Back in 1987 I didn’t know anything.
While I may have played golf since I was an 11-year-old caddie, it was just casual golf without any competitive element to it, the kind I play now. It was and is competitive only to the extent that I tried to get the very best shots out of myself for the sheer satisfaction of it and with no real consequence.
So when I had a chance to come back to the game in my early 40s, it was with great relish; I was able to throw myself into it again almost on a daily basis. And in the course of events, I met my golfing buddy, Larry. We just kind of hit it off and ended up playing together a lot.
So as June of 1987 was coming upon us, Larry said, “Are you going to go to the Open?” Then as now it was going to be at the Olympic Club — the Lake Course — and we both lived just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County.
“No, I wasn’t planning on it.”
“What! It’s the U.S. Open and it’s going to be at Olympic. You gotta go!” At that point, I had been so detached from golf, I didn’t even know anything about the course or even were exactly it was. “On the other side of the Bridge,” included a fairly large land mass.
“I have an extra ticket for Tuesday’s practice round. Why don’t you come with us?” And so it was done. Free is always good.
On the appointed morning, we rendezvoused on the Marin side, drove across the Bridge and into my education about big-time professional golf.
We parked in the streets and followed the crowd down the street, up into the tree-lined path that led to the gate and popped out somewhere around the 16th green. And my first look at a golf course prepared for a U.S. Open took my breath away. On that still San Francisco morning, the place looked like a veritable cathedral.
The richness of the dense, uniformly cut rough was like a giant green crew cut draped over the land, the gallery hadn’t trampled it all down yet. Everything was just so green! And the entire scene was framed by the tall evergreen trees and softened by the lazy morning overcast so typical of San Francisco in the summer.
And to all that natural beauty, add the uniform linearity of all the dark green, planked bleachers and the metal railings to keep everyone safe. First thing in the morning this near to the end of the back nine, there wasn’t a soul in any one of the seats, making its symmetrical engineering all the more apparent.
Just beginning the walk up the 17th fairway was the great Japanese player, Tommy Nakajima and his caddie. So we followed them up the hill in the right hand rough. It was our first good look at the fairways; I’d never seen anything that uniformly tight. It was as if it had been spray painted; nothing was out of place.
And then down the left rough into the deep swale on 18, back up to the green and up and around the clubhouse to the range and the human part of the show.
That morning was when I learned to just sit in the bleachers on the range and watch the powerful economy of professional golf swings. I sat there mesmerized by the pageantry of it all, by this whole new world I had never known existed, by all these repeating swings hitting all manner of clubs.
Maybe discovering that that world actually existed was part of the seduction of my trying to play at that level myself some 9 years later on the Champions Tour Monday qualifying circuit.
And so this Tuesday, somebody else will retrace those same steps that I took back in 1987. I wonder what his first impression will be and what will become of him?