I was very fortunate and had the opportunity to attend the PGA Championship's final round yesterday at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course. This was the second major I've ever been to and my first time visiting Kiawah Island. The Ocean Course lays claim to the title as "Golf course with most holes on the Atlantic Ocean" and it is, perhaps, most famous until now for hosting the 1991 Ryder Cup - a mere two years after being completely destroyed by Hurricane Hugo.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy for his second major title after a masterful blowout victory, setting a new record by besting the rest of a very talented international field by 8 shots! Up until yesterday, the 23-year old was probably best known for his two painful Sunday collapses at both the Masters and the U.S. Open. Pundits everywhere have been questioning whether Rory was a flash in the pan......
The pundits have changed their tune, now! Including fellow European, Sir Nick Faldo.
(.....for the collectors...)
I wasn't able to spend much time with Nick (sarcasm), as he was busy taping various TV spots after the closing ceremonies had ended......but I stayed the course and patiently waited for a chance at his autograph. I was also praying for the [impossible] remote chance that some of the players, maybe even McIlroy himself, might decide to come yuck it up with us common-folk. I had a nice-looking tournament flag in hand from the gift shop and a trusty sharpie in the other hand. I had carried it around with me during the entire second-half of our day. Never miss an autograph opportunity, right?!
Right. But wait - why a big 'ol flag, Ryan?
I've decided to snag a commemorative flag from every Major Championship, when I am lucky enough to be able to attend. I have one from Augusta, which you will all see in a future post next spring......and I was sure to pick one up yesterday. Since it was a tournament round, there would be LITTLE chance for interacting with the players. Especially since the previous day's weather delay caused the field to finish their 3rd round early on Sunday. They would be tired and exhausted....not a good recipe for fans and autograph seekers like us. But I understand. Sometimes it is just not meant to be. That's fine - unsigned Major flags are always welcome on the Ryan's Pitch Man Cave wall! Sports is sports, after all.
...now back to me, loitering around like a TMZ reporter.....
The tourney came to a close yesterday. Seagulls and pelicans were flying overhead in victory formation.....I smoked a victory cigar with my good friend and we watched as McIlroy made his way through the post-victory obstacle course of picture sessions, interviews and VIP well-wishers. He never came towards us for a potential miracle signing, but that's okay. The salty breeze was blowing during a fine, Low-Country sunset. It was time to soak it all in and not get too stressed out over autograph possibilities. However, I've learned that patience does pay off sometimes - you never know. I waited and waited. Finally, a production assistant began to herd Faldo back towards the TV booths that had been set up across from the Ocean Club clubhouse near the beach. There was just a few of us fans who had waited around (hey, who wants to stand in line for a shuttle bus to the parking lots, anyways?!?!), so Nick let us know, "...follow me, guys - I'll sign a few while I walk."
I made sure that the small kids got in there first and then my chance came. The previous auto-seeker had handed Faldo a green sharpie to use (the course's logo colors included green). I had brought my trusty black sharpie......Sir Nick kept the other fan's pen and used it to sign my flag - and I think it turned out pretty nice. Thanks, random green-sharpie fan dude! I thanked Mr. Faldo and parted with my best "cheers", which got a little chuckle and nod of approval from the 6-time Major Champion. Here she is:
...and here is the herd after I hit the "eject button" with my new "Faldo Flag" in hand. He's in there, I promise - the light blue shirt in the middle, behind the gentleman in the yellow. Sir Faldo:
|Looks like a Southwest boarding gate....|
He has been known to be somewhat of a tough autograph to snag and I can believe it. He was constantly being bombarded, questioned, followed and told what to do - by TV colleagues, not fans and autograph seekers! And while he usually works in a jab against my favorite, Bubba, during telecasts.......Sir Nick comes out of this one with a thumbs-up from me. Thank you for your time, Mr. Faldo!
(...and now, for the golf fans....some of the actual golf that I was able to witness....)
I posted up at the tee box of #7 as the leading groups made their way through the front nine. My usual preference is to find a place where I can get as close as possible and stay put while the players come through....and #7 ended up being a terrific spot. I was "right on the rope" and was able to listen to the players as they discussed club/shot selection with their caddies, go through their pre-shot routine and, of course - blast a tee shot. I try to absorb the rhythm and idiosyncrasies of these guys so that I can put it to use with my own game. That never works :)
|These fans absorbed shade instead of rhythm. And I was jealous.|
John Daly and Miguel Angel Jimenez's group came through in all of their glory. Long John Daly continues to be a crowd favorite, more than two decades after his improbable victory at Crooked Stick. These days, he lets his wardrobe do MOST of the talking for him. Jimenez (the "Mechanic") has become one of my favorites. The quirky Spaniard is a big fan of red wine loves to smoke Cohiba cigars while he plays. YouTube videos of his pre-round stretching routine are a MUST-see. Both of these guys launched perfect drives off of #7, with Daly's driver flailing WAY past parallel on his back swing - just as it always has.
