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Greasy Grass & Other Slick Stories on Sunday at Chambers Bay
I eventually made it down to the course for the first time this week. At 7 a.m. I was there to watch the opening drives, and by 7.01 a.m. I was flat on my backside, a victim of some long and very slippery fescue grass. We're not talking about some innocuous trip, but a full-on tumble, the sort that movie directors insist on stuntmen performing instead of the star of the show. "This stuff is like ice," said a guy who walked right past laughing.
Moments later I was helped to my feet by an unknown man who had the decency to ask if I was alright. I turned and discovered that my rescuer was none other than Wally Uihlein, father of the eventual winner and the chairman and CEO of the Acushnet Company. From now on, I'm playing only Titleist clubs and balls.
I was back on the ground again in the afternoon when I fell at the seventh tee. This time, to vary it up a bit, I fell forward, ending up on my chest. It was only now that I realized I was the only idiot in the gallery wearing street shoes.
If you're planning on coming to the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, may I suggest you turn up in a pair of very rugged, very comfortable shoes?
Not only is Chambers Bay very long on the scorecard, it's a bit of a hike for spectators. Indeed, in his post-tournament interview, Mike Davis, the USGA's Senior Director of Rules and Competition, suggested that Chambers Bay will be so good for grandstands from which spectators will be able to see play on numerous holes, he expects the majority of people to watch the golf from one spot.
"It will be more of a stationary event where you've got these wonderful areas to watch from. To follow a group from 1 to 18 is going to be difficult. There are pinch-points out there," Davis said. "But I think in many ways, it will be a great Open from a spectator's standpoint."
This was my first U.S. Amateur Championship and what a treat it was to walk down the fairways with the players and get in close to the greens. It must have been a similar atmosphere in the 1920s and '30s when Bobby Jones was playing and large galleries rushed to surround the greens he was putting on.
From what I could see, the galleries were superb, paying attention to the marshals' instructions and giving the players the respect they surely deserved.
All except for one chap.
Walking down the first fairway in the morning, this particular individual was talking on his cell phone. He certainly wasn't the only one out there with a phone, but he was the only one conducting his conversation really, really loudly.
And with such a small crowd out that early in the morning (I did a headcount on the tee and got as far as 89 before the big rush forward; there were maybe 25-30 more). His voice traveled far enough for Uihlein to back off his shot and 100 people to turn in the offensive one's direction and give him the evil eye.
But instead of a wave of remorse and any sign of embarrassment, the guy almost looked put out. "Can I call you back," he said to very important person he was talking to. Yes, please do.
One Cool Chung
Watching David Chung up close for the first time, I was struck by how remarkably calm he looked, even when making three fives in a row and going 3-down after just five holes. His relaxed, even genial, demeanor never changed, even well into the second 18 when holes were running out for him.
"You know, I've never really played well when I'm hot," the Stanford player said. "I try to take as much pressure off myself as possible. I enjoy playing with my buddies at home. I don't think very much and just have fun, and that's how I try to keep it on the course."
Though not an exact total, the USGA made an unofficial estimation of 33,000 spectators coming through the gates this week, a figure that compares very favorably with other U.S. Amateur championships.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy was, not surprisingly, pleased. "Fans, volunteers and local businesses showed the United States Golf Association that we are excited about conducting national championships at Chambers Bay," she said. "It will take a few weeks to close the books, but preliminary data show we exceeded our sales goals."
The Grass Wasn't Greener . . . Everywhere
I asked Jim Hyler, president of the USGA, if he was disappointed the course had looked a good deal greener on TV than it was in reality. Apparently, this was a local issue. "On the first day I looked at it and said, that's not what we're seeing outside. We found out that something was going on with the local feed. In other parts of the country, they saw what we saw. It got straightened out, I think."
The Mighty Quinn
While Uihlein had Alan Bratton, the associate head golf coach at Oklahoma State on his bag, Chung went with a local caddie named Quinn Koplitz. The two hit it off pretty well. "I think Quinn's one of the best caddies, if not the best, out here," Chung said. "We're 'round the same age (Koplitz is actually a year younger) and he's a very good golfer. He's also a really, really nice person and he gave me information when I wanted it at the right time. I couldn't ask for a better caddie."
On the 16th green in the afternoon, Uihlein was just moments from becoming another Oklahoma State Cowboy to win the national championship in golf. You'd think he and his caddie's conversation might have focused on how his eagle putt was going to break and what the permutations would be after Chung played his second shot. Instead, the two were discussing how Bratton's kids - Mason and Gunnar - got their names.
"Mason I liked because that was where his (Bratton's) parents were from - Mason, Texas, I think," said Bratton. "That was pretty cool."
Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and, after dropping out, he ended up teaching golf at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a "player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own web site at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.