On Saturday I did some things I hadn’t done in a very long time. I wore cut-off jean shorts to a golf course. And I took off my reporter’s cap and went to watch a golf tournament as just a spectator. Totally crazy, I know. I had trouble accepting I was just going for fun because somehow in the past year, it’s become second instinct for me to constantly think of story lines and shove a voice recorder in a player’s face. I also received some grief from one of my snarky mentors, Alan Shipnuck.
See our Twitter fight.
If it’s not glaringly obvious, we’re just giving each other a hard time. Actually, you can never be sure with Shippy. (Kidding,<3 you, Alan!) To be completely honest, I wouldn’t have made the trip if A) my friend, who invited me, wasn’t moving back to Australia for five months; and B) if I had to deal with driving (and paying for the rental car) to Philly on my own.
So, what was it like going to the AT&T National as a spectator? Much more low stress! It was fun, but frustrating sometimes. You know, just if I wanted to get a closer look at some of the greens, there were those pesky ropes that got in the way. But it was relaxing to not worry about catching up with a certain group or interviewing a player afterward or brainstorming storylines. Okay, I couldn’t help myself with that last one. I mean, I always watch golf with a critical eye — like where people are missing it, how firm the fairways and greens are, how the greens appear to be rolling, the difficulty of the pin placements, how thick the rough is, where the trouble areas are, etc.
Aronimink is a fantastic, and as the scores showed, a tough test of golf. What I noticed immediately: Traditional, old Ross course, the distance between the last green to the next tee was close because courses were designed for walking back in Ross’ era, tight fairways and the firm conditions made it difficult to keep it in the fairway sometimes; if you miss the short grass, chances are you have a crappy lie out of the nasty rough; and the greens were very Donald-Ross-esque, meaning they’re crowned so there’s little room for error and precision is required to hold them.
If you hit your approach offline, then there’s a good chance you have a long put across a swale or your ball rolls off the green. Oh, it looked nearly impossible to hold the ball late Saturday afternoon, especially to some of the more difficult pin positions, like 8 and 14. And even with short irons into some of the par 4s and the par 5, 16th.
On the par 3, 8th hole, Charley Hoffman, who I really enjoy, missed his tee shot into the bunker. The pin was front left-center (I think) and he didn’t hit the best sand shot, but his ball rolled off the green into the collection area. There, he was left with a difficult shot — he putted it up the swale and he left it about six-feet short. He missed the putt to make a double. Ouchie.
And then on the par 3, 14th, Charley started to have Tourettes-esque outbursts. His tee shot landed below and left of the pin. But it wouldn’t stop and rolled just off the green. He was left with a short-sided chip, which also rolled past the pin to the fringe. He muttered, “It’s not f*%^ing downhill” or something like that. After his third shot, more F-bombs.
And then for the remainder of the round, it appeared Charley was experiencing a full-blown Tourettes episode. But he kept it pretty quiet. It’s just that we were so close and there wasn’t much background noise. I’m also talented at lip-reading, too. I felt for him — I would have had several Tourettes-like outbursts if I were playing that badly. (Which happened yesterday even when I played decently.)
The par 3, 17th was a tough hole. The distance was listed at 215 yards guarded by water in the front and comes into play if you miss left. As you may recall, Tiger hooked what was probably his 4-iron into the drink on Thursday. And then lots of players were misjudging the wind so poorly that their balls were flying into the grandstands behind the green.
Ryan Moore explained that because of the trees that border the tee box and hole, the players couldn’t feel the wind from the tee. They could see the wind, blowing the pin and the other flags and give their best guess, but it was difficult to judge, which made it very deceptive.
And as you may have heard, there was a lot of chatter about Aronimink holding a major, and in fact, setting it up like one as part of its bid. In my amateur opinion, I definitely think the course could host a terrific major. I’m not a fan of the idea of a US Open (not that I’m an expert), but I think it’d be perfect for a PGA Championship.
Moore said the course could host a US Open, but if that happened, then the USGA would — well, we already know how he feels about their setups.
When I joked about Justin Rose, who had a four stroke lead after three rounds, being the only player who knew how to conquer Aronimink, Ryan credited the golf course, explaining that good golf courses create separation like we were seeing that week.
Oh, for full disclosure, the friend who invited me to come watch was Ryan’s girlfriend, Serena. The picture above was taken after dinner on Saturday and includes (from left to right) me (duh), Ryan, Serena, Serena’s friend Camille, and JD, Ryan’s caddie.
I came home that night a little sunburned, sweaty, tired and content with a great day at Aronimink (which I’m dying to play now — I’m a big fan of traditional, tough courses). And a very optimistic feeling that Ryan would go low on Sunday. I know what you’re all thinking — of course, you’re only saying that because he did. Maybe that’s partly true, but only a little because I had been saying all week he was going to play well.
Watching his entire round on Saturday just reinforced that thought. He was hitting the ball too pure and just burning edges on a lot of putts. If you’re striking it that well, the putts eventually will go in.
Like they did on Sunday.