Sunday marked my second trip to the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton. We rolled deep, a crew of seven which included me, my college buddy Drew, my two childhood friends Chris and Tim, Tim’s brother Tom, Tim/Tom’s cousin Dan, and Dan’s college buddy also named Dan. Got all that? Good. Come with us on this journey.
First of all, I’d like to clear something up at the start. Massachusetts isn’t like those states west of the Mississippi, where a 2-hour drive is considered short. And people from Boston are especially fickle with their driving mindset, considering a day trip to the Cape to be nearly pointless because of traffic, and everything outside the I-495 belt to be Western Mass. So I’d like to lodge a formal complaint with the Tournament Players Club.
TPC Boston sits mainly in Norton, no less than 45 minutes from the city without traffic, which is a meaningless phrase in the car-congested Boston area. It’s only 25 minutes north of Providence, and just about 15 minutes from Gillette Stadium, the HQ of the sports world’s new evil empire. Call the thing TPC Norton, TPC Mansfield (the right halves of the 11th and 12th holes lie over the Mansfield town line), or TPC Brady for all I care. I just want people to know that we had to wake up at 6:30 to get there for the 8 a.m. gates, and we still didn’t quite make it.
Anyway, once we did get there, the day was a smashing success. Conversations were overheard, apparel was judged, bets were made (and lost), and previously unheard-of tour sauce moves were discovered. Add in beers; cigars; hand sandwiches (our term for high fives) from Spieth, Schwartzel, Bill Haas, and many others; along with a perfect mid-70s day with some breeze, and it was tremendous. Let’s get into some of the highlights.
No photos here, which was a mistake on my part. Having played the course a few times before, I always picture the entrance this way, complete with a winding drive through manicured trees before reaching the wide, circular clubhouse driveway and drop-off port:
As a lowly spectator, you get no such privileges. After parking in the desertlike expanse of concrete known as the Xfinity Center parking lot, you’re herded onto buses and driven right past the picturesque entrance, then into the loading area of a nearby warehouse. It’s an unsightly corrugated metal structure with a few box trucks backed into the loading docks; the type of place that Aaron Hernandez might be familiar with. Off the bus, over the river, through the woods, down about a half-mile-long path past the 9th hole, and you finally arrive near the clubhouse. Despite the abundance of grandstands, family fun areas, and sponsor booths, it’s not immediately clear where to go. The complimentary map helps, but experience is your best teacher. This year, we unerringly made our way over to the first tee in order to catch Russell Knox and Ricky Barnes, the sixth group of the day.
We stuck to the same plan this year as we did last year: head to 1 tee and get on the ropes early. It’s an action-packed spot, with plenty of opportunities to see how guys prepare for their rounds. There’s a lot of visualization, some last-minute yardage book checks, and a healthy dose of banter. Last year, Boo Weekley took the honors for most colorful character by loudly discussing his desire for a little privacy and a date with Pamela Handerson (he said it much less delicately). There’s also the potential for great gallery finds, like this out-of-season Bruins fan.
Both Knox and Barnes took hybrids off the 356-yard par 4. Knox’s squirted left, eliciting a wayward drive point from the Scotsman. Interestingly, he was introduced as being “from” Jacksonville, Florida, which would have made him ineligible to compete on that European Ryder Cup team everyone says he got snubbed from. Either this was Knox’s way of defecting from Europe and announcing his eligibility as an American Ryder Cup hopeful, or Scotland’s tax codes are not to be messed with.
Up next were two sweet-swinging South Africans, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace. After seeing Knox and Barnes miss the fairway with woods, these two split it with long irons. They were also conversing in one of their homeland’s eleven official languages, and it was certainly not English. My money’s on Afrikaans.
Being right on the ropes with the sun behind us definitely contributed to the sunburn on the backs of my knees, but also made us liabilities in the eyes of the volunteers. The lady working our side of the tee box mentioned that we would need to stay still when players were addressing the ball, as our shadows lay in their peripheral vision and if they moved, it would “freak the players out.” Like these grown adult professional athletes are skittish baby giraffes at the zoo. Fantastic stuff.
