This year I could only manage a day trip to Akron for the golf tournament instead of staying there at a hotel for a few days. So, I was on the road by 5:30am and drove into some rain. The Weather Channel had said the rain was on the move, but apparently it moved slower than they thought. When I got to Akron, I stopped at a Walmart and bought an umbrella, thereby ensuring that the rain was going to end. And by the time I got to the course at about 9:25am, the rain had indeed stopped. For the rest of the day, it misted and there was one light shower but that was about it. By the way, by 9:25am, people were already drinking beer. Seriously. 9:25am. There should be laws prohibiting sales that early. If you're drinking that early, then you have a problem.
I decided to attend the practice round day knowing there would be a risk of not seeing all the players I wanted to see. But at least I could take pictures during the practice round. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Sergio Garcia, one of my favorites who I always want to see every year. He had played with McIlroy earlier and I didn’t see them.
I started out at the practice green and saw quite a few players. There were a couple of funny anecdotes from the crowd around me. One, an older gentleman couldn’t quite say Bubba and called him Bubble Watson. I guess they don’t see too many Bubbas that far north. Another featured Graeme McDowell. Again, an older gentleman tried to tell his wife that McDowell was the guy who won the Masters this year. The wife asked, “Schwartzel?” The husband went on as if he didn’t hear her and said, “I think his name is Mac something… McAfee. He’s from England or Scotland. Or Wales. Not from Ireland.” Also, it looked as though Adam Scott and Ian Poulter were performing the same putting drill, using tees to mark off distances around the hole. A local reporter was interviewing some of the crowd around me (I dodged the camera) and apparently everyone around me was wanting to see Phil Mickelson. The reporter even asked about Tiger, and they said, “No, we’re here to see Phil.” Later in the afternoon, I heard a guy say “I don’t like him (Tiger) much no more.” Grammar aside, the sentiment was apparently shared by a lot of people, from the group of women waiting for the bus at the parking area, to people there at the course. The group of women at the parking area had some less than polite words regarding Tiger. I won’t print them here.
Anyway, eventually, I decided to eat lunch and then head out onto the course to find some players to watch. I ended up hopping between 8 tee and 13 tee with some glimpses at 7 and 12 greens. It’s a good spot at Firestone because there are real restrooms very close by as well as a concession stand. At the 13th tee, I saw Ryo Ishikawa, who people thought was Rickie Fowler just because he was wearing orange. They couldn’t be bothered to read the name on the golf bag or to see that Ryo had the new short haircut going for him. I was nearly trampled by autograph seekers trying to get to Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. The Tiger and Phil followers weren’t that aggressive.
Phil, Jeff Overton, Keegan Bradley and Brenden Steele were playing their practice round together and it looked to me like they were getting along famously. They seemed to have fun and were kidding around with each other. It was great to see and I could tell just how genuine Phil was with them. One thing I noticed was that Phil and Jeff have huge feet. I swear you could take one of their shoes and canoe across Lake Erie in it.
I was surprised to see such a huge gallery following Nick Watney, Bo Van Pelt and Bill Haas until I realized Butch Harmon was also there. I guess they could have been following Bill Haas. I certainly had him on my list of players to see this year. I was also very excited to see Dustin Johnson, who was playing with Furyk and Stricker, and Gary Woodland who I think was on his own.
One of the more curious practice round groups was Lee Westwood, Matteo Manassero and DA Points. I could see how Westwood and Manassero would know each other and might end up playing with each other, but I want to know how DA Points ended up in that group.
Lucas Glover is the most fan friendly player I think I’ve seen. On his way to the 13th tee, he stopped for pictures with the fans and for autographs and then after he hit his tee shot, he took even more pictures with fans. Usually the golfers only stop once on the way to the tee. Glover’s caddie is also one of the most fan friendly. He wasn’t shy at all and talked to the fans around the tee while waiting on Glover.
While waiting around at 13, I met a nice lady from Canada who is Jim Nantz’s biggest fan. She lives on the East coast and had to fly into Chicago and then from there to Akron. That seemed like a long trip to me but she was excited to be there. It was her first time at a tournament, she was staying with a friend and the trip was very economical for her.
We were very happy to have survived the Tiger Woods group as they went by. The rumor had spread over the course that Tiger was only going to play the back nine so we were curious to see if he would come our way. He finally did and even though I don’t like him, I did take a couple of pictures of him on the tee, for retirement funding purposes when I get older of course. He was playing with Hunter Mahan and Arjun Atwal and it took them an awfully long time to get off the 12th green. Tiger’s golf bag that day was a silver one with the word “fourteen” printed all over it. Probably not the best idea but then he hasn’t been blessed with many good ones. Seriously, you’d think he’d want 19 on the golf bag- you know, his goal, instead of his achievement. If I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to want to be reminded constantly of my goal, not of how fat I currently am.
After Tiger’s group went through, it looked like we weren’t going to see very many other golfers out our way so I headed back to the practice green, stopping briefly to watch Ryan Moore and Jason Day. They weren’t playing together. Back at the putting green and driving range I continued to watch the golfers and listen to the crowds. Then the skies started looking seriously gloomy and I figured I’d better head back to the parking area before it rained again. I got held up between the 10th hole and the clubhouse for what seemed like an eternity. Players come off the course there and the marshals rope off the path so the players can get through. Well, Mickelson’s group was there signing autographs. He finally had to stop and told the crowd he would sign again after the round the next day and he got a round of applause. When did you ever hear of a player being applauded for not signing autographs? That’s how much they love Phil Mickelson. The marshals weren’t endearing themselves to me however. They actually thought about continuing to hold us where we were until the next group of golfers came through. There were some very vocal objections to that idea and they let us through, but as it was so disorganized and disorderly, I had serious concerns that someone was going to get stepped on. The tournament should really find a better solution for that problem.
Luck was with me at the parking area as I figured that morning that I would never be able to find my car, but it was all by itself when I got back to it and very easy to see. That was the last good luck I had for about 80 miles or so. I was leaving Akron during rush hour and traffic was horrible. I first thought I would stop and eat but then the traffic was a nightmare so I got back on the interstate and decided to just drive as far as I could before stopping again.
I got home around 8pm and boy were my Winnie and PJ happy to see me. As were the outside cats who were missing their supper. Hopefully, next year, I'll get to spend a couple of days at the tournament. It's nice there.