Since its inception in 1895, the U.S. Open has been recognized throughout the world as the toughest event in golf. Every year in mid-June, players of all kinds, be they amateur or professional, young or old, American or foreign, come together for four of the most grueling round of golf imaginable. Each and every player must maintain focus and compete to their fullest extent, with the dream of hoisting the coveted trophy with an angelic woman at its peak. To me, that angelic woman represents somewhat of a guardian angel of golf. When the winner holds the trophy in his hands after four days of being manhandled by an inanimate object, she signifies that he is safe. He has fought the battle and come out on top. Let me preface the rest of this piece by say that, I have been to PGA Tour events before, but, to me, a major golf championship is in a league of its own. The history and prestige behind each of the four majors provides an event that everyone, avid and casual golf fans alike, get excited for. Now, with that being said, here is my first major championship experience.
The 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club marked my first time attending a major championship and, almost as if it was meant to be, it was being hosted in my hometown of Philadelphia. I arrived the Sunday before Championship Week, filled with excitement, anxiety, and eagerness. After a first restless night of sleep, I awoke at the crack of dawn ready to begin my adventure, when I looked out my window and saw what, to me, looked like a scene out of “The Perfect Storm” (obviously an exaggeration but, either way, it was not very nice). Rain or not, I was not going to miss a minute of action at Merion.
After an exciting drive, winding through the side streets of the Main Line, I arrived at Merion’s West Course where the player facilities were located and met up with our Tour Reps. They were already hard at work building clubs, adjusting loft and lie angles, and making sure the equipment for all 13 staff members in the field was perfect. In the first two hours, Keegan Bradley, Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño and David Toms passed through the trailer, looking through clubs like kids in a candy shop. For golf enthusiasts, that is exactly what a PGA Tour trailer is like. Hundreds of heads, shafts, grips, golf balls, hats; basically everything you could want or need.
Being that I handle our social media pages, Players commonly refer to me as “The Twitter Guy”, which, while endearing and accurate, is not an all-encompassing description. Monday’s rain allowed me the opportunity to talk with some of the players and get to know them beyond their on-course persona. An interesting story was hearing Gonzalo explain to Tour Manager Rob Waters and I the reason why he changed from a 58-degree to a 60-degree 588 Forged wedge. He had always hesitated to move to a club with more loft after his fellow countryman and mentor, Seve Ballesteros, told him that “anything over a 56 degree should be illegal, because it’s too easy”. That being said, “Gonzo” generated so much spin with the 60 degree wedge that he needed to put it into his bag. In between downpours, I went out to the driving range and the course to follow our players, take photographs, and, in general, take in the rich history and elegance that makes Merion such a special venue. My day came to an end with sopping wet clothes, mud-covered shoes, and a hope for sun on Tuesday.
And what do you know, I was woken up on Tuesday morning by…the sun! Hallelujah! Now, it was time for some golf. As soon as I got to the course, I could see it was twice as busy as Monday, if not more. People were rushing all over the place trying to make up for time they lost the day before. Since equipment trailers are only at a tournament from Sunday night to Wednesday afternoon, any club changes, headwear requests, or other player requests must be finished by late afternoon on Wednesday. So, losing half a day to rain means there is an even tighter window to get everything in order for the week. Tuesday tee times began around 6:45 a.m. and there was activity from the moment they began. Compared to Monday, the amount of people around the course, be it fans, journalists, agents, or others, had grown tremendously. Now, it really felt like I was at a major.
The day was filled with meetings, range sessions, shuttle rides, and, yes, more mud. The day was so busy that it all felt like a blur, but there was a moment that clearly stuck out. After being at the East Course for a few hours, I came back to the practice area around 4 p.m. and saw Keegan on the range. After arriving at 7 a.m., spending an hour on the range before his practice round, playing the course, and signing hundreds of autographs, there he was working on his irons. An hour into his second range session of the day, his coach, Jim McLean, walked up and said “What the heck is he still doing here?” Keegan then told us about how his nickname in college was “One More”, since every time he was ready to end a practice session, he always wanted to hit one more ball. Around 5:30 p.m., after a long day, Keegan’s caddy, “Pepsi”, basically pulled him off the range and told him to go home. That experience showed me what it truly takes to make it to the pinnacle of professional golf; a relentless work ethic and a dedication to getting better.
Wednesday morning began very similar to Tuesday: busy. With only a few hours before trailers were set to depart, all the last minute tweaks were being made in preparation for competition to begin on Thursday. Around 11 a.m. or so, I set out to the East Course, equipped with bags of Cleveland hats to pass to the crowd. Let me tell you, they were a hit! Once someone saw a hat being given away, a pack of patrons would instantly migrate in my direction and ask for their own. In this case, it was my pleasure to provide spectators with something by which to help remember their experience at Merion. After a trek around the course and spotting a few of our players finishing their practice rounds, I headed back to the West Course to say my goodbyes before the crew began departing for their flights home.
In this three-day whirlwind leading up to tournament play, it puts a true perspective on what goes into a golf tournament before that first tee time on Thursday. Thousands of volunteers and staff members work in collaboration to make sure no stone is unturned and every detail is checked and rechecked. But, with that being said, the biggest takeaway from my time at Merion was that there truly is something different about a major. I don’t know if it’s the look of focus in a player’s eye or the extra media scrutiny, or some kind of unexplainable phenomenon. All I know is that there is something special and it is an experience that I will not soon forget.
Written by: Alex DePallo, Online Editor
Follow on Twitter: @ADePallo