My day at the U.S. Open
After years of watching golf on television with my husband, and pestering about going to one of the matches in person, I finally got my wish. Only it was far beyond my expectations. For Father's Day and our wedding anniversary, our daughter gave us member passes for the final round of the 113th U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.
There were lots of reasons for golf enthusiasts, like myself, to be excited about being able to attend this particular championship, beyond the fact that it is one of the top four majors. With attendance shrunk because of the small size of the grounds, tickets were limited and hard to come by. Some had been purchased a year in advance, and officially the rest were sold. So just getting in the door was an event.
There was also the fact that it was the first time in 32 years that the Open had been held at Merion, let alone in Pennsylvania. It was expected that the Merion course, which was hosting its record-breaking 18th championship, would present a huge challenge to even the best of players. She didn't disappoint.
Above all, it was a chance to see almost all of the world's outstanding professional golfers-men I had seen close up many times on my TV screen, but never in person. I wasn't disappointed either.
We started the day early, arriving at the golf club at 8:00 in the morning. After a brief reconnaissance, my husband and I managed to position ourselves in a space at the front of a low fence from where we could watch players tee off to the first hole, finish putting on the 18th green, and walk past us to the club house to record their scores. It was literally the best seat in the "house."
From my vantage point, I saw every one of the remaining 73 hopefuls as they started their play for the fourth and final round. Then I saw many of them return in defeat. The 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott finished on the 18th at 15 over par, and made the short walk past me, as did Geoff Ogilvy, winner of the 2006 U.S. Open. Sunday wasn't Ogilvy's day either, but he cheerfully threw his final ball toward me. It bounced off my husband's hand, hit me on the shoulder and landed on the ground. Happily, we recovered it.
It was fascinating to see how the crowds around us grew and shrank depending on who was beginning or finishing play. By the time Tiger Woods was scheduled to tee off, there were lines of people 20 or more deep, and the area teemed with news photographers with their extreme close-up lenses bouncing in front of them as they ran to take their positions. At one point I counted 19. NBC's long-armed boom camera above us also zeroed in on Woods as his first shot took off just to the right of the fairway.
When Woods walked past us after his last shot, the crowds had returned for one last look. His face was grim, and he stared straight ahead as he left the course. This could have been the 15th major championship for the number one player in the world, but it wasn't to be. Woods lost by 12 strokes, just exactly the same number of strokes he was under when he won the U.S. Open in 2000.
Phil Mickelson, who was leading at the end of the third round, was the last to begin play on Sunday. As he walked past us to the right on his way to the first tee, someone in our small group at the fence began singing happy birthday, and the rest of us joined in. It was not only Father's Day, it was Mickelson's 43rd birthday.
After Mickelson teed off, we gave up our spot and began moving to other holes on the course. We settled again near the 9th, where we could watch players hitting their second drives, as well as making their final puts. We saw Mickelson make par on that hole, and then I headed for the relief station for a quick stop. From my seat in the porta-potty, I heard the nearby gallery explode. Mickelson had eagled 2 on the short par 4 on the 10th hole. Had Mickelson won the Open, that probably would have become the signature shot of his career, and I missed it.
My frustration was relieved, however, with what happened later. Because of difficulty I have walking and standing, I was permitted to have a motorized cart at the Open. In order to return to the main gate, we had to drive the cart on a paved path that went right past the 17th green and the 18th tee. We were alone on that path and allowed to watch while Mickelson putted for par and then followed by driving his next ball into the rough on the left. We were no more than 30 feet away from the man who would ultimately bogie his last hole and finish tied for second.
While the outcome was disappointing to us, that's what makes golf so fascinating. There are never any certainties. You can eagle one hole, and triple bogie the next. Today's champion is tomorrow's big loser, but never in the hearts of the spectators, who understand just how precarious and A case in point: one Philadelphia publication touted the Merion U. S. Open "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to see Tiger and Phil and Rory duke it out on the fairways and greens." As it turned out Tiger and Rory relinquished the battle to Phil and Justin, but it didn't matter much to me, or probably to most of the spectators. We were just thrilled to be there to see them play.