US Open Recap from The Bench

After seven straight days of chasing down golfers for autographs with my son, Evan; hiking the course to follow different pairings; and posting scores on the an array of leaderboards as a volunteer at the US Open, I felt compelled to write a bit about the US Open experience at Congressional and offer my first-hand observations.

The hot topic at the Open was not Rory, it was transportation.  Transportation to and from Congressional was a nightmare.  The average Joe who parked in the cross-county fairgrounds and weathered 45 minute bus rides to and from the course only to be greeted with an additional 20 minute hump to the clubhouse from the bus drop-off location expressed nothing but contempt for the grounds access system and the second class citizen feel of the general admission.   Even with the preferred parking,  I felt a better effort could have been made by the tourney organizers to esnure timely transport through Potomac.  Transportation: Grade – F

The golf course looked fantastic.  Let me restate that: the Blue Course on which the US Open was played looked fantastic.  The Gold Course at Congressional, which boasts a second 18, was positively destroyed by Open staging, parking and construction vehicles.  If I were a member at Congressional, I would be apoplectic about the loss of half of the country club’s 36 holes which will be wholly unfit for golf until October, particularly since the members of Congressional saw no reduction in dues and received no financial benefit from hosting the US Open.  Having talked with a quite a few members over my stint at Congressional, the vibe was generally displeased relative to the selection of the course as a US Open site and the corresponding limitations imposed upon the membership.  Course Condition: Grade – A (as a spectator); D (as a member).

I do question the course selection.  Aside from the proximity to the nation’s capital and the site of Venturi’s near-death march in ‘64, Congressional does not stand out as an exciting course.  Making #6 a par 5 was a mistake – it took the water out of play.  #10 was a decent challenge but only with the pin in the front.  #11 was a legitimate par 4 US Open-worthy hole with a stroke average of 4.38  #18 is a beautiful finishing hole, but for my money, Congressional does not have enough panache.  Course Selection: Grade – B-

I noticed an interesting dynamic as the week progressed.  The further into the tourney – from practice days (Monday thru Wednesday) to the full field Rounds 1 & 2 (Thursday, Friday) and then to the post “cut-line” field (Saturday, Sunday) – the less the spectators in attendance actually knew about golf.  During the practice rounds when fans can photograph the players and chat them up a bit, the devotees in attendance knew what was going on, who was on the course and how to behave.  Thursday and Friday arrived and everyone who passed by a leaderboard wanted to know what the asterisk next to a player’s name meant (“started the round on #10, folks” ) or what the difference was between the red and the black numbers.  By the weekend, all the talk was about Rory McIlroy and the rote repetition of the same NBC-generated statistical data points, how Tiger could have beat the 22 year old Northern Irishman, and where to grab a beer while quality pairings like McDowell-Kaymer, Manassaro- Johnson, and Donald-Watson walked the course alone.  Fans: Grade A (Mon-Wed), B (Thurs-Fri), C (Sat), C- (Sun).

Finally, the players.  I don’t know which image consultant that Rory Sabbatini hired before the US Open, but Sabbatini, who has a history of being an absolute prick, was the nicest chap on the course during the practice rounds.  He signed for everyone, he took pictures with fans, and he even offered sunblock advice.  The world’s third best player, Martin Kaymer, was gracious and very accommodating. Graeme McDowell, last year’s champ, was exactly the same.  Rickie Fowler signed everything that was put in front of him, while KJ Choi had his game face from Day 1 and was all business.  Of note, Steve Stricker, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington will not be vying for the 2011 US Open Ms. Congeniality award, giving the Heisman to many a child seeking autographs.  On the whole, however, considering this was a Major, it appeared that the bulk of the players enjoyed the fans and were approachable for the practice rounds.  Players:  Grade B+

If you enjoy golf in any capacity, volunteering offers an up-close look at a tourney.  The US Open always needs volunteers, and it takes an army to run this event.  San Franciscans take note: sign-ups typically open a year in advance, and volunteering is the best way to take part in the US Open experience.

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