I’m way late posting this, but I’ve been on the road for a solid week now with no chance to share my thoughts from the Memorial. This does not explain why I’ve written nothing over the last three months, but as usual, real world stuff has been consuming me for quite some time. This won’t be an in depth look at the tournament, and won’t even mention William McGirt past this sentence, but I wanted to share some stories and tidbits from the ground.
I’ve lived abroad for about 20 months now, and haven’t been to a tournament in the states in two years. Walking the grounds of Muirfield Village for the better part of four days was a refreshing reminder that tournament golf is so different than it appears on television. It’s easy to sit back and watch Spieth miss a green five yards to the right and wonder how in the world he could miss that badly. Then you stand behind him and are reminded that a 200+ yard shot over water to a tiny sliver of a green is like flipping a half full water bottle onto a table top. The “golf is hard” idiom is a bit cliche, but sometimes it takes seeing it in person to be reminded just how ridiculously talented these guys are. It turns out, I needed that way more than I even realized, as I found myself in awe watching three of the best players in the game on Friday afternoon.
The PGA Tour media folks were gracious enough to grant me inside the ropes access on Friday afternoon, knowing that I had flown a long way to see the Spieth-Rory-Thomas grouping. Following from outside the ropes would have been next to impossible, as this was far and away the feature group of the first two days, and the Friday afternoon Memorial throng was out in full force. I’ve never seen a golf tournament from that close before, and honestly, it kind of ruined golf viewing for me. It’s hard to go back to fighting crowds after being that close. So for that, I want to thank the tour for taking the chance that I would make the right judgment as to whether or not I should run out and hug JT in the first fairway.
I couldn’t help but notice how incredible routine everything seemed for these three. Normal conversations about food, other sports, travel, etc. There didn’t seem to be a real sense that this was a super serious round of golf, and felt more like an afternoon stroll with some buddies than it did a professional sporting event. At one point, Thomas was waiting on a rules official on number ten to help him with a drop after a fan picked up his ball and threw it. Spieth and Rory actually (bizarrely) played ahead and ended up putting out, only to wait about fifteen minutes to catch up. If there is a rivalry between the two of them, you couldn’t tell. They hammed it up and talked about the spelling bee until they were greeted with a “Hey guys!” from Thomas as he finally made it to the green. It was a moment I could not picture Tiger and Phil having in the mid-2000’s, and to see the number two and number three player in the world interact and laugh it up mid-round stuck out a bit to me.
The maturity difference between the 27 year old McIlroy and the two BFF”s was evident the entire day (perhaps attributed to the fact that Rory played very well). McIlroy seemed to be in complete control of everything for the entire day. His emotions, his golf ball, and his putting stroke were all perfectly in check for four and a half hours, and he was a few shots away from really putting together a special round. He hit rope after rope, and it felt like he was never going to hit a ball off line. It culminated with an devastatingly pure tee ball on the par-3 16th, only to see it land strangely right next to the hole, and roll off the green. Five years after the redesign, the 16th green is still a disaster, and a bad hole overall.
“Best f’n shot I hit all day,” he murmured as he walked off the green. He ended up settling for a 66 that he would tell you should have easily been a 63.
Spieth finished with a 68 that felt like a 78, which is kind of becoming his thing. I don’t know whether I left impressed or not. I ran into several friends throughout the week, both golf fans and non-golf fans of all ages, and I heard the same common them from them all. “Spieth came through here earlier. He was not happy at all.” I don’t really have a take on this, other than it really is becoming a thing.
JT opened with 77, which actually seemed to loosen him up for Friday. It didn’t take long for him to get to IDGAF status, especially once it became clear that he was not going to be around for the weekend. I really liked how Muirfield setup for him, and coming off a T3 finish at the Players in his last start, I was prepared for him to have a great week. But given his comments to me on our latest podcast about the psychological effect some of the feature group pairings had had on him, and considering the large Kentucky gang he had out following him, I was not altogether shocked to see him have a poor couple of days, possibly due to the distractions.
He hit iron off of the par-5 fifth tee, and I was pretty sure he was trolling me until he ended up going for it with another iron with his second, clearing the water, and reaching the green. But the greatest moment came on the 14th hole, and I’m thankful that Chris Chaney was there to witness and attest to it, as otherwise it might not be believed. I tried to summarize it on twitter as best I could, but it needs further explaining.
As mentioned, Thomas is going to miss the cut by a mile. The 14th hole at Muirfield Village is 362 yards, with a creek that comes in around 270-280 yards from the tee box. The green is extremely narrow, and surrounded by water to the right, and bunkers to the left. No one goes for this green, as there really isn’t any where to land it, it’s a really tough carry, and there is very little benefit to doing so. During the Presidents Cup, they moved the tees up for a day to let players try to drive the green, but they never do this for the Memorial. Everyone hits iron, as driver makes zero sense. But JT DGAF.
Spieth had honors, took out an iron, and is preparing to tee off. JT pulls the driver out of the bag. Chaney and I are standing maybe 15 feet away from him, and we look at each other incredulously.
“What the hell?”
We kind of start laughing about it. Spieth stripes one, puts his club back, sees JT’s club, and his eyes get wide.
“Driver!?” he mouths in JT’s direction. A smirk came over Thomas’ face, and he turns towards me and Chaney to see us laughing. He’s not seriously going to do this is he?
“Is this for me??” I whispered in his direction.
He replies with a smirk and a nod.
Rory puts an iron in the fairway, and as JT makes his way to the tee, there’s a buzz in the crowd. There’s no standard bearers on the course, so many fans around the tee likely had no idea that Thomas was as many over par as he was. The excitement builds as he puts his tee in the ground.
A “NO LAYING UP!” yell comes from somewhere in the crowd. Is this really happening?
Thomas swings out of his shoes, launches one, but it’s going left into the gallery. The Wayward Drive Point and the “FORE” yell ensue, and I can’t help but to start laughing. Spieth is laughing. The players take off down the fairway, and I’m making my way over to the cooler to grab a water, but notice Rory is heading in the same direction. I lay back for a second to give him space. He looks over at me, still laughing about the shot, and says loudly (enough for the crowd behind the tee to hear):
“Looking forward to the tweet about that shot!”
I was too dumbfounded to come up with anything creative.
@NoLayingUp I wanted to make a 1 🙁
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) June 3, 2016
It was a great to meet several people that I’ve interacted with on twitter for years but had never met in person, and am looking forward to attending more events in the future. I’ll try to share some more stories from the week on the podcast next week, which should feature a certain player that I met on the grounds. For now, I’ve got a flight back to Holland to catch. Thanks for the hospitality, America.