This is the only PGA Tour event I’ve been to, so I’m not sure if this is normal at other places. But here, beside the first tee, there was a temporary practice putting green. Temporary because, when I’ve played there, the area that the green is on is actually the back tee box. We had some fun giving the guys polite claps after they holed a putt, and tossing outrageous betting odds on the likelihood of them jarring half-assed warmup bump and run wedge shots from the fringe.
As Sunday was the third round of the tournament, the players have all seen this course at least four or five times between practice rounds, pro-ams, and regular tournament play. That’s why I developed a quick liking for Adam Hadwin’s caddie. I had been only very marginally aware of Hadwin before, so I wasn’t real excited for his twosome with Marc Leishman. Then, Hadwin’s caddie (who was dressed like he was aiming to take TJ Lavin’s host spot on MTV’s The Challenge) pulled out the yardage book. On the first tee. Like, the first tee that never changes locations and that literally has the “356” number laser-engraved into a granite slab next to the tee marker. Either Hadwin needed some last-minute reassurance, or his caddie just wanted to look busy. The caddie then proceeded to do a couple deep lunges to limber up those big lifting muscles, and then finished his performance by steadfastly refusing to point left after Hadwin yanked his tee ball further left than Knox had a few minutes earlier. I didn’t see Hadwin the rest of the day, but he finished with a 2-over 73, so I’d suggest a few more lunges.
The next group brought the fireworks. John Huh got the unenviable task of playing with arguably the Tour’s most recognizable figure – Rickie Fowler. Up to this point, the teeing area had only been ringed by a single layer of patrons. But with Fowler’s arrival, the hordes descended en masse. Rickie’s moustache was even more glorious in person, and his golf bag had his Twitter handle across the bottom, probably at the behest of his PR team.
The first real action of the day came when I bet Chris $5 that Rickie wouldn’t be wearing joggers. It was just a hunch, and he took the action immediately. It turned into a somewhat heated debate, and eventually we needed to get the volunteer who had advised us about the shadows involved. She originally made the call that they were joggers, as they revealed most of his high tops.
The point was raised that joggers need to include an elastic band around the bottom, which prompted the volunteer to talk to another official on the tee. After this powwow, the ruling on the field was overturned, as it was discovered that they were just tight, short pants with zippers. Official ruling: No joggers. Outcome: Chris → $5 Robbie
One interesting thing that I had never noticed watching on TV is how players tee their balls up with their long irons and hybrids. Everyone (with one notable exception) places the tee into the ground so that the point is going towards the back of the tee box. The ball is then perched precariously on the tee, nearly tipping off the front side. It’s a practice I saw repeated enough that I got the feeling that everyone does this. I never played competitive golf so I don’t know if this is just a pro thing or a thing you get taught on the first day of golf school.
The exception to this was Jim Furyk. Rather than use a tee, Jim took his hybrid and pounded the tee box in the same spot several times from back to front, creating a tiny mound of raised turf atop which he delicately perched his ball. I would expect nothing less from him.
The try-hard apparel award goes to Kevin Streelman, who had big buttons on the back of his FootJoys and a hat that said “Streels” across the back. I stayed strong and refused to photograph him.
Chris Kirk has a glacial backswing and a beautiful soft draw. He’s also very lanky in person.
I’ve always disliked Brandt Snedeker because of the way he plays. He’s very fidgety, he doesn’t spend a lot of time over the ball, and every swing looks like it’s being made by a mouse who’s almost transformed into a human but still retains his mousey face and innate twitchiness. Also, I know he’s a great putter, but his ‘pop’ putting stroke is gross to me.
However, there are two things I can always respect about him. One, the dude LIVES for sunblock.
And two, he’s a good ol’ Southern boy. And after the first college football Saturday of the year, I’m sure noted Auburn alum Jason Dufner was pleased to have a fellow SEC member in his group. When these two got to the tee, Dufner immediately tossed in a dip (approx timestamp: 9:20 a.m.) and got down to business: football betting.
