A Father’s Day at the U.S. Open
As an avid sports and golf fan and a mid-handicap golfer, I had always wanted to attend a final round at a major. And, this year I found myself with a pair of tickets for Sunday at Congressional courtesy of the USGA’s lottery. So, I persuaded my college student daughter, Chelsea, to join me for what turned out to be a very special Father’s Day together at the U.S. Open.
The weather was great – overcast skies all day, so no blazing sun or heat. Chelsea is not a golfer herself, yet she enjoyed the day much more than either of us thought she would. She told me afterward that she appreciates any sport (and the skill required) much more after watching it in-person. I should probably add that from her perspective it didn’t hurt that there are a number of very good-looking young men on the professional golf circuit.
We got to the course early enough (about 10:00 a.m.) that the crowds were still light and we could move around easily to see the grounds and strategize about where we wanted to be positioned later in the day. We even got up into the grandstands overlooking the 18th that later on in the day were reserved only for members and NBC affiliates. Several spectators were already camping out around the 18th. We spoke to one fellow that had carefully staked out what he thought was the perfect vantage point and told me “it was not for sale at any price.” Then it was on to watch the players. I wanted to move around a lot in order to see as many different parts of the course as possible, and Chelsea was the perfect spectator partner for that.
We started at the 1st tee to see the formal introduction process of Siem/Manassero (10:50 tee time). Then we hurried down the hill to stand by the 6th green. We got alongside the rope on the water side of the green and had a wonderfully unobstructed view of approach shots coming into the pin that was just a few paces away from the other edge of that water. Here we sat to watch several groups come through, including Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, and Bubba Watson. I must say, when the #1 player in the world hit his approach into a terrible hillside lie under a tree to the left of the green, with no hope of getting from there to the green, had to pitch out to a “safe zone” and then work hard just for a bogey, I could relate!
Then it was up to #10 tee to watch Greyling/Mickelson, Piercy/Hoffman, Kuboya/Streelman (Streelman is from my hometown of Wheaton, IL) and Donald/Watson. We found a spot against the rope and just 30 feet or so from the back-of-the-green pin placement on #9. A fantastic view of their approach shots over the ravine on this par 5; and immediately behind us we could watch players warming up on the practice putting green. We saw Gay/Ishikawa, Overton/Putnam and Glover/Rock. This vantage point seemed to be overlooked by much of the crowd and was perhaps my favorite of the day.
Time for a lunch break at this point. We grabbed dogs and chips and sat on the hillside overlooking the 18th green (and #10 in the distance) and caught the first groups finishing, including Mickelson. From there we crossed the 18th fairway (even that was a thrill for Chelsea; what other sport is there that you get to go out on the playing surface in the middle of the competition), caught some players hitting their fairway approach shots to the 18th green (a postage stamp surrounded by water from where they were hitting. Even after a monster drive, Bubba Watson stood over his ball, then went back to his bag to for a shorter iron and elected to hit a three-quarter lay-up shot to the front of the green). Then we moved to the grandstands at 17th green. A really great view from there.
Next, it was to the “amphitheater” hillside where you have an incredible view of the 18th and 10th greens, with the #10 tee and clubhouse across the water and up the hill. Beautiful! While getting positioned there, Ishikawa hit his approach shot into the crowd and Chelsea and I wiggled into a spot no more than 4 feet from him while he hit a difficult downhill chip onto the green. Again, a thrill for Chelsea to be able to be so close to a pro athlete in the midst of a major competition. I had told her this was a possibility and, at Ishikawa’s expense, was delighted that we were able to have that brief “close encounter” experience. We enjoyed this spot for a while, then we were off to attempt to follow Yang/McIlroy with the rest of the enormous and enthusiastic gallery. We caught a good view of Steve Stricker walking up to the #10 green along the way.
It quickly became evident that we’d never get close enough to McIlroy by following him; the strategy had to be to jump ahead of him and try to stake out a vantage point. We got a spot near the 4th green where we saw one of McIlroy’s birdie putts. Better yet, we were against the ropes for the player’s path to the 5th tee, so Chelsea got a really good look at just how young this guy looks. We caught him again at the 7th green (a very close birdie miss) then ran ahead to get a great seat on the hill behind #10 where we had an excellent view of his near ace. The crowd was unbelievably electric with that one!
From there we simply ran up the hill and got right along the rope behind the 15th green. We watched quite a few groups come through here, waiting for Yang/McIlroy again. All this time, by the way, we were able to be listening to what was going on around the rest of the course via a small earphone radio that had been given out (free) by American Express. It broadcast the ESPN live radio feed of the championship. A couple of times we were standing near the ESPN commentator and were able to watch him speaking into his mike and then hear it seconds later in our ear (there was a tape delay).
Davis Love ran his approach shot off the backside of the 15th green and through the crowd. We couldn’t see where it ended up but I think it may have rolled down against the #10 grandstands. Anyway, he ended up using the drop circle right in front of us. We watched McIlroy miss another birdie putt on #15 by an inch (had these near misses been falling, he could have easily beat Tiger’s 19 under mark) and then we returned to the 18th and watched all the remaining groups come in. It’s hard to imagine a better theater for a finishing hole.
Obviously, this was not a nail-biting finish, but it was thrilling to see “history” nonetheless. We enjoyed all of the celebration and stayed to for the awards ceremony. As I sentimentally took it all in, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t the only dad who had shared a special day with his child — Rory McIlroy and his dad clearly have a close relationship and the hugs and smiles they shared shortly after Rory holed his final putt of the round was as perfect a reminder as any of what a blessing it is to be a father and to be a part of your children’s lives whether they be a player or a spectator of this great game!
We stayed right til the end and soaked it all up, not leaving the course until 8:00pm. All in all, a long but very special Father’s Day for the McIlroy family and for this golf fan!