I took today off and spent most of it at as a spectator at the US Open Golf Tournament at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, NY. I have a well connected friend and was the lucky recipient of a VIP guest pass care of this friend.
It took me a long time to get to the Winged Foot clubhouse. It's about a good 4-5 miles from the Hutch (Hutchinson River Parkway), and to get there you have to take a bunch of smaller back roads which was confusing to say the least. Once I got there, I had to run though a literal gauntlet of New York State Troopers, one of whom was somewhat less than cooperative in helping me get to the player's parking lot which is where my pass entitled to me to go.
After a long hassle, I finally got in to the facility and parked in the player's lot. I was expecting to see a bunch of Mercedes Benz sports cars and other luxury vehicles, but the lot was filled with SUVs. There were so many SUVs that it almost looked like an SUV dealership. As I parked I saw one of the players, a young guy in his 20s, get out of an SUV with Kentucky plates with his wife/girlfriend. I would later be able to identify him by his picture: it was J.B. Holmes.
I went in and met some friends at a pre-arranged destination, because no cellphones are allowed on the premises. After you go through the main entrance on the left there is a very large, old clubhouse made entirely of stone masonry, quite an interesting looking building although I did not go inside.
When I got to the course (18th hole) the threesome that was playing was Tom Lehman, Joey Sindelar and Jay Haas. After watching them for a while I saw a large gallery making its way towards the 5th hole and I knew it had to be Tiger. It was. There was a huge throng of fans following him all day, although ultimately it didn't help him. Anyway, I ran over to the 5th hole green and was able to get in a decent position to watch him hit his approach shot to the green. Tiger was in the fairway on that hole for one of the few times all day, and he hit an iron to the green, a high arcing shot that at first had everyone around me flinching because it looked like it was going long. However the shot bit as soon as it landed on the green, spin rolled maybe 6 inches at most, and came to a rest about 12 feet beyond the hole. Tiger would sink the putt for birdie, which I believe was his only birdie all day en route to a 6 over 76, and 12 over for the tourney, which was not good enough to make the cut. It was the first time as a professional that Tiger missed the cut in a major, and I was there to witness the poor guy's misery.
In fairness to Tiger, this was a very tough course to come back on after not playing for 9 weeks. The fairways are very narrow and the rough is thick and 6 inches high in places where there is fairway on other courses. There are also nightmarishly configured sand bunkers, including a horseshoe bunker on the 8th hole green that was giving everyone fits. Tiger did not hit the ball straight today, missed the fairways, and seemed to be continually scrambling to make par.
I spent a lot of time at the 7th hole green, the 8th hole green and the 9th hole tee. One guy who kind of amused me was Angel Jiminez. This guy does not look like a pro golfer or an athlete at all, with his ponytail, extra tire around his midsection, and somewhat awkward looking and uncomfortable swing. Some guys I watch swing, like Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk, and I just scratch my head and wonder who taught them how to play. I felt the same way watching Jiminez. He doesn't have a swing that you would teach, but he gets the job done.
I spent lunch hour over at the Trophy Club, which is basically a large hangar-type building which has a foodcourt, a bar, numerous TV screens on the walls, and tables at which to eat and drink. They are basically serving a NY style grill and deli menu with things like hot pastrami sandwiches and waffle fries. The food was actually pretty good.
After lunch I headed over to the enormous merchandising tent. It's almost sick how much money the USGA is making off of merchandising, including everything you can think of being sold there: T shirts, polo shirts, caps, women's clothing, you name it. What a complete madhouse inside that tent! The cash registers were going ching a ling a ling all day. They were even embroidering baseball caps with anything you wanted it to say. I could have had a cap embroidered to say "MERB", if I wanted to! However I settled for the basic $29.00 official 2006 US Open at Winged Foot T shirt.
I left early afternoon because of some things I needed to do back home. But all in all was a very interesting day. Unfortunately I would later learn that when I saw Tiger bogey the 18th that was the last of his golf for this week. I sort of felt bad for him, after watching him struggle on that nightmarish course with narrow fairways and thick rough that harshly penalizes even slightly errant tee shots. But that is what the US Open is all about. Bring your accuracy or bring the bogeymeter!