Last weekend was a double first for me–first time at a Champions Tour event and first time at a USGA championship (as opposed to sectional/local qualifier). On both accounts, it was a freaking blast. I’ll leave it to the national outlets to tell the story of the golf action, what I want to do here is convey the event as I experienced it. Specifically, my plan wasn’t to follow ‘the action’ as much as it was to follow a handful of players I really wanted to see in person. What follows is a casual report of sorts on my experiences, separated out by day. I hope you enjoy, but more importantly, I hope you have the chance to get out and watch some golf wherever you are.
-Got to the grounds early. Hot and humid, even before 9am. Was going to be a scorcher! Up first on my to-do list was catching up with the Tommy Armour III/Mark Wiebe/Scott Hoch trio. Main draw being TA3. Guy is old school cool. For my money the best hair/visor combo in the game. Much more on him to come.
-Didn’t take long walking with the group to notice Scott Hoch seems crusty AF. Exudes saltiness. Can certainly understand why he has a reputation of sorts, which made the following interaction even more enjoyable. Scott is walking off the 8th green when this jolly middle-aged guy, beer in hand, enthusiastically turns from his buddy and hollers at Scott, “Hey Scott, remember #11 at Muirfield the year you won? That was awesome!” Scott kind of double-takes the guy, gives him a curt, “yeah,” and keeps on moving. I assumed the guy was trying to wax nostalgic about a Hoch win at the Memorial several years back, but it wasn’t until I got home that night and looked up past Memorial champions that I realized Hoch never won the Memorial. I’m not sure if the guy had him confused for somebody else (Hale Irwin maybe?) or was just messing with him, but I sincerely hope it was the latter. And if so, guy is a first-order legend and I missed an opportunity to hang with him.
Quick word on Mark Wiebe. Unlike Hoch, I liked the energy Mark was putting out there. Big fella was battling the heat, though, and all jokes aside had me a little worried. What I liked most about Mark, aside from the crisp Cherry Hills visor and sunglasses hanging off his back pocket, was the Jerry Tarkanian sweat towel he kept on him at all times. GREAT look.
-You know what you don’t hear these days? The click-clack of golf spikes on pavement. It’s a fantastic sound, always transports me back in time. I got to hear it following TA3. The OG spikes meant extra duty for his caddie. After TA holed out on each green, his caddie would go about meticulously trying to retrace his footsteps across the green. Looked like a penguin doing a little shuffle out there. Hope he got an extra point or two on that check from Boss Man.
-After about nine holes with the fellas I showed myself out and went in search of Monty. As it was, I found the great man and his group around the 6th green, heading to 7 tee. Grouped with Monty were Kenny Perry and Olin Browne. Guys, Kenny Perry’s hat rides high. I wish I could do justice to how far up on his cranium that thing rests. It was perched. I tried to capture it in the picture below.
-Thursday afternoon was my scheduled time to follow a couple amateurs that piqued my interest, Pat Tallent and Mike McCoy. Pat is a former shooting guard who played collegiately at George Washington and could straight fill it. What I learned quickly, too, is he puts a buttery move on his ball. In essence, he’s out there doing everything I’ve ever wanted to do in life. Big fan of Pat’s. I stayed with his group for several inauspicious holes on the back nine before hitting the eject in search of McCoy. I found him in 8 fairway where he proceeded to pump a long iron to about 15 feet. Alright, alright, alright!
-Here’s my summary of McCoy: most importantly, he’s beyond chill. Enjoys a cigar (or two) out on the course and would get outside the ropes at about every opportunity to chat up the folks in his traveling party. Honestly, it seemed like he was out there playing a weekend money game with some friends, not competing in a US Open. His game is very aggressive, or at least was this week. I think he hit Driver on every hole. While not crazy long, he was getting it out there past Romero and Chapman. Iron play was very crisp, gets steep on a short iron. He didn’t score very well on Thursday (75, +5) largely due to a couple of three putts (at the 8th and 9th) and two big misses with short irons coming home (on #16 his ball just missed checking up to a back pin with shaved run-off past the hole–greatly respected going after the pin). All in all, after having read about his numerous accomplishments in the game and curious to see what he was all about, both in person and as a shot-maker, I can say he did not disappoint in either respect and I left with even more admiration for him.
-Amusing scene with this group on the par-3 17th. Eduardo Romero had hit a good, not great, shot that ended up hitting in the middle but running through to the back collar. Anyway, these two older gentleman posted up next to the box really enjoyed the shot (I don’t think they could see where it ended up) and started congratulating Eduardo. Oh man, what a great shot! Best we’ve seen all day and we’ve been here for a few hours! That type of stuff for maybe 15 to 20 seconds. Really mild, good-natured congratulations. While this was going on–Romero is politely nodding and smiling–Chapman has pegged his ball, is standing there looking at the guys, and finally shoots an icy, “we ready, guys?” at the older gentlemen. That was enough to get me laughing to myself when Romero catches my eye and gives kind of a half nod/half eye-roll Chapman’s way with a big smile on his face. Kind of a, ‘how bout this guy?’ look. I make a quick yikes face and we both laugh a little and then everybody carried on. Point of the story here is twofold–completely random little situations like this are my favorite part of going to golf tournaments, and guys, Roger Chapman would like to play his damn shot.
