Friday, June 17, 2005

The Open: Attended my first U.S. Open round yesterday, and had a great experience. A few thoughts on the day and the tournament.

The U.S. Open is the most well run event of that size I've even been to. From 7 am to 6 pm we never waited for more than a minute. Not to park, get on the shuttle bus, get into the course, get food and drink, buy a souvenir, get back on the shuttle bus, get out of the parking lot, nothing. And there had to be at least 50,000 people there. They had two large parking lots, one north side, one south. The north lot, where we were, had 100 buses shuttling people to and from, and it made a big difference. But the entire event was like that. The football field size merchandise tent was packed, but there must have been 60 or so cashiers moving people along. Excellent.

Mickelson was the name on everyone's lips this week, and a 69 yesterday had everyone picking him. Anyone want odds now.

Pinehurst is not a pretty course. It's not ugly, but there's none of the flora of an Augusta, or panoramic awesomeness of Pebble Beach. It is, as it's name indicates, full of pine trees, which are fine but not pretty. And that's as it should be for a U.S. Open. This ain't the Masters, where they dye the water in the ponds blue for tv. It's simpler here, a little more honest. Beautiful, but not pretty.

On tv, the course doesn't look that hard, but it is a killer. The phrase "turtlebacked" has been used to describe these greens. If that doesn't make it clear, imagine landing a golf ball on the hood of VW Beetle and stopping it close to antenna. Yikes.

Fortunately, the USGA seems to be resisting the urge to push the course too far. I saw them watering the greens, just a little, yesterday between groups to keep the greens from getting out of hand. Good for them. It's about time they learned not wreck a good thing.

Heat, sweat, sunscreen, and sand require an ocean to achieve any level of sustainable comfort. Without it, you feel like a walking pile of crud after a few hours.

Fans are getting too polite. Not that they should ever be rude or inconsiderate (golf is different from every other sport and this is one of the good ways), but fans are almot afraid to cheer out loud sometimes. There was a lot of obnoxious fan behavior when Tiger Woods turned pro and took the popularity of golf to a new level, but the backlash seems to have taken some of the fun out of the experience. Considerate fans don't want to distract the players during a swing, but surely cheering them on when they're walking off the teebox is still inbounds, right. Some players have a reputation for acknowledging their fans and showing appreciation for the cheers, Mickelson being the biggest example today, but others you feel like you're bugging them. I think the problem is part of the celebrity/sports obsessed culture we live in, where some fans don't know where to draw the line, and golf is just the latest to be affected. But Arnolf Palmer never walked up a fairway staring at the ground, ignoring the fans around him. He always took time to wave, nod, show some recognition of the people who make it possible for him to fly in private jets and play a game for a living. Today's players need to be more like him. And gas should cost a nickel a gallon, right?

My pick of Justin Leonard as dark horse doesn't look too good. I gues it's time to confess: I have no idea who will win from one week to the next. I never would have picked Rocco Mediate and Olin Browne to be the leaders after Round 1. I don't think either of them will win. I may be wrong again. Me, I'd watch Retief Goosen real close today. But, you know, it's all just guessing.

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