Staff Blog


Friday, June 18, 2010

More Than Fairways

OK. We get it. The famously tough U.S. Open course conditions—the predatory rough, the fast fairways and beguiling greens—make it really hard on the professional golfers.

Cry me a water hazard. They're getting paid to stroll some of the most superlative stretches of coast anywhere. Their season started in Hawaii, stopped over in sunny SoCal and traipses around the East Coast's finest courses all summer. People live to give them free sirloins and clean their cleats.

The real challenge is trying to catch a glimpse of their swings; the real heroes are the fans braving bottlenecks that pinch hundreds into swaying baby-step parades. They build calves of steel from constant tippy toeing. They develop sharp keyhole-precision eyesight, able to track a Lee Westwood putt through just a sliver of between-shoulders daylight.

They also apply classic golf course technology to overcome galleries that grew as deep as eight or 10 people at certain points during Thursday's opening round.

Jeff Parker of Los Angeles told me he got his five-times magnification periscope from Phil Mickelson's dad after the 2000 U.S. Open for $40. As Tiger Woods addressed his second shot over the huge chasm that haunts the approach to the 8th, someone somewhere in the gallery scrum shouted Parker an offer: "$10 for just one second!"

The camoflauge scope: cooler, cheaper ($28 according to one user) but less zoomy—no magnification on this model. The earpiece this female fan has on relays the ESPN radio feed on course so folks can follow the wider tournament action. The device is available free for anyone with an American Express card.

All things being equal, though, my favorite periscope is the original edition: dad's shoulders.

There were other techniques afoot as well. Some climbed oaks.

Others watched from the beach.

Joanne Druery of Hilton Head, South Carolina, who traveled here to volunteer with four of her college cronies, had a pretty sweet vista of the shoreside 10th from her elevated scorekeeper cradle.

I was left to more creative means to sneak just a peek of a putt. That included climbing one of the electric wheelchairs that the USGA furnishes that someone had abandoned and trying to follow an ESPN camera team under the ropes. I did successfully mount a bottled water delivery cart for this look at the 8th green (above).

The crowds only thicken when the Phil Mickelsons of the world are in an adjacent fairway. And when Tiger Woods plays through it's dramatically more clotted. (For a look at all the elements Woods is up against—from his wife to golf history to himself—click here.) Just the photogs following Woods alone (above) could fill The Tap Room.

Good luck finding a seat here to watch Woods, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood play 7. Like almost all of the sponsor tents, skyboxes and grandstands, this towering four story bleacher was erected specifically (and temporarily) for the U.S. Open.

The most massive makeover: The complex of soaring tents on what was Peter Hay—football fields worth of square footage peddling gear, grub and signature souvenirs. The Weekly's Adam Joseph filed a special report on its transformation earlier this year.

Back in the on-course crowds, superstar sightings aren't impossible—just potentially distant. Here's a look at Tiger through the grass at the scenic 7th, at the top center of the green.

And Woods (right) joined by Els (left) and Westwood on the 11th fairway. There's a golf shot worth admiring.


Click away for more on fun guys to root for, the 18 most intense U.S. Open moments at Pebble Beach and a newly remixed catalog of Pebble Beach Golf Links history.

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