-Coming down the 18th I got to chatting with McCoy’s girlfriend. Extremely nice lady. Couldn’t believe I was actually out there to watch Mike play. In fact, when she asked me why and I started rattling off his golfing resume I think she may have been a bit concerned……just kidding (kind of). For my effort she insisted on introducing me to Mike after the round, which was a pleasant surprise. We exchanged a handshake and a few words. He had bogeyed #18 so I made sure to keep it short and sweet. I say all this to highlight another of my favorite things about going to golf tournaments–trying to guess which of the people in the hole-to-hole walking crowd are in which player’s travelling party.
-First up was Monty. Again. Needed him. He’s so much fun in person because you get to take in the whole act of him getting miffed by the slightest noise and smallest misstep in the gallery. After this weekend he’s comfortably in my top-5 for favorite golfers. On this day he was playing with Takeshi Sakiyama (awesomely kind dude who loves cigarettes) and Billy Andrade (sports the MLB hat a la Spence, so you know he’s good people).
-On 5 green Monty was in full force. There was some DEEP background activity that had his attention prior to his 4 to 6 foot par putt. I mean deep, like 15 yards off the green to a cart path, and then up a decent little hill to a concession area. He probably spent 45 seconds with his hand up in the air just looking in the general direction. Wasn’t going to get the entire concession area dead silent, though, so he finally missed his putt (obviously) and then snatched the ball out of the hole and marched off the green all petulant and unbelieving of the tragedy that had befallen him. It was tremendous theater. He really hams up the injustice for the gallery. The absolute best.
-What’s easy to lose in all of Monty’s actions is the guy detonates his woods and long irons. Flushes the shit out of them. Tremendous ball striker and a definite treat to watch in that regard. Short game doesn’t do much for me, but I could watch him pierce 3-wood off the tee hole after hole.
-I left Monty after 9 holes to once again follow TA3. He was matched up with Mike Small (Illinois golf coach) and Grant Waite. And I gotta say, TA was going about things more than a bit deliberately on Saturday. First, his walk never goes beyond a casual stroll. Second, he’s using Aim Point on the greens, so he was feeling around with his feet quite a bit (poor caddie). Anyway, I think it was really pissing off Mike Small. At one point coming off 5 green he mumbled something about pace of play to the walking rules official accentuated by a nice F-bomb. I’ll say this–TA ain’t in a hurry for nobody or anything. Guy does his thing out there. Never seems like he’s in a hurry.
-TA provided some wonderful, grade-A #Toursauce. On the 7th hole he dropped a 25-foot birdie putt, gave it a one-finger, count-it motion and proceeded to turn and stroll off the green. Caddie had to go get the ball out of the hole. Keep doing you, TA.
-At one point I crossed paths with Miguel Angel Jimenez. The man is just outrageous. Was wearing cotton white pants, a bright green shirt, visor, his Chuck Yeager shades and spafro. It’s easy to lack appreciation the ensemble when you just see it on tv, but in person it’s quite a lot to take in.
-We will forever be indebted to Jim Moriarty for his description of Dustin Johnson having “the oily gait of a jungle cat.” And while I think that is the most apt description possible of DJ, I’ll be damned if Vijay may not have invented it. Watching him stroll around the grounds it’s all I could think about.
-One of the aspects of a tournament you never see on tv is the army of movement all over the course. Crews hauling television equipment, people delivering food and beverages all over the course, all the marshals working the ropes, etc. It’s an underrated source of unintentional comedy for sure. Usually it involves the guys driving the carts having the self-control of a toddler staring at a cookie. That or the marshals being way overeager. On one occasion a guy came riding up behind TA3 mid-backswing and stopped suddenly. After the shot TA hollered at him and was going over to have some words when the guy floored it outta there–didn’t want the heat! On another occasion this marshal, bless her heart, got so anxious at somebody with a camera out that she starts waving and motioning mid-swing on the tee box. TA’s caddie strongly informed her she was doing more to disrupt the player than the person with the camera. In any event, there’s always a lot going on, which you never really appreciate on TV.
-Sunday was a complete wash, pushing everybody back until Monday. Bad for the USGA, but great for me because not only were there minimal people on the grounds, there were hardly any marshals available for work either.
