Closing Out the US Open

2012 US Open ScoreboardWouldn’t you know it, just when I had deciphered the nearly incomprehensible leader board at the Olympic Club… the US Open was over.

The Club posted scores the old-school way; A couple of guys had stacks of cards with either players’ names, or red and black numbers, on them and updated the scoreboard manually based on instructions coming through their earpieces.  Jumbotron?  What’s a jumbotron?

Kind of low-tech, when you consider we were just a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley.  But it was rewarding too, in a way.  When I was ultimately able to make out who was in the lead and his score for the tournament, I puffed up a little like I’d cracked a secret code.

Maybe I was having so much trouble reading the scoreboard on the final day because I’d spent four hours in the wind and fog in the grandstands at the 18th.  I am only now regaining feeling in my fingers and toes.  There’s a rumor that it was toasty in other parts of the Bay Area on Sunday, but I saw none of it.  Behold the microclimate.

And so my US Open week has come to a close.  I have hung up my fanny pack – the only bag-ish thing in my closet that met the 8”x8”x8” size limit strictly enforced by the Olympic Club.  It smarts to know that I had such an awful, unflattering item from the 80’s still in my closet.  But let me be clear — I carried it over my shoulder like a tiny purse. I swear, that thing was not once worn in the traditional around-the-waist manner.  I HAVE standards!

A few additional closing thoughts:

Golf fans are good fans.  They are courteous and well-behaved.  Case in point:  On Friday I was in the crowded stands at the 7th, and a man stood to catch a glimpse of Tiger Woods on the 9th. Some patrons seated further back did not feel like rising to the occasion, however, and shouted for him to sit down.

He ignored them.

Things got a little heated, and a gentleman sitting near me became pretty insistent.  Standing man said he wouldn’t sit until after Tiger’s tee shot, because otherwise he couldn’t see.  So my neighbor loudly called him a jerk.  I kid you not. Just that — a jerk.

Standing man look wounded.  He replied, “That’s not fair, sir.”  Then… he took his seat.  No punches or concession food thrown, no curse words hurled.  And so I say, golf fans are good fans.

Jason Day

In the hole!  When I watch golf on TV, I simultaneously scratch my head and roll my eyes when fans yell “Get in the hole!” the moment a golfer hits a drive, especially when the hole is a par 4 or greater.  But I now realize it’s kind of a joke.  Other fans chuckle when they hear it.  I guess it’s like when somebody pulls out a guitar to serenade his buddies, and one of them yells “Freebird!”

Tiger Woods Practice GreenAgain, there’s something about Tiger.  When Tiger Woods bogeyed the 1st and 2nd holes, and double bogeyed the 3rd on Sunday, a lot of fans went home.  They said “Forget it, Tiger’s done.”  Are you kidding me?  You went to the trouble and expense – not to mention risked hypothermia — to attend the US Open, when all you really cared about was a Tiger Woods victory?  It wasn’t even 3 pm, and there was so much great golf yet to be played…

I wish the course hadn’t been so difficult.  So “extremely penalizing”, in the words of Phil Mickelson.  Watching the world’s finest players struggle to reach the green, and miss putt after putt, was at times a little tedious.  But I’m glad I stuck it out to the bitter-cold end.  The photo-finish was worth it… even if cameras were prohibited for the likes of me.

Practice Makes Perfect: Observations From the 2012 US Open

The Olympic Club

Tiger Woods

There’s something about Tiger Woods.  Golf fans love Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, and call them by their first names as if they’ve been friends for years.  We know their practice rituals, and personal details.  But with Tiger, it’s different.  He is in a class by himself.

This was evident at the practice green, where I hung out for an hour or two on Wednesday, the final practice day of this year’s US Open.  It was quiet and low-key as 15 or so players, and their caddies and coaches, milled around.  I heard a few spectators ask the whereabouts of “Bubba”, and lament “Rory’s” late tee-off time.  Then things changed.  First, TV crews popped up all around – seemingly out of nowhere.  There was even a big television camera on a crane that was long enough to get footage on the opposite side of the practice green.  Where did THAT come from?

Then the idle chitchat among spectators stopped, replaced by murmurs of “He’s here. Tiger’s HERE.”  It spread like the wave at a Major League Baseball game.

To what can we attribute this reaction? It’s true, Tiger is a spectacular talent and when he catastrophically fell from grace, most of us couldn’t look away.

Perhaps fans want to see a resurrection of sorts.  Americans love redemption, almost as much as we love to watch the rich and powerful fall down off their pedestals.  Or maybe fans have always reacted with hushed reverence when they got a glimpse of Tiger.   If that’s the case – and the guy can’t enter a room, practice area, or public event without the earth’s rotation noticeably slowing – it might help explain why he came to see himself as above the rules and social norms the rest of us live by.

Golf BagsMany professional caddies smoke.  This is a little surprising if you work under the assumption that smoking may not be conducive to cardio-pulmonary health.  A professional golfer’s bag loaded with clubs probably weighs 30 pounds, and caddies have to run with those things hanging over their shoulders – often uphill.  Smoking and caddying seem sort of incompatible but…

Miguel Ángel JiménezWhere there’s smoke, there’s Miguel Ángel Jiménez. The forty-seven-year-old Spanish golfer may smoke huge stinky stogies that seem to last for hours, but he’s clearly all about health and wellness.  Check it out.  No tight hammies on this guy!


Practice DayThey don’t call them practice days for nothing.  I went to golf tournaments in college, including a few practice rounds.  I guess I missed something, because I entered Wednesday expecting players to play 18 holes while following all the rules, as they got a feel for the course.  Not so.  There were mulligans galore, and on the greens each player probably took 10 practice putts from various locations.  On the 8th hole at Olympic, the green is on a hill.  Hit the ball short of the pin, and it’ll roll 20 yards or more back down onto the fairway.  Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell took turns testing this.

Golfers are outliers.  In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell demonstrates that excellence is no accident.  The average aficionado in anything — be it sports, music or computer programming — devotes about 10,000 hours to practice to get that way.  His hypothesis was supported on the practice green, where I watched players hit the same putt over and over — sometimes as part of precise drills.  I’d watch them miss eight inches to the left, then six inches, then four, then two until… success. Then they’d place the ball a foot or so from where it was before, and start all over.

cell phoneNo one would give me the time of day.  The US Open has a very strict “no cell phone” policy.  Security practically administers a TSA scan before they let you climb on a shuttle bus to the course, to ensure you aren’t smuggling one.  I missed having my phone and data access, but mostly I missed knowing what time it was.  Rising at the disorienting hour of 5 a.m. messed with my body clock, and it was too foggy to judge the hour by looking at the sun. Next time I’ll bring a watch.

And finally… Rory needs to get a grip.  Like golfers of every ilk, Rory McIlroy has perfected an insouciant lean-on-driver pose between shots.  Unfortunately, the bobblehead that shares his name and likeness — a gift from the San Francisco Giants — has not.

Rory McIlroy BobbleheadRory McIlroy