I spent most of last week in one of my all-time favorite cities, San Francisco. I love so much about it – the weather, the food, the neighborhoods, tons of stuff to do and the overall laid back vibe. I would totally live there if I could afford to. I am fortunate that my best friend and her family live in the Bay Area, so I’ve been to visit San Francisco more frequently than my other favorite cities; I somehow doubt I’m going to make it back to Prague anytime soon. The purpose of my recent vacation was to visit my friends and to remedy a tragic wrong – it had been four long years since my last trip to the City by the Bay– but the timing was chosen to coincide with The Olympic Club hosting the 2012 U.S. Open golf tournament.
I am not personally much of a golfer – I have my own set of clubs, but I don’t play very often. I took golf lessons in college (we had a gym requirement), but it was the second semester of my senior year and I was writing my thesis, so learning a new sport didn’t have my full attention. I may or may not have fallen asleep leaning on my clubs in one class after pulling an all-nighter. Luckily the coach knew and liked me and he was willing to let me just practice putting all morning if that was what I wanted to do. The result is I can plan a mean game of miniature golf, but the rest of my game needs a lot of work.
Because I struggle with playing golf, I’m kind of in awe of people who are good at it and enjoy watching golf tournaments on TV. I know a lot of people find it boring, and it can be at times, but it can also be very exciting and nerve wracking. The fact that anyone can consistently hit the fairway and not hook the ball (like me) constantly amazes me. It’s fun to watch players have to fight their way out of a bad lie or a bunker; the more you watch, the more you get to know the players and their personalities and tendencies, so you can sort of predict who is going to be more adventurous and take a riskier shot, who is going to play it safe and who is not going to handle adversity very well. The golf courses are so beautiful and provide a nice backdrop to all the action. And it doesn’t hurt that some of the golfers are very cute. I’ll admit that I don’t come by watching golf organically – almost all the guys I have dated or hang out with are golfers, so I kind of didn’t have a choice in the matter. But once I started watching, I absolutely got into it and will put it on even when there isn’t someone around that I’m trying to appease.
Watching something on TV and watching it in person are two very different experiences, so I’ve always wanted to go to a golf tournament. Going to the Masters is even on my pop culture bucket list. But for years people have been promising to take me to various tournaments and then failing to live up to it, leaving me disappointed. So I had to take matters into my own hands – when the Open was in San Francisco and I had friends who were planning their own trip to see the tournament, I decided that the stars had aligned and I should go for it.
The first thing I discovered is just how confusing golf courses can be to navigate. Of course, when you are playing the course in order it isn’t particularly difficult, but when you are skipping around the course and there are hospitality tents all over the place, it is easy to get discombobulated. I was a little overwhelmed at first as I tried to find my way to where I was meeting my friends. But everyone I spoke to or asked for help was supremely nice and friendly and with just a little reconfiguring I got where I needed to be. I also didn’t realize that almost everyone working there was a volunteer and that in return for them donating their services for a fairly minimal amount of time they are given passes to the Open for the entire week (as well as a nifty jacket). This is something I’m going to have to look into – I could totally shush people or check passes for the restricted areas. They just can’t put me in charge of watching the course of the ball after it has been struck; no matter how hard I tried, I almost always lost track of it somewhere during its journey. They really should paint those balls purple or something – it would make them easier to follow.
After figuring out how to maneuver around the course, the next challenge was finding my friends. Normally this wouldn’t be a tough proposition, but with cell phones banned on the course I had no way to communicate with them my location or confirm that I was going to be on time. It was honestly a little stressful to be without a means of communication all day. My Samsung Galaxy and I are very close and to spend the day apart was like quitting smoking cold turkey. Yes – I know I have a problem. We had set a meeting time and place – 9 am at the green of the 7th hole – but when I got there I saw that there was a lot of surface area around the green. Did they mean the left side or the right side? Were they in the grandstand? When I couldn’t find them right away, I started to panic. Adding to my frustration was that you couldn’t easily walk around the green – they had part of it blocked off so you couldn’t simply go from one side to the other. Instead you had to walk to halfway down the fairway to a crossing and then walk back up the hole to get to the other side of the green. Most of this was also uphill. So in my frenzy to find them, I must have lapped the 7th hole about six times. What I wouldn’t know until later was that they were delayed; I couldn’t find them because they weren’t there. Meanwhile, I was realizing that I need to start hitting the gym again because all this was making me exhausted and out of breath. Adding to the hilarity of the situation was the fact that the NBC television tower was right next to the 7th green. So if you were watching coverage early Friday morning, you probably saw me in the background of their camera shot, running around like a mad woman, huffing and puffing because I’m out of shape and looking a little crazed because I didn’t really want to spend the entire day wandering around the golf course alone, worrying that they were mad at me because I couldn’t find them. But the fates decided that I had suffered enough and I eventually found them. Crisis averted.
