Aug 15, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Golf tournaments are simple, right? Tee off on Thursday, continue Friday, position yourself on Saturday and see who wins Sunday, isn’t that the general idea?
Well, yes, and no. True, the structure doesn’t change much, but at every event, especially the big ones, there’s a full week of activity, and the recently completed PGA Championship that Jason Dufner won at Oak Hill in suburban Rochester was no exception.
For those of you not following the stories I wrote online (where were you?) or following my very active Twitter feed (get into the 21st century already!), here’s the best of the impressions gathered from a week up close with the greats of golf….
Monday – None of the biggest names were here yet, but already thousands are on the grounds, getting glimpses of the top players and club pros alike. The enthusiasm for golf in the Rochester area is incredible.
Up at the “Hill of Fame” situated above the 13th green, Tom Watson receives his plaque in a simple, beautiful ceremony. The best part – he’s led in, and then taken out, by a man playing perfect Scottish bagpipes. It creates instant goose bumps and a love for the game that goes beyond words.
Tuesday – The best time to catch Tiger Woods? That’s easy. It’s during an early-morning practice round. You can get up close, the fans are real ones (not the yelling yahoos with a few beers in their systems) and he’s still in a generally relaxed mood.
Then there’s mid-afternoon, when Phil Mickelson’s circuit of Oak Hill is complete. Literally thousands stand between the 18th green and the practice area, and he can’t accommodate them all.
Still, they try, with lots of anguished or organized cries of “PHIL! PHIL!” Standing amid the humanity, I’m bummed. Never before have so many people screamed out my name, and I’m absolutely sure they don’t want my signature.
Wednesday – One more chance to get close to Tiger as he finishes his last nine holes of practice. Through the gauntlet he must pass from the 9th green to the clubhouse, the fans take pictures and shove all kinds of memorabilia at him as he walks fast and signs a few. One guy waited 10 years, and got his autograph. Another guy held up his Nike shoe for a signature. I don’t know if he succeeded.
Further away, on the 17th hole of the West course, one-timers and wannabes hack away from 150 yards out, looking to win a car if they can get a hole-in one. Only a few even hit the green. Most go way left or right. Some are topped. One guy flew his club further than the ball.
Thursday – They’re underway now, and it’s ironic that as the masses follow Tiger into a week full of irrelevance, right behind him Jim Furyk, who did more practice than anyone, is threatening records before grabbing the lead with his 65.
You soon realize that 99.5 percent of the golf fans are great. The other 0.5 percent insist on shouting “Baba Booey!” or “mashed potatoes!” every time a ball gets airborne near a boom mike. That gets really tiresome, real fast – and imagine how the big names who hear it all the time feel. Despite a weather delay, everyone finishes before dark.
Friday – As it turns out, my most vivid memory of the week isn’t of a golfer. It’s of a handful of Canadian teenagers in red T-shirts, dedicated fans of laid-back Jason Dufner. They call themselves “Duf’s Dips” and they’re out, in uniform, before 8 a.m., amid the pouring rain, more than five hours before their hero tees off.
More than 10 hours later, those same guys are standing beside the green at 18 as Dufner faces his putt to become the first man ever to shoot 62 in a major. I’m nervous. Imagine how Jason feels, though he never, ever shows it. The putt falls short, but Duf’s Dips don’t care. They still greet him as he walks off the green, heading toward his greatest golfing triumph.
Saturday – A dirty little secret – the headset they give us to hear the satellite radio broadcast of the PGA is more live than the TV feed. So I learn, long before others, of Jonas Blixt hitting his tee shot at 18 into the back pants pocket of a spectator. He then got a free drop (no kidding) and hit the approach to two feet and birdied, eventually finishing fourth.
More unusual – sitting in the press room as Furyk, the 54-hole leader, goes through his news conference motions, and a beautiful, poised woman sits next to me. It’s Tabitha Furyk, Jim’s wife. I’m on my best behavior at that moment, that’s for sure.
Sunday – And the last day belongs to the coolest, calmest customer in Pittsford. Jason Dufner plays 16 perfect holes and can afford a couple of bogeys at the end, beating Furyk by two. True class was seeing Keegan Bradley, who beat Dufner in the 2011 PGA in a playoff, staying around to give Jason a hug as he exited the green after clinching the Wanamaker Trophy.
Just as classy was giving all the media stiffs some complementary champagne at the end. I took a plastic cup (no glasses, sadly) and silently toasted Oak Hill, the people of Rochester, everyone at the PGA, for making this a week to remember and cherish.