So there I was last Friday afternoon, sitting on a fold-up chair alongside the second-hole fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links.
After spending most of the day traveling to Monterey and making my way to the high-fog-shrouded golf course, it was my first view of actual golf being played on the second day of the U.S. Open Championship.
At first glance, the golfer getting ready to hit his second shot 50 yards away on the par-4 hole looked kind of familiar. And then it struck me: Hey, that’s Rory McIlroy. I’m really watching a golfer I had only seen on television for so many years. The U.S. Open finally came alive and personal for me.
Rory hit a good shot onto the green, and he was followed by a tall guy, who wasn’t doing as well. He turned out to be Dustin Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champ, who was hitting his second shot out of a deep sand trap.
Soon, Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama was hitting out of the rough just a few yards away to my left, and so it went as the golfers passed by.
What struck me as strange as I watched world-class golfers was how quiet it was. As they stood there waiting for the green in front of them to clear, there was some talk by spectators nearby, but as the golfers prepared to swing, the voices hushed. Then, all I heard was the click of the club face hitting the small dimpled ball.
It was strange for me, because in watching golf on TV as I have done on many weekends, there were always TV commentators chatting in the background as the golfers walked, stopped and prepared to hit the ball. No voice-overs at Pebble Beach before and after contact was made.
The silence was broken only by the occasional applause and cheers coming from nearby greens after a well-placed approach shot was hit or a long putt holed.
Our next step was to gather next to a green to watch putting. Our group included daughter Laurie, son-in-law Dan, daughter Meg, granddaughter Jackie and me. I had been provided a ticket to “a day at the U.S. Open” as a Father’s Day gift. We settled in next to the green of the 200-yard 12th hole, a par-3 reached in one stroke by an iron-shot from the tee box on a hill.
Again, it was quiet. After we saw golfers swing from a distance, we couldn’t see the ball flying through the air — no TV telescope views. Suddenly, though, without a sound, a ball appeared on the green. And then two. And finally three.
The putting was mostly uphill to the cup, and although some golfers — notably Ricky Fowler and German Martin Kaymer — came within an inch or two of holing a long putt, the balls slid past the cup for most of the players.
Then a big guy, whose name at first I didn’t catch, sunk a 20-footer, receiving applause and a few shouts. I asked the person standing next to me who that was. His answer: “Oh, that’s Gary Woodland; he’s really making a move today.”
And indeed Woodland was charging up the leader board Friday. He started the day 2-under and fired a 6-under-par 65 to go two strokes over the first-day leader, Englishman Justin Rose.
Our final stop of golf-watching was climbing into temporary stands to watch golfers hit onto the green on the par-3 17th, one of the picturesque Pebble Beach holes with cliffs and surf as a backdrop to the golfing.
Viewing from above gave me a new perspective. And it helped me appreciate what Woodland accomplished on the same hole Sunday by lifting a chip shot from just off the green, avoiding a spur of high grass en route to near the hole — and saving par.
That par on the next to the last hole was one of the key shots for Woodland in holding off two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka to win the U.S. Open title, sinking a birdie putt on the final hole to win by three strokes.
Aside from actually watching the golf, attending the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach showed me what a well planned and carried out event it was.
Heading toward Monterey on Highway 1 in the last leg of our trip from Tracy, we were met by signs directing us to free U.S. Open parking on the Cal State Monterey campus, the one-time Fort Ord.
We parked in a huge parking lot that was nearly filled with cars. I was told by one of the volunteer attendants that the lot, which must have been a holdover motor pool from Fort Ord, had a capacity of 9,000 vehicles.
Waiting for us nearby was a long line of buses — the full-size touring bus variety — ready to take us to Pebble Beach. The trip had no delays, but the bus had to wind its way through the maze of 17 Mile Drive roadways to reach the golf course a half-hour after departing the parking lot.
Off the bus, we walked through the spectator entry maze. The Trophy Club, which our tickets entitled us to visit, was not an intimate tent but a huge one selling beer, wine, booze and snacks.
Nearby, a large “Merchandise” tent dished out countless golf hats, T-shirts, windbreakers, you name it, all marked with “Pebble Beach U.S. Open 2019” and all geared to making sure the folks back home knew you had made the pilgrimage for the U.S. Open at one of America’s golfing shrines.
Golf carts providing rides to and from golf venues really helped me get around, adding a lot of ease for me to enjoy the U.S. Open experience.
And yes, I watched Sunday on TV as Woodland sank a birdie putt on the same 17th hole I had viewed two days earlier on his way to victory and golfing glory.
Yes, I was at the U.S. Open and saw the champ hole a 20-foot birdie putt en route to golf stardom. And, of course, I have a U.S. Open cap to prove it.