“Comin’ back on the game today, boy. Can’t lose three in a row,” Dufner mumbled in a heavy drawl. I’m wondering whether he was sleeping well after his 69 on Sunday, or hanging on every play of the wild Texas-Notre Dame overtime game that night.
Also, in a nod to the local culture, Duf was sporting Vineyard Vines pants.
Kevin Kisner didn’t do anything particularly interesting on the first tee, but his caddie brought a couple of salt-cured pork shanks.
The group after Kisner’s featured Hideki Matsuyama and Jamie Lovemark. This group provided a few interesting moments, and was one of the few groups (along with Furyk/Hahn and Kuchar/Taylor) who we seemed to see three or four times throughout the day.
First, a pretty blonde came over to the ropes near us and handed Lovemark’s caddie a plastic bag with some granola-type snacks and perhaps a sandwich. Home cookin’ at its best. Then Hideki’s caddie sprayed a bit of sauce as he paced off the distance from the back of the first tee even though the 356 marker was literally right next to the tee marker.
Also, Hideki is one of my favorite players. Partially because of his eye-wateringly perfect swing with that slight pause at the top, partially because he consistently covers the flag on his approaches and then consistently misses the putts. But we got an insight into the kind of pressure he sees on a day-to-day basis while on Tour. Though he doesn’t have a huge gallery following his group, he’s the only guy that we saw (besides those on the network coverage) who has a dedicated camera crew.
We caught up with him again on 5 green, and his camera lady set up right in front of us. Note: she kept her feet in that position the entire time, and yes, those shorts are two different colors.
After Hideki it was time for Furyk, and that means it was time for Fluff. The man from Maine didn’t disappoint, with the moustache looking as bushy as ever, the classic old-man-at-the-Y bunched up tube socks, and the scuffed up hightop Jordans from like 1994.
We also deduced that, based on his shoe choice, Jim had an indoor soccer game that he was going to directly after the round. Finally, one last note on Jimbo – even with a hybrid, his stance was mind-blowingly narrow. Looked like he was up there with a putter.
The final group we watched on the first tee was that of the Champion Golfer of the Year and Olympic silver medalist Henrik Stenson.
Stenson was recognized with both of those honorifics by the starter, which made the Olympic thing seem like a really big deal. Pretty cool. He also was the first player we saw to take a driver off the first tee, presumably because his 3-wood would have run over the back of the green.
Swafford also took driver, obviously peer-pressured into it by Stenson like a freshman at his first Swedish frat party. Both drives sounded less metallic than I expected – more of a WHAP than a PING sound. And neither swing was particularly violent. That’s another thing I noticed about most of the pros – their swings were all (for the most part) very measured and controlled. Unlike me on the weekends when I try to murder the ball with every shot from 150+ yards. Notable faster swings (at least to the naked eye) belonged to Rory, Harold Varner, and Roberto Castro.
The walk to 5
After Stenson exited the first tee, we ejected as well and rambled over to the fifth green. It’s a good spot to hang out, as there are three different holes within about a 100-foot radius. You can watch approaches come in over the waste area on the par-4 5th, then follow the same group over to the tee at 6, then catch them again when they approach the par-5 7th green which sits behind the 5th.
The walk over from 1 to 5 provided another great moment that you’d never see on television. After we all grabbed two beers at the concession stand near 3 (timestamp: 10:13 a.m.), we were walking past the green at the par-3 3rd when we had to stop to let the players putt. It was the Lovemark/Matsuyama group, and while we couldn’t see the green from our vantage point, we did run into young Lovemark’s paramour again.
After they finished up, we walked along the cart path and were stopped by a volunteer with a rope – the group was coming down from the green and would pass within feet of us on the way to the 4th tee. We each had two beers, and thus no hands with which to ask for or receive daps. But Jamie Lovemark wasn’t interested in daps. He was interested in juggling his golf ball on the blade of his putter. And juggle it he did, all the way down the hill behind the green, past us, and on down the path. Thinking quickly, Tom started counting the bounces, loudly – EIGHT! NINE! TEN! ELEVEN! – reminiscent of the “ole!” chant at European soccer matches. The small crowd around the ropes took it up, and I’d assume Lovemark’s gal was happy with the fan support.