-I joked on Twitter that getting my Monty fix was better than heroin. I found him first thing and it was more of the same awesomeness as before. At one point on the 6th green there was an overweight gentleman sitting high up in some grandstands sort of commentating the action out loud to himself (I know, lol). On a normal day all the other people and activity would’ve drowned him out, but today was very light. Anyway, as Jay Haas putted up a hill toward the cup the guy goes, “ohhh, that’s gonna be well short.” Not malicious, not even meant to be heard by the players. Just talking out loud to himself. Monty is just standing there, agog, staring up at the guy and ever so slightly shaking his head. Like he can’t believe what is happening. It’s a look of amazement, contempt, and disappointment all melded into one. It’s the look I imagine the British gave their uncivilized American counterparts some 240+ years ago around the time of the Revolution. In fact, Monty would’ve been a tremendous Redcoat, though more likely, he’d have been some snooty provincial governor somewhere. I love it so much. He’s the best. A true pleasure to follow. Long live Monty!
-At the turn I ducked into the media center for a quick bite to eat. A few weeks back Luke Donald banged on the USGA spread for players and families (#chickenfingers), but I’ll happily report my pulled pork, coleslaw, mac n’ cheese and cookies were more than adequate.
-The tees on #10 were moved up to make it a short par-4 at 278 yards. First time all week tees were up (tees were up everywhere on the course), which left me wandering why they waited until today. Not only did it play as a dramatically different hole, it was so much more fun! Could’ve very well been a result of low spots in the fairway still having standing water, combined with the USGA’s refusal to institute lift, clean and place (which, by the way, Monty was miffed about–chastised the walking rules official over it on #4 after his perfect drive had mud all over it). Either way, I liked the hole much better in its shorter iteration. More short par-4’s, please!
-Watched Monty put the finishing touches on a final round 68 and then went about trying to actually figure out what was going on in the golf tournament. I had been oblivious for 3+ days. As it was, Gene Sauers and Miguel Angel were battling down the stretch so I went to 18 to watch the final few groups come in.
-I wasn’t aware of it before this weekend, but Gene Sauers has an amazing story. Here’s the quick Wiki to get you started. I’d encourage anyone to read up on it. The short version is this–he almost died from a rare skin condition several years back.
-As you may or may not know, Gene ended up winning the tournament with an up-and-down par on 18 after MAJ couldn’t make par out of a greenside bunker. Interviewed afterward, Gene was overcome with emotion and at a loss for words. Cool scene, better story. I’ll leave this weekend with a deep appreciation for his struggle and forever a Gene Sauers fan.
-USGA President Diana Murphy was of course in the house! I shouldn’t have been surprised but it caught me off guard. I was suddenly geeked for her trophy presentation speech! Fortunately (unfortunately?) she got through it very well except for glossing MAJ as “Miguel Angel Him-air-ez.” We’ll let that one go, Diana.
-Scioto was an absolute pleasure to walk. Landlocked, Donald Ross course meant it was possible to get anywhere on the course in short order. And while there was some undulation, it wasn’t taxing. Much more enjoyable walk than Muirfield Village and The Memorial. Great venue for the event.
-Tron asked me how pristine Scioto is. It’s obviously really great, but I’m not ready to convey ‘F-1 circuit’ status. The only drawback, in my mind, is I think too many of the holes mesh together, particularly the green complexes. Aside from the 8th (pond), 10th (downhill approach) and 17th (downhill with water), all the green complexes are plateaued with multiple, deep bunkers guarding. Not enough variance in the optics to give it my highest marks. Nonetheless, a fantastic track. Exemplifies American parkland.
-I think watching the Seniors is every bit as fun and captivating as going to a PGA tournament. And in a way, maybe more entertaining. They hit just enough shots that aren’t dead-center perfect which, weirdly, makes it more interesting. That, combined with a lot of unique moves on the ball, is fun to see. Don’t get me wrong, they’re obviously phenomenal players and hit the shit out of the ball, but collectively, I think they are forced to play with more flair, imagination, and originality than what I’ve witnessed at PGA events. I’ve come away from this weekend excited about Champions Tour golf and wouldn’t think twice if I had an opportunity to go out and attend another event.
-Lastly, and at the risk of sounding like I’m on the take, I want to point out this was my third experience at a USGA event and each one has left me nothing but incredibly enthused and passionate about the game of golf. They do a wonderful job and put on a great event. I always love to watch golf, and what I finally learned this weekend is that I love following golfers. Pick an individual you like or are curious about and go out and walk the round with him or her. You get to be privy to so many interesting little scenes and interactions. You get to watch how a round, good or bad, is built. And you get to be outdoors and in a gorgeous setting. I think I may become evangelical for the USGA, and particularly all the events that aren’t the US Open. This weekend reminded me the great work they do and how much I love the game. If there’s a USGA championship, or hell, even a qualifier near you, take a day and attend. I promise you you’ll have a great time.