With the galleries five to ten deep from tee to green, the grandstands overflowing, the hero-like adulation and three or four uniformed officers, I felt like I was following Tiger Woods at Sahalee on Friday afternoon.
Wrong tour. I walked with Fred Couples, Tom Watson and Eduardo Romero for their first nine, but I actually only saw about four and a half. I kept shaking my head in disbelief. This is a Friday and a senior citizens tour event, no less!
26,173 people attended the second round of the US Senior Open, according to USGA officials. Considering 25,423 of them were tracking Freddie, it felt like there were even more. I’d never seen anything like it.
Neither had Tom Watson or his caddie Todd Newcomb — they don’t think.
During a back-up on the ninth tee, a fan asked Watson, “Have you ever seen a crowd this big on a Friday ever?”
Watson paused to think and replied, “I don’t know,” before he deferred to Newcomb for his opinion. “I’m not sure we ever have.”
It’s mostly because of Freddie’s homecoming. When was the last time he was even in town? He wasn’t sure at first. “Last June, actually,” said Freddie. “I wasn’t in the U.S. Open and I ‑‑ wow, maybe two Junes ago, maybe it wasn’t last June, maybe two years ago. A long time ago.”
If you heard the murmurs in the gallery, you would have thought Freddie were a rock star, not a professional golfer. Near the first green, a teenager said, “He’s just so f*&%ing cool.” His pal nodded in agreement.
On the fifth hole, I was standing next to two middle-aged-ish guys with beers in hand. One gestured his head to the left and said, “Check it out. White shirt, white pants.” Naturally, I looked over to see who they were gawking at. She was a brunette. The other replied, “Good call.”
“Probably one of Freddie’s women.”
“God bless him.”
Turns out they were right. The brunette was waiting for him at the clubhouse after his round. Good call, guys.
All day the fans shouted: “Go Freddie! Boom Boom! Seattle loves you!”
The cheers for Watson were almost as loud. As he walked up to the eighth green, where he had knocked an approach to birdie-range, the crowd clapped and roared. Freddie followed behind him closely, twirling a wedge in his right hand. He had just hit a fantastic shot from the fairway bunker with one foot out and the other in.
On the ninth par 3, all three landed safely on the green. The ground almost felt like it was rumbling as they walked up to the green together with putters in their hands. Freddie was the farthest from the pin — he had about a 30-35 footer downhill. He had missed two short birdie putts on the sixth and seventh. But finally, this one dropped. And I thought the grandstand was going to come crashing down.
At the end of the day, Freddie finished with another even par, good enough to be tied for fifth. With these crowds in the first two rounds, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like this weekend, especially on Sunday. How great would it be if he won in front of his hometown fans? Really great.
[Photo by John Mummert/USGA]