The rest of the morning was pretty quiet and uneventful. It actually wasn’t too crowded and we could easily follow groups of golfers for a few holes at a time and be right at the ropes (important since I’m 5 foot nothing). It was actually pretty relaxing and peaceful. We were able to see a lot of the golfers on our list (we had a strategy meeting before we left to prioritize who we were most interested in): Ian Poulter (who was dressed fairly conservatively), Steve Stricker, Matt Kucher, Jim Furyk (who I insist looks like Sam the Eagle), Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald (LUUUUUUKKKEEEE), Lee Westwood, and Ernie Els, among others. Other than Furyk, no one was playing particularly well but it was still fun to watch and to be as close to them as we were. But sometime around 11:30, you could feel the mood of the course start to change. The quiet tranquility was broken – people kept looking at their watches and you heard the same murmur being exchanged over and over again between patrons and volunteers:
Now, I’m not sure whether these people knew that they were repurposing one of the more iconic lines from The Wire. Probably not. But there was a definite shift in the equilibrium. You just had a feeling that something was about to happen. And nowadays you just don’t know what that something is going to be; the Tiger of old could show up and put on a clinic on how the game is played, but it was just as likely that Tiger was going to have a complete meltdown and start swearing and kicking things. I was equally excited for either to happen. I don’t have a problem with Tiger – if I disliked every professional athlete who cheated on his wife, I suspect that there wouldn’t be a lot of people left to root for. He may be a crappy husband and not necessarily a nice guy, but that’s not why I’m there to see him. I just wanted to see something exciting. Tiger was also paired with my favorite golfer (Phil Mickelson), so even if I did have an issue with Tiger, I would still have been really excited to see their group play. The fact that Bubba Watson, winner of the 2012 Masters and music video star, was also in the group was icing on the cake. It also meant that everyone on that golf course wanted to watch this group play, especially with Tiger on the top of the leaderboard.
Our plan was to get out ahead of the group and wait for them to come to us. While everyone at The Olympic Club was at the first hole, we were on the other side of the course watching Adam Scott (swoon), Keegan Bradley (yay Vermont!) and some guy named Webb Simpson (who would wind up winning the whole shebang and who I had never heard of until that morning). We weren’t just biding our time – we really wanted to see this group – but when we got to a spot where we were near a hole that Tiger, Phil and Bubba would soon be playing, we decided it was time to stake out some territory near the ropes. We weren’t the only ones with this idea, as the hole was already more crowded than any other hole that we had been at.
And then came the wave of humanity.
We looked up and walking towards us was a sea of people. I’d never seen anything like it. I’ve been at crowded sporting events before, but had never seen a crowd moving in unison and their destination being exactly where I was standing. It was people as far as the eye could see. I now totally get why they call it “the Tiger wave.” If people weren’t so friendly and polite it might have even been scary to see such a large crowd descending upon my location. Our strategy paid off though – that was the last time we got as close to Tiger, Phil and Bubba. The crowds were 5 deep all along the tee, fairway and green. It was totally thrilling to see them in action. We chose not to follow them –it was just too crowded – but we managed to catch up with them a few more times and even saw Tiger make a crazy shot off the edge of the bunker:
We also saw him kick his golf bag in disgust on the same hole. So there was something for everyone.
A few other random thoughts:
- I was shocked to find that beer at the U.S. Open was actually less expensive than beer at Yankee Stadium. I figured San Francisco plus a major would result in higher ticket prices. Drinking beer and strolling around a golf course is not a bad way to spend the day.
- Rory McIlroy totally stared me down. He kept turning around and looking at me. Maybe I look like someone he knows.
- If you are a single woman (or gay man), you should be going to golf tournaments. The odds will ever be in your favor. I never saw so many cute guys in one place before. It was amazing. I wasn’t even through security before some guy was hitting on me.
- I’ve got to give mad props to the USGA – everything was so well organized and efficient. We got through merchandise and to our shuttle bus super quickly. Well done (except for the food lines – those could use some mainlining).
- Funniest line of the day: Overheard as a guy left the port-a-potties, to his friends – “I got hand sanitizer all over my &*@# and now it tingles!”
- 2 out of the 3 times Adam Scott birdied, I was watching. I don’t think that is a coincidence.
- The crowd of people following Tiger outside the ropes was pretty phenomenal, but it was also crazy the number of people that were following him on the course. He was trailed by security, camera men, NBC analysts, other media people and his entourage, which randomly included Aaron Rodgers (QB of the Green Bay Packers and expert photobomber). It was insane – it takes a village to cover Tiger Woods.
- Even though I knew the policy well before I set foot on the course, it was still supremely disappointing to me that I don’t have a single photo of the day and of the golfers. Next time I’m definitely going to a practice round, where cameras are allowed.
- I’m shocked at how many of my friends didn’t even know there was a golf tournament called the U.S. Open. Most people I mentioned my plans to thought I was going to see tennis and were confused as to why they were playing in California.
- And for those who say that nothing exciting happens during a golf tournament, when’s the last time this happened during the trophy ceremony at the Superbowl??
All in all, it was a very fun but very exhausting day. We’re guesstimating we walked between 7-8 miles following all the different groups around the golf course. And while I enjoyed myself I don’t know that I will be in a rush to go to another tournament – it is very hard to keep track of who is in the lead and what is going on when you are there in person. I appreciate the wooden leaderboards in theory, but they are hard to see from any distance and there is a lag in how quickly they can be manually updated. So even though I was at the Open on Friday, I don’t know a lot of what happened. And perhaps the most frustrating was hearing the roar of the crowd from one of the other holes and having no idea what transpired. I’m just not used to missing so much of the action and without cell phones we couldn’t go on-line to see what went down in our absence. But I am so glad I did it and had such a great time. And if the right tournament comes along at the right time (or the right person is asking), I’m sure I’ll be more than willing to go again.