We put in a comprehensive effort at Merion yesterday. Miles were walked. Wares were acquired. And mediocre food was consumed. As someone who has now attended a handful of golf tournaments in person, I think it’s safe to say that when you go to an event of this magnitude, you go to see golfers and golf shots—not the tournament. It isn’t very easy to follow the big picture while you are in the gallery, but it certainly offers a new perspective. Mostly, you realize how good the players are and how difficult the shots they face can be. For leaderboard watching, it’s probably best to get on your couch by Sunday. Here’s a sampling of the day…(all times VERY approximate)
9:30 AM—On the walk in, we bask in the industrious nature of the residents of Ardmore. They are selling their driveways, cold refreshments and in some cases abstract art. We pass a yard that has several slabs of concrete, painted green, with golf balls glued to the top. A sign says, “You can take this home.” For now, we’ll pass.
9:36 AM—The scalper presence is pretty light, and feels a bit like Amateur Hour. It is a golf tournament though. But, tickets are available. For a moment we contemplate what else might be for sale?
9:45 AM—We enter Gate 3. Our shoes will be ruined in 3, 2, 1…
9:46 AM—Port-O-Lets. Johnny-On-The-Spot. All portable sh*tter companies must hyphenate their names. The conditions inside promote dehydration.
9:55 AM—We pass up a decent vantage point on 13 to wander over to the 1st fairway. We see our first shot. A gentleman from New York, who has “been to 3 British Opens,” calls Merion a terrible spectator course. He has a bit of a point, but damn, we just got here.
10:00 AM—Big Names start walking right past us to get to the 11th tee. Donald, McDowell, Kaymer, Furyk, Westwood and Fluff Cowan. Almost to a man, they appear smaller than you would think.
10:12 AM—ADAM SCOTT walks by (handsome as ever). Steve Williams storms by and there goes Tiger, escorted by 4 police officers. Tiger will maintain at least a 2-cop lead over the rest of the field for the remainder of the day.
10:20 AM—Who’s that tall blonde woman? OH, just your every day Lindsay Vonn sighting. Complete with a Red Bull hat. Gotta satisfy the sponsors. She walks with the regular gallery while Tiger’s agent was on his hip between the ropes.
10:30 AM—The 13th hole is now a mob scene. We wander.
10:41 AM—1st beer. The selection is, Bud Heavy, Stella Artois and Michelob Ultra. Not that impressed. What we didn’t know then, if we actually wanted anything on the menu, this would have been the time to get it.
10:46 AM—Melissa Stark!
11:00 AM—We arrive at the grandstand on the 18th tee. It’s about ½ full. We contemplate whether we should sit down. We take a seat. This is probably the best decision we make all day.
11:00-12:30 PM—We watch several groups play 17 and tee off on 18. As Tiger gets close the crowd swells to ridiculous proportions. Tiger makes an up-and-down par, G-Mac and Darren Clarke make a mess, Angel Cabrera smokes, but the best show was put on by Geoff Ogilvy. Ogilvy flew his tee shot on 17 into the grandstand. He then made a miraculous up and down, gave his ball to the fan he pelted, rushed over to the 18th tee and appeared to block one into the quarry. He then went up and played from the middle of the fairway. He took a double bogey on the hole, but I still have no idea how that happened.
12:30 PM—Along with 85% of the other people on the property, we decide to eat and hit the merchandise tent. The merchandise tent is overwhelming. In my mind, it is what looting would feel like if the people paid for the merchandise. As soon as I get into line, I regret some of my choices, but there’s no turning back.
1:00 PM—Hundreds of people are in line for food. Presumably, they all want the Thai Chicken Wrap. The joke is, there are no Thai Chicken Wraps! There are hot dogs, PB&J Uncrustables and cheesesteaks on hot dog rolls. I want to remain positive, but when your food is significantly worse than what you’d find at a Little League concession stand—that’s an issue.
1:20 PM—Lunch becomes mostly beer and Rold Gold pretzels. They’re the skinny pretzel with the big fat taste.
1:40 PM—Tiger is finishing up his round on the front nine and we head over that way.
1:46 PM—Lindsay Vonn!
1:55 PM—This portion of the golf course is packed. We wait a while at a crosswalk as Ernie Els, Webb Simpson and Amateur Champion Stephen Fox walk by. Els, as you’d expect is gets his share of, “Big Erns!”
2:15 PM—We head for open ground, ending up in the far corner of the property. I enter an auxiliary merchandise tent to right previous wrongs.
2:45 PM—Ukee Washington!
3:00 PM—Contemplate riding the shuttle to the practice area just to sit down for a while. Possibly time to mention the conditions. It’s very muddy outside the ropes. There aren’t really places to sit, the people who brought chairs are carrying them around all afternoon.
3:30 PM—There is a empty section alongside the 6th green and 7th tee. We fill up on Michelob Ultra and make our way over.
3:35 PM—Our first look at what must be one of the hardest pin placements on the golf course. Over the next several hours, no one will make a putt over 6 or 7 feet and those were straight uphill. A good half the field is coming into the par four with a short 3rd shot. Donald Trump’s club pro, John Nieporte, on his way to 84, makes a mess in the right bunker. When he cleans up for triple, the crowd goes wild!
4:15 PM—Downtime as we wait for Phil and the other big names of the afternoon. The gallery grows and it’s clear the sun and booze are starting to “influence” the crowd. Things are getting a bit mouthy. With no players around, most of the lip is being directed at the USGA volunteers, who I must say are walking around with a bit too much entitlement.
5:00PM—Bubba, Dustin Johnson and Nicholas Coalsaerts are the first big group to come through. Bubba is the only one who hits the deadly 6th green.
5:03 PM—Bubba Watson’s Wife! (No Paulina Gretzky sightings)
5:05 PM—Bubba hits the best putt we see all afternoon. Still not sure how it didn’t go in, Bubba looks perplexed.
5:08 PM—Dottie Pepper!
5:11 PM—Bubba and Co. tee off on 7 and walk by us. Someone in the gallery offers, “Come on Bubba, Bubby, Booby, Boobies,” in a baby voice. This sends his entire crew into hysterical laughter.
5:20 PM—Here comes Phil. He hits the green as does Steve Stricker. Keegan Bradley goes long left. As Bradley approaches the green, on his way to missing the cut by a mile, it’s quite clear he’s over-stimulated. He hits a terrific chip, but can’t convert. Mickelson, who doesn’t look chubby in person (and may have been wearing a Man-Spanxx t-shirt), is loving the crowd. He’s starving for the attention. The gallery is happy to oblige.
5:22 PM—Phil misses the putt with a so-so effort. Stricker also misses. We are not going to see a birdie. No chance.
5:30 PM—One of the leaders, Justin Rose, hits it right next to our spot on the ropes. He hits an incredible flop, but can’t convert the par putt.
5:40 PM—A Groundhog runs across the fairway. Crowd goes wild.
5:47 PM—We have about had our fill. Calf muscles are approaching failure. We watch a few more groups on our way out. It allows us to see our worst shot of the day. Stewart Cink, the least popular Open Champion of the last 20 years, hits what I’d call a “cold, roll top” out of the left rough. It’s in the air for a blink, trundles across the fairway at an almost 90-degree angle and nestles into the left rough—still a good 100 yards from the green. Whoops.
5:50 PM—Groundhog again!
6:15 PM—So long, Merion. It was an experience worth far more than a ruined pair of sneakers.
I think things are setting up for a good weekend. The course could be brutal this afternoon as it drys out. I think it will separate the leaderboard a bit, but there still should be enough people in contention for a shootout on Sunday.