Observations from the PGA

Jason Dufner won the 2013 PGA Championship

Last weekend, like the golf nerds that we are, my brother and I drove two-and-a-half hours (almost four when you throw in the wait at the border) to watch a bunch of grown men do their best to hit a little white ball to a stick with a flag on it.

Sidenote: This last sentence (or some variation of it) is often thrown around to justify one’s opinion that watching golf is stupid/boring/pointless. But can’t you break down any sport in the same way? “Basketball players just try to throw a ball through a mesh.” “All hockey players do is hit a cylindrical object through a net with a stick.” Just saying.

We attended the final two rounds (Saturday and Sunday) of the PGA Championship, the last of golf’s four majors. After the PGA, players have to wait until next April at the Masters to try and add a major championship to their resume, which should explain why this tournament is commonly referred to as “Glory’s Last Shot.”

Because the tickets were around $100 a pop, we were on the road for 7 am, not exactly the sleep-in one covets on Saturday mornings. But we wanted to get our money’s worth. Anyway, here’s a randomized list of observations on attending golf’s final major tournament of 2013:

  • An outside observer might assume that golf fans simply drive to the golf course and park their cars in the parking lot. You would do this for a weekend round of your own but when hundreds of thousands of golf fans descend on one course, organizers need an alternate solution. There were two main parking lots about 20 minutes from the course with shuttle bus service operating between them and the course. Parking and transportation to and from the course was complimentary. While the drive to the course was a tad long, I found the shuttle bus service to be quick and efficient, even when leaving the course at the same time as everybody else.
  • One cool thing about this tournament was they handed out one-ear headsets to all in attendance. So if you so desired (and most did), the official PGA Tour radio play-by-play could be beamed into your ear at all times during the tournament. What a great idea. This solved one of the biggest logistical challenges faced by golf tournaments. Unlike almost every other sport, golf tournaments are staged on venues the size of a large park. In basketball or hockey, for example, all the action is right in front of you. In golf, the action is spread out over 18 holes, making it impossible to track everything. Here, at least we had an audio feed. Oh, and data plans help too.

Tiger did a bit too much of this all week long

  • Two weekends ago, after blitzing the field by seven shots, Tiger Woods was merely average at the PGA. Even though he was never really in contention, this didn’t stop the crowds from following him in droves. After all, he is Tiger Woods. Tiger transcends golf, drawing attention from people who otherwise don’t give a hoot about the sport. In the golf world, there are two types of fans: Tiger fans and general golf fans, and the former demographic was out in full force. We quickly discovered that following Tiger is a sport in itself. The two or three greens and tee boxes ahead of him are constantly filled, with fans awaiting his arrival. And if you want to walk with him, good luck getting a decent view. In other words, following Tiger is not an appropriate activity for senior citizens. Bring some good, comfy shoes and be prepared to get a workout. Despite the crowds, we managed to get a few good views (and a lot of bad ones). After Tiger, we moved on to players who could actually win the tournament. But it’s always fascinating seeing Tiger, given all his amazing highs and his well-chronicled lows.
  • I found it interesting to observe how much (or how little) acknowledgement the players gave the fans. Sometimes, it was a subtle tip of the cap. Other times, it was a polite wave. Every now and then, a smile broke out, sometimes not. My overall feeling is that you have to do something or you’ll come off as kind of a dick. The fans who show up to golf tournaments are what makes the tour work and it’s a player’s duty to show at least some appreciation. Out of everyone I saw, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar seemed the most receptive and friendly with the fans. Tiger would sort of do the minimum on the greens, but when he walked to the next tee, it was stone-faced staring at the ground the whole way. Maybe that’s how he won so many majors, by blocking everybody out and staying uber-focused.
  • We also attended the 2003 PGA Championship at the same course. In ’03, somebody named Shaun Micheel beat somebody named Chad Campbell. In other words, a horrible leaderboard. This year? Could have been better but could have been worse. You had no Tiger or Phil but you did have some names near the top on Sunday afternoon like Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott and Steve Stricker. And you had a classy all-Euro pairing with Lee Westwood and defending champion Rory McIlroy late in the day on Sunday. All in all, not the best leaderboard but compared to ’03, it was positively star-studded.
  • We quickly learned that it’s too tiring to walk with groups. Too often, you’re running ahead of them to force your way through a crowd that’s already five or six-deep. In my opinion, the best way to watch a golf tournament is to get a good spot beside the green of a difficult hole. Why difficult? If the hole’s too easy, all you’ll see is a string of 12-foot putts. If it’s difficult, you’ll see players hit chips, pitches, bunker shots, sometimes from tough (maybe buried) lies.  A green at a reachable par-five (or par-four) is often ideal.

In this one, the drama was mostly gone by the 17th hole. Dufner would go on to win his first major tournament by two shots over Furyk. But hey, it’s better than Micheel over Campbell.

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