A cool view of Tim’s back and Sean O’Hair’s approach into 5:
The first thing we saw when posting up at our spot to the right of 5 green was this guy, who busted out his Rickie Fowler-themed Halloween costume about two months early:
It takes a special kind of person to do something like that, particularly as he was about two groups behind Rickie at this point. Either he picked them back up on 7 green, or he just carried on living his life.
We got another chance to see Lovemark and Matsuyama, along with their associated followings (Lovemark’s lady and Hideki’s production crew). Matsuyummy stiffed one to about 10 feet, which probably feels like rolling out of bed at this point to the 24-year-old. I was giving Chris odds on the putt, trying to get into his pocket a bit deeper, and he suggested double or nothing. It was probably a dumb bet, as I know Matsuyama is an adventure on the green, but I had a good feeling. I agreed, Hideki poured it in, and I celebrated with a raucous yelp. Official ruling: Made putt. Outcome: Chris –> $5 Robbie.
Took a quick jaunt to 7 green here to see Dufner and Snedeker approach the green. Both had made aggressive layups (if such a thing exists) challenging the huge cross bunker and landing about 65 yards from the green. It’s a shot that all weekend hackers have at least three times a round – the half-swing wedge/bump and run mid-iron that never seems to work out the way you want it. Well, I’m here to tell you that sometimes that happens to the pros too.
Dufner had a perfect lie in the fairway, took out a wedge, and fluffed it up to the front of the green, where it ran backwards and left him about a 40-foot putt for birdie from the fringe. Snedeker then proceeded to impress me, hitting a low bouncer that ended up within tap-in range, according to the gallery (I couldn’t see the bottom of the flag from my view). If he can hit shots like that, I’m happy he’s on the Ryder Cup team. I realize it’s a links-inspired shot and the tournament’s in Minnesota, but you know the saying – they don’t ask how, they ask how many.
Back to 5, and things got interesting fast.
First – Fluff shows up with Furyk and puts on a performance showing that he is truly the consummate professional. Lights up a heater as soon as he puts the bag down. Reads Jim’s long birdie putt and gives his opinion. Paces off the yardage for tomorrow’s pin position, which will be on the top tier of the back-to-front sloping green. Watches Furyk two-putt for par. Finishes the lung dart with a five-pace puff walking off the green, then buries the butt in a clump of grass about 10 feet from our group. We all look at each other for about three seconds, and then Tim says, “Yeah, I’m gonna grab that.”
One of the Dans in our group headed down to the 6th tee to watch Furyk drive, where apparently the Jimbo showed some emotion. After a big miss, he retraced his swing path with a vicious lefty swipe that sent his tee careening into the backdrop behind the tee box.
One of the coolest moments happened as we were all still gazing in wonder at Fluff’s cigarette butt. We heard a growing murmur, and then a ball missed right on 5 and landed right next to us, about a foot away from the ropes. Of course we all crowded around it, asking who it was rather than taking out our handy tee sheets. When we heard it was Stenson, the response was immediate excitement. We were so close that the people in the TV tower behind the green had to tell us to move so they could film the ball.
When Stenson came over, he was clearly absolutely fuming. He rolled in hot, not even bothering to wait for us to move as he set up for his practice swings. If we hadn’t moved, someone would have taken a jawful of sand wedge in a hurry. We formed a semicircle around him, and I didn’t even have time to snap a photo before he popped up a flop shot and hustled back onto the green. I don’t know if his group was on the clock, or if he was just intimidated by my USA threads and gross moustache…
…but he literally took less than 10 seconds between getting to the ball and hitting it.
Someone (I think it was Chris) managed to snap a quick pic before he vacated the premises.
