spectators was impressive. I will chalk it up to the Tiger Effect. The man has his shortcomings, but he sure did make the sport accessible to a mass audience. Competitive golf now attracts an incredibly wide range of generations and income brackets.
I saw dozens of people wearing Boston Bruins hockey jerseys. Now, since the Bruins had just won the Cup, I could understand that, but I do wonder how many of those fans would have worn the jersey anyway as an homage to Happy Gilmore, failed hockey player turned golf sensation. I did not see anyone with a hook for a hand like Gilmore’s coach and inspiration, Chubbs Peterson, so maybe it was just about the Stanley Cup.
Even the golfers who sucked were great.
The Rory Story
I find it ironic that Rory McIlroy has a name so close to the fictional hero of Tin Cup, Roy MacAvoy, but regardless – it did take something out of watching the other groups play knowing that by midday Friday, second place was the only prize available. We watched Rory for a little while, but if you wanted to really see the players up close, you had to go to where the crowds were not. It was Rory’s group, Mickelson’s group, and the other guys. We mostly followed the other guys.
The obsession in the sporting world to anoint Rory as the Next Big Thing should be scary for the U.S. Open champion. Pumping up a rising star is the second most popular activity of the press. First is tearing someone down. Looks like the talking heads are finished with Tiger, and now it’s time for fresh meat. Rory, keep your eye on the little white ball.
You don’t want to get arrested. You belong.