Five feet from Tiger

7 09 2009

I’ve been meaning to explain my experience at The Barclays tournament on Aug. 28 — the first PGA Tour event I’ve attended. I was determined to make it over to Liberty National CC in Jersey City (a 10-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan) after missing the U.S. Open in Long Island earlier this summer. Boy, was I glad I didn’t punk out on this tourney.

Although I’ve never been to an NFL game, I feel comfortable writing that no sport is more rewarding to attend in person than the highest level of golf. The access to the players is unequaled. I was standing five feet from Tiger at the practice green with Vijay Singh and Ernie Els flanking him on either side. I gave PGA Champion Y.E. Yang a head nod that wasn’t reciprocated. I watched Singh meticulously practice each hole on the green by lining up three balls and genuinely attempting to make each shot. There was Boo Weekley rolling his eyes at the 30-something guy next to me who pleaded for one of his golf balls like he was a wide-eyed 7-year-old at his first baseball game.

I accomplished a lifelong goal by yelling out “Let’s go Lefty!” to Phil Mickelson as he was coming off the 17 tee. I was one of 10 guys standing around the 6 tee as I watched Adam Scott drill a 300 yard-plus drive at 9 in the morning. Here are a few more details I noticed from my day trekking the course:

-Tiger is thicker in the upper body than I thought. When he swings, his shoulders and back make him seem more like a footballer (the American version) than a golfer.

-Vijay is the life of the party. He was hamming it up with a slew of players on the practice green.

-On that note, Tiger was joking with Nick Watney (cousin of NESN BoSox reporter Heidi Watney) and a couple other players on the putting green. This is one of the more interesting facets of Tiger’s career. For as an incredible player as he is, he seems to have an uncanny ability to relate to so many of his peers. Maybe it’s because they’re in awe of him and just want to call themselves friends with Tiger. But I feel like Tiger’s love for the game and everyman status away from the cameras is what makes the connection between him and the rest of the field.

-Baseball announcers like to praise good hitters by saying the ball jumps off their bat. Well, the ball absolutely rockets off Kevin Na’s driver.

-Sergio was rocking four- or five-day beard growth with a backwards blue hat. Totally looked like a frat guy who woke up late in a drunken haze and hustled over to the course.

-I was floored to see the amount of chatter amongst golfers with each other and to other players’ caddies. Tiger was joking with Zach Johnson on four of the six holes at which I saw him. I suppose these players and caddies know each other quite well from the 20-25 tournaments they play each year, year after year, but I assumed their concentration was preclude them from a healthy amount of discussion. Turns out I was wrong.

-Rory Sabbatini looks like an ass. I felt it just from the way he carried himself.

-On the other hand, U.S. Open Champion Lucas Glover appeared to be as humble as advertised. He walked around with aw shucks mannerisms and seemed genuinely interested in a piece of swing advice he asked Mickelson at the second tee.

-Mobility is the main reason why golf tournaments prove so worthwhile. On a Thursday or Friday, before the tourney field is cut, you can watch 150-plus golfers on 18 holes. At one corner of Liberty, I was tracking players approaching 16 green while turning around and watching players tee off on 6 and 8. By the way, watching these players’ short games is something to behold. Any of us amateurs who play golf are thrilled just to safely hit a ball out of the sand or to chip a ball from the second cut to within five feet of the hole. For the pros, these are shots they expect to make.

-All in all, I’d rather spend $70 (grounds pass plus food on the course) to stand five or 10 feet away from my favorite PGA Tour players as they played a round and move around a course whenever I like than to dole out $50 or so (tickets plus food) to sit 200 feet above the field and tied to a seat at a Mets or Yankees game. The level of access at golf is incomparable.

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