And here’s Drew’s photo of Stenson opening up the face on his wedge:
Being a volunteer marshal at one of these events would be great. You get to stand inside the ropes, look official, and do basically nothing except make people be quiet all day. One of the funniest moments occurred at the 5th, and was relayed to me by Tim. Apparently a guy was trying to sit down on a rough-covered hillside behind the green as a player was lining up to putt. The marshal very clearly did the two-arm-raised “hush” sign directly at this dude, who had sat down and was now helplessly and slowly sliding down the hillside on his backside. Unable to stop himself, the guy finished the world’s most embarrassing sled ride and (probably) left the grounds of the tournament at that point.
We got through a few slower groups on five in order to see the Awesome Aussie, Adam Scott, in person.
He’s just as stunning in person as he is on TV. What a guy. Also, there was a very spirited debate (fueled by a few more Budweisers) on Scott’s alma mater. Chris was convinced he was a Sun Devil from ASU, but Dan was just as convinced it was UNLV. After a quick $10 bet and an even quicker Wikipedia search, Chris was $20 in the hole. Official ruling: Adam Scott went to UNLV. Outcome: Chris –> $10 Dan
I think I said something like “Keep it up, Adam,” to Scott as he walked by and he looked at me and said, “Thanks, mate.” I then blacked out and woke up in the medical tent.
Also, we had a top-notch bro sighting at the 5th green. Note the high black lacrosse socks, perched backwards snapback, and polo patterned with the logo of a popular “bro culture” website (that I happen to enjoy as well).
The fifth green was where we caught our first sighting of the eventual champion, as Rory McIlroy’s approach shot nearly plummeted into the cup before settling eight feet behind the pin. Here he is about to bury the short birdie putt.
As Rory walked down toward the 6th tee, with the ropes completely full of patrons, he handed his ball off to a little kid decked out in Nike gear. The kid looked like Santa Claus had just personally delivered him a new puppy. I, with my jaded 26-year-old brain, couldn’t help but think that that ball was a collector’s item, as the Nike golf ball production line has ground to a permanent halt.
Chuckie Triple Sticks had one of the best approaches of the day on five, and finished off with a birdie to go to -4 on the day. This prompted me to follow him down to 6 tee, where I was scolded by a marshal. Not because I had done anything during CH3’s shot, but because a half hour earlier, I had taken a video of Rory’s driver swing from about 50 feet away, directly behind him. The marshal stared into my eyes as I did it, but I hustled back up to 5 and out of his jurisdiction before he could get to me. Good memory on these guys.
Spieth and Sergio came through next, and they had a massive gallery. It was one of two potential Ryder Cup matchups on the course, with the other being Justin Rose and Patrick Reed. On the fifth hole, Jordan struck first, hitting a dart to about 10 feet. Sergio responded by going deep past the hole, but pulling the string and using the hill to get it inside Jordan’s ball, around 7 feet out.
I couldn’t quite tell because the balls weren’t directly lined up with each other, but those are my official guesses. Anyway, Jordan drained his, Sergio burned the edge, I tried to start a USA chant and then got a graze of the fingertips hand sandwich from Spieth on his way by. It was wonderful.
The walk to 13
After our time at 5, we headed over to the back nine. This was an absolute odyssey, as we traveled nearly the entire width of the property. As the crow flies, it’s not a terrible walk, but because you have to go around the outside of many of the perimeter holes, the step count increases quickly. All in all, not a great spectator experience. We did stop for some mighty good cheeseburgers, then caught a glimpse of Harold Varner approaching the par-3 11th through a window of trees.
If memory serves, he hit a wicked good shawt, as the locals would say, directly over the front bunker and towards this tucked pin.
Also, HV3 had the shoes of the day, for sure. Look at that gradient.
We found some shade near the 13th green and took a cigar break, where we saw a few groups come through. One of these included Spencer Levin, who had some trouble on the hole. Despite this, he provided us with the best spectator moment of the day.
