You Have To Go


If you’ve never been to a PGA Tour tournament in person, you have to go. And, from the point of view of the fans, you couldn’t do much better than the Waste Management Phoenix Open played at the TPC Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona.

First of all, the course itself is fan friendly. It is substantially flat and the fairways are all surrounded by tall moguls providing elevated viewing of play. The course also meanders nicely over the land so you feel like you’re going on a mysterious adventure rather than a straight line, 18-hole slog.

And, in fact, it is a bit of a mysterious adventure, the greatest mystery being, “How do they do that?” The players, I mean. Watching on television affords you the luxury of always having a good seat in a cushy chair that doesn’t have to move and you get a very good sense of what’s going on at any given time. But it doesn’t begin to do justice to these great talents.

Today, for example, I followed the threesome of Dustin Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy and Hunter Mahan, each with very different swings that explode into the ball, sending it sailing out over the fairway, hanging at its apex seemingly forever, and then falling into the fairway or close enough that any of us would be thrilled with it. Television doesn’t capture the explosiveness.

I would have to research it, but I think it’s because their swings are faster than the transmission rate of the pictures—you know, time is missing. Or more likely, the refresh rates on the television screen is slower than their swings. Bits of information are being dropped out of the picture in the interest of images which are a reasonable facsimile. I watch a lot of golf on television and it is incomparable to seeing this masterfulness in person. It’s the same with the other big sports too. You have no idea how big and fast NFL players are until you see them colliding in person. That tallish, gawky NBA player on television, turns into a towering six foot, ten inch man with a floating grace and athleticism you never saw before.

In person, your eye can detect the whole of the arc of the swing, an arc that television can’t deliver. In person, you can also see the ball hanging in the sky, a feat television is incapable of. In person, you can hear the quality of the impact of the club on the ball. I don’t care how many time the announcers tell you to crank up the volume so you can hear impact, I have a very good sound system and it sounds limp compared to the real thing.

After I followed Johnson, Ogilvy and Mahan to the finish, I looped through the media center and then picked up Fred Couples. His swing was otherworldly, he of the languid backswing that casually regroups at the top before he unleashes it into the ball without any sense of rush or hurry. Following the other three, I thought my eye would be prepared, but Couple’s controlled speed caused me to exclaim out loud, “Geez!

The other amazing thing about golf as compared to the other professional sports is that a mere $25 buys you a front row seat. You can be right next to the tee as they hit their tee shots, along the rope line as they play their second shots or clustered closely around the green as everybody stops breathing with the roll of the putt. And if you’d prefer to watch the world go by with each passing threesome, aside from the sponsored bleachers and pavilions for corporate guests, there all manner of free bleachers open to anyone. I watched Couples’ tee shot from bleachers directly behind him. This would include the famous, par 3, 16th hole coliseum, surrounding the green entirely with up to 15,000 fans. You gotta go sit there for at least an hour to get the feel of it.

The other great thing about golf is that it models behavior that exemplifies all that’s good and great about America. The players are neatly dressed, they play in a calm, self-assured manner, they take their lumps with equanimity and their victories with class. They are grateful for their jobs, for their victories and for the opportunities while they wait on the victories.

And it’s infectious. Golf fans are polite to a fault. They greet you with a smile, they excuse themselves when they think they’ve impeded you or blocked your sightline. They are happy people generally who love the game and love watching players play it at its highest level on courses they can actually play too. What other sport let’s you do that? How about getting together for a pickup game in Madison Square Garden or Wrigley Field?

Back in my amateur days, I once played regularly with a man at a funky, semi-private course I belonged to who was a golf fanatic. He actually towed his own golf cart to the course on a trailer. One day he announced that he was moving to Texas and buying a nine hole course.

“Why ever would you do that?’ I wondered.

“Because,” he said, “I love golf and I love golfers and I want to be close to both of them.”

If you’re in the Phoenix area, you get an extra day; because of the frost delays, they won’t be able to finish until Monday. It’s supposed to get to 72 degrees Sunday and 74 on Monday. In other words, glorious golf weather. If you’re not in Phoenix, here’s the PGA Tour 2011 Tournament Schedule to find when and where the show will be close to you.

So if you’ve never gone, take a chance. And if you’ve been before, go again for the sake of the game…and yours.

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