by cheri sabraw
To attend any major outdoor sporting event these days takes the will of a wolverine, the shoes of a marathoner, and the sunscreen of a swimmer. I had all three last Thursday which, if this vignette were about baseball, I would call a home run. It was, in a few words, an eagle of a day.
No lob shot. No slice or hook. No divot or bogie. Everything I had imagined about attending the Phoenix Open Golf Tournament went 17 under par. Splendid. And so did the eventual winner, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.
Showering early that morning, in an effort to beat the 100,000 other fans who were expected to jam the venue in the Valley of the Sun, I visualized myself strolling alongside golfers Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Louis Oostheizen as they walked down a lush fairway 250-275 yards from their tee shots, a trio of young gladiators dressed in white slacks and pastel shirts.
As for me, one fan of 100,000? In an effort to be spotted in the crowd, I wore a red wide-brimmed hat, black tight golf pants, and a long-sleeved Puma top with UV protection in the fabric. If I weren’t “spotted” in the crowd, at least my husband could find me among the masses.
When we arrived in Scottsdale, we parked miles away and waited for one of dozens of shuttle buses, lined up like dutiful pack animals. A woman with a security wand made sure we had no hidden weapons and off on we were herded with 60 other sober (at the moment) fans—only to be dropped off into a sea of golf fanatics.
Told that Thursday was the only day to go—if we didn’t want to party with thousands of drunk millennials on Friday and Saturday—we obeyed and were rewarded with as polite a crowd as any professional golfer could desire.
What a day!
The weather was perfect (mid-70’s); the fans, polite; the company, magnificent (my husband, sister, and brother-in-law); the golf, incredible; the venue; challenging, not only for the golfers but also for us fans, who walked up and down the Bermuda grassy hills and dales in this stadium course, one designed for fans. Most of the holes had hills on which to sit as in an amphitheater.
In our search to find Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, K.J. Choi, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, and Jordan Spieth, we parked ourselves at the 8th hole and waited for them to pass by us. Seeing these guys from ten feet away was a rush. More interesting was watching their idiosyncracies–how they anchor their feet, dig their heels in first right and then left, wiggle their back ends, place the head of their drivers by the side of the ball, wind up in a relaxed (or not) back swing, release in a robust revolution , and launch a small white ball into the air like a satellite.
Some of the golfers were all business; others (probably under the care of a sports psychologist) laughed and joked with each other.
After a dog and a beer, we made our way to the 7th hole. I stood by the pathway where the golfers advance to the next hole when they have finished putting the previous one. When Hunter Mahan and K.J. Choi walked three feet from me, I said, “ Hunter!” and he looked right at my large red hat and said, “ How are you?” I said, “Great!”
When K.J. Choi walked by in his dark pink shirt and crisp white pants, I said, “K.J.!” and he said, “Hi! Are you having fun?”
Their kindness to a dorky fan in a red hat must be why they didn’t win. Perhaps the focus of Matsuyama (who also walked by but did not make eye contact with any of us) was the reason he won the tournament.
After lunch, We entered the famed stadium rebuilt yearly for 16 thousand fans around the raucous 16th hole. The noise was deafening as we waited in line in a tunnel. For a moment I thought of the Coliseum in Rome and wondered how Roman gladiators might have felt in the shade of a tunnel before bursting into an arena, cheered on by drunk and crude men and adorned by loose women dressed in nothing. The bright light at the end of the tunnel ended my reverie.
Hot. Loud. Different.
We could only stay in our seats for 30 minutes before I said, “ Let’s get out of here,” but not before two drunk young guys insisted we fist bump them as we filed out. They slapped my hands, but when I considered that they had slapped the hands of 300 other people exiting, I headed for the hand-sanitizer stations.
We saw every golfer we came to see, enjoyed the spectacle of it all, and left, rather tired, to catch a shuttle bus.
The next day on the 13th hole where I was playing golf, I hoped that some of what I saw had magically made its way into my drive, my chip, my putt.
It was not to be. I shot a 108.
But, I did feel good in my red hat.