Thursday, September 19, 2013 2:29 AM
What I saw at the BMW Tournament:
1. The Closeness of the Players
What other sport let's you stand feet away from legends like Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk? It would be like standing three feet behind Michael Jordan while he is shooting a free throw, or standing a few feet outside the foul line while ARod fields a grounder.
Toward the finish, we followed the last pair, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, from the fifteenth hole on in. At the sixteenth, Furyk hit into a fairway bunker. We all (everyone who was left) walked behind him and Stricker as they made their way to their balls. We spread out about thirty yards behind them and covered the whole rear of the fairway as Furyk prepared to hit his next shot.
At this point, Furyk was losing his lead to Zach Johnson, who was in a group in front of Furyk. We could hear cheers from the next green, meaning Johnson just made another birdie and took the outright lead.
Furyk may have been getting irritated at this development. Be that as it may, some people were not stopped by the course officials from continuing to stream across the rear of the fairway to watch his next shot. He turned toward them and said irritably, "Keep going, go ahead, move across." He wanted them standing in place and still before he made his shot.
In what other sport does this happen? It would be like Jay Cutler asking people to step another five yards back from the line of scrimmage so he can have more room to drop back.
2. In Their Own World
I had planned to give full voice to my love for some of these players. Yes, I love Tiger Woods, even if he is a philandering douchebag. I'm sorry, but I need my heroes, and Tiger is the only true superstar active player, and he still may prove to be the greatest golfer ever.
But my plan to yell, "Good luck, Tiger," much less my original idea ("I love you Tiger in a heterosexual way!") fell by the wayside when I saw how focussed and concentrated and stonelike each player was. To say anything felt almost rude, like breaking their concentration. This is a very quiet spectator sport -- except when the ball has already left the club.
3. The Thrill of the Muff
Guess what folks? When pros hit a bad shot, it looks a lot like OUR bad shots! Is there any more validating feeling than seeing a pro muff one? And you don't see the muff on TV as clearly as you do live.
On the aforementioned 16th hole, Futyk chunked his fairway bunker shot and it knuckled weakly halfway up the fairway and to the right side. Hey, I've done that too!! On the 18th, Stricker chunked an uphill chip and the ball rolled back to its original position by his feet. I know how that feels!! The crowd groaned but in a sympathetic way. At that moment, we were all united by our mutual understanding of how frustrating this game can be.
4. Seeing Famous People
Part of the obvious thrill of going to the event was standing close to people who ate legendary. We've all had this experience, be it sports, music, politics, whatever. But it still amazes me. It's hard to believe that one's own life has just united in time and space with the life of someone legendary.
Yet there was Luke Donald, and Justin Rose, and Sergio Garcia, and Bubba Watson, and of course Tiger (my biggest regret -- I missed Phil). At the same time, I recognize that these are just human brings -- albeit ones who play golf very very well.
5. Kids Say The Darndest Things
One of my favorite moments. Justin Rose is walking to the next hole, and a sweet little nerdy eight year old kid with glasses approaches the
walkway and holds out his hand for a "slap me five. " Rose smiles and slaps him five. The kid walks back to his Dad with a big grin on his face.
6. How Do They Do That?
I will grant you, the pros swing faster than some of us. But not THAT much faster. And yet, on the 465 yard par 16, I watched Tiger and Furyk and Stricker and Charls Schwatzl tee off over a lake they had to hit 225 to clear. Not even close. The balls all looked about 300 at least. They went a looooong way.
7. These Guys Are Athletes
Every player there looked thinner, more muscular and athletic in person. Even the 44 year old Furyk had not one ounce of fat and was even more lithe and wiry in person. Thin waists, broad shoulders, and a sense of definition was the norm. Yes, I know John Daly and others like him play this game, but most of the guys looked buff.
8. Why Pros Are Pros
You know why these guys make par? Cause every putt has a chance to go in, and every approach shot has a chance to be close.
We mainly camped out at the 359 yard par 4 fifteenth hole, about 70 yards from the green. From there, we could see the tee shots come toward us, we could watch the players set up for their approach shots, and we could watch their putts.
Luke Donald hit his tee shot into the rough, on a hillside. Standing 100 yards away from the flag, the ball well above his feet, he hit it within five feet of the hole. He smiled shyly as people called out "Luuuuuke" as he walked up the fairway. And he birdied the hole.
The 15th green was very elevated and very slanted down toward the fairway. I thought I'd see the players hit the sky-high pitch or approach shots I try to hit.
But instead, players hit these very hard and full-swing, lower shots with back spin. These shots would go lower in the air and look like a topped shot that would skip over the green and run off the back.
But instead, these shots had so much back spin that they would fall onto the green with forward movement, even run up the green and take three big bounces forward, then come to a dead stop by the hole. I'd never seen a shot like it.
Some players (Tiger included) did not hit good versions of these shots and the ball would trickle back down the green to near its rim, forty feet or more from the hole. You and I would groan and hope to three putt it.
But these guys would line up the putt and come close to a birdie -- or even make one (Jason Day did). And when these guys missed, they left the ball two feet -- or two inches-- from the cup. It's a lot easier to make par when your second putt is that close.
I could go on. I never realized, for instance, that I harbor as many fantasies as I do about being a pro golfer. I never realized that I can pick out Tiger 150 yards away because I've seen that slow walk a hundred times before. I never realized how much I wanted to see what a pro course looks like (this one had immaculate greens, the fairways were not that bad, and we could have played it -- just not NEARLYas well.
But all I'll say is this: I LOVE this game!