Nearly every single player on tour walks through those roped-off walkways from tee to green with little to no personality. They’re either buried in their yardage books, talking to fellow players, or staring straight ahead through mirrored sunglasses. Occasionally you’ll get a halfhearted “Thanks” from someone if you make a nice comment, or a high five after a birdie. But Levin took it to another level.
We didn’t even really know who was on the green, but had decided to move from 13 over to 16 to catch the action on the par-3. We’re on the ropes in between 13 green and 14 tee waiting for the players to come through so we can cross, when all of a sudden, this player comes high-knee jogging down the hill from the green. He’s giving away high fives to all and sundry and repeating in a loud and pseudo-excited voice: “Just made bogey! Just made bogey! Just made bogey!” It was like he was reminding everyone that he didn’t deserve the high fives while giving out the high fives. Without breaking stride, Levin gets through the tunnel of people and over to a quieter spot near the tee with less kids, whereupon he drops his head, clenches his arms in like the Incredible Hulk, and scream-mumbles a colossal “FUCK!” through his gritted teeth. Then he walks up to 14 like nothing happened and uncorks a drive down the fairway.
An incredible performance all the way through. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see that from the guy who produced this meltdown at the U.S. Open in June.
Since nothing could top Levin’s effort, we made our way over to the course’s signature hole, the all-carry par-3 16th. It was playing from the deep tees on Sunday, stretching to 187 yards, which is a pretty long poke for a green where the only places to miss are about 10 yards over or 5 yards right. We first stopped by the left side of the tee box and saw local boy Jon Curran tee off:
Then we found a great spot by the ropes just in front of the green, right near where the players strolled by:
Some serious spectator/marshal sauce was on display here. First, from the group of bros next to us, one of whom was wearing a polo festooned with that classic childhood treat, the Bomb Pop. Right down the ropes was this guy, rocking the jersey of a local legend:
And the marshal right near us was wearing FootJoys. Just a great look from a volunteer.
Speaking of volunteers, catch a load of this beauty:
Beer gut? Check. Wispy chin music? Check. Ponytail? Check. Absolute legend of the volunteer game.
We caught our final glimpse of the golden boy Jordan Spieth on 17. He had about a 12-footer downhill for birdie and he barely burned the edge. After he tapped it in, he went back and lined it up again like he was about to take a mulligan.
A few groups later, the second potential Ryder Cup matchup came through in the form of the Statue of Liberty’s younger brother (Patrick Reed) and Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose. This one didn’t go quite as well for the Americans, but Reed’s caddie did channel his inner Camilo on the read:
Justin Rose dropped one of the sexiest approaches of the day, leaving himself a glorified tap-in for bird. Reed answered with a very respectable effort to 10 feet, which he couldn’t convert despite his caddie’s best efforts.
Two final thoughts on this group, and the reason I’m looking forward to the Ryder Cup so much. After seeing them on 17, we hustled over to the 18th tee to get a look at their drives. Both ended up in good positions, and the groups made their way down from the tee box.
Rose was a bit ahead of Reed, and we had a prime spot on the ropes about 10 feet away as he walked by. I asked (in what I perceived to be a menacing but good-natured way) “Hey Justin, getting ready for Hazeltine?” He sized me up with a blank stare from behind his TV-sized sunglasses and then chirped back with much condescension, “Looks that way.” He wasn’t wrong.
Seconds later, as Patrick Reed walked by, a guy with a heavy Boston accent rattled off this amazing story in about four seconds, with no punctuation: “Patrick my boy named his dog after you Reedy not even lyin’.”
I think I detected a minor shake of the head from Reedy after that one.
A few final thoughts on the day. First, Ryan Moore has a slightly Furyky move in his backswing which I hadn’t really noticed before,. Second, DB’s GF was str8 vibin’:
Third, and by far the sauciest thing I saw on the day, a spectator rolled up next to me with an honest-to-God Bushnell golf rangefinder. God only knows the heat of the club selection takes that this kid had dropped on the day.
And finally, I leave you with a scene from the parking lot (not our doing).