|Just a weeee past parallel there, Fruit Stripe :)|
|Big John and the Mechanic!|
Bubba Watson, as I've mentioned before, is definitely my favorite player. He put together a pretty solid performance for the week and racked up some more FEDEX points as the playoff season approaches. His Ryder Cup selection is almost certainly a guarantee at this point as well - an event that should be TRULY exciting as golf's "olympics" ventures back onto American soil next month, at Medinah Country Club in Illinois. I can't wait. No longer a "I can't believe I'm here!" kind of tour player, Bubba seemed to have a Champion's confidence about him. Later in the day, I had moved to 18 for the tournament's finish and was just in time to watch Bubba's approach shot and eventual birdie putt. His drive had split the fairway and came to rest at least 40 yards ahead of the rest of his group. Typical! He then calmly lobbed (what must have been) a wedge into the air and stuck it close for his birdie. Good stuff! Here's Bubba swinging "out of his shoes" during a drive. This extra "oooomph from the tippy-toes" is what gives him an extra power boost - not textbook at all, but..........that just doesn't matter anymore! Go get 'em Bubba!
|Post-impact. Note pink shaft, ball to right of tee marker and Jason Dufner looking on...|
Phil Mickelson had a horrible final round and doesn't seem to be finishing up the 2012 season very well. He's still a heck of a golfer, true champion and, usually - nice guy who interacts a bit more with the crowd when he's relaxed. He certainly seemed to be relaxed yesterday. He even smiled. When he talked to his caddie, he spoke loud enough for all to hear, which in its own way, was very cool and unique. Someone was a bit too loud on their phone as Lefty was preparing to tee off and a marshal quickly 'shushed' them.....Phil actually waved it off and smiled and said, "....that's okay......". That's awfully big of him. I've had less kind reactions myself to noise during my swing.....with a LOT less money on the line. Here's Lefty, about to make impact.
|Go get 'em, Phil!|
The state of Tiger's return has been the topic of choice for golf critics all year. He has shown moments of brilliance with a couple of tournament victories.....but has also befuddled his fans by suffering through completely UN-Tigeresque, final round disasters. Though he was somewhat in the hunt, he couldn't get things going during yesterday's final round. I actually saw him completely "airmail" (hit it OVER the green) an approach shot on the front nine, something that he NEVER used to do. BUT, he's Tiger Woods and I was pumped as ever to watch him display his game.
I must say that he was very calm, cool and collected. He hit some bad shots but he never lost his temper as bad as Tiger tends to do sometimes. In fact, I even witnessed a very kind act by Tiger - after teeing off on #7, he strode off down the fairway as he normally does. The cameras and necessary circus went with him but a PGA Tour official quickly walked up to a young golf fan standing next to me with his father and handed him a very shiny, nice looking ball marker. I couldn't hear exactly what he whispered but I learned after the fact that the ball marker had been Tiger's and that he had asked the official to give it to the kid after he (Tiger) left the tee box. Very cool. Bo Van Pelt later tossed his ball at the kid (which hit me gingerly in the foot before the kid scooped it up.......made me laugh. BOY, did that kid make out!)
Here is Mr. Woods, conferring with his caddie about the next shot......or maybe they spotted Tiger's yacht out in the water?
|Tiger....will he find it again?|
Finally....our Champion! Rory was great to watch come through. Everyone was wondering - would he fall again? The answer was no, of course. Being able to see the concentration in his eyes and confidence of his swing was pretty powerful. Sure, going through the painful learning lessons of two "final day" major losses should help most people get the butterflies out of their system. Or does it make it worse? Regardless, Rory made it look easy as he grinded out an amazing, error-free, final round and pulled away from the field amidst the usual substantial coastal winds and tight course conditions. He quipped to his caddie after teeing off on #7, "...I didn't catch all of that..." - but he certainly had. #7 is a reachable Par 5 with a dog-leg right that occurs RIGHT where the drives land for most of the pro's. especially with the wind coming in off the South Carolina coast. I heard Jimenez's caddie report that it was a 325 carry to the "apex" of the turn, with a huge bunker/waste area along the right side in case anybody drifted too far right or couldn't cut the corner. I hustled down the right side of the hole to find that Rory's ball did INDEED clear all of the trouble. He lofted an iron onto the left side of the green, precariously close to the left-side trap......and promptly two-putted for birdie.
Watching the players consider their options on the tee box of 17 was also a tremendous experience. #17 at Ocean Course is usually considered to be that track's signature hole. The 230-yard par 3 skirts the beach so wind usually forces the tee shots to the left. There is a sizable lake between the tees and green and the green is a fairly long one, approximately 40 yards from front to back with he putting surface reaching out into the water as you go back - making the Sunday pin position a true challenge. Trevor Immelman (blast from the past!) made the finest shot while I was there - attacking the pin head on , water in front be damned! He stuck it close and made his birdie. Rory got to 17 and was looking at a 6 stroke lead......pretty comfy, but we all know what he must have been thinking. As they said in The Sandlot - "Don't be Goofus!"
|#17, Par 3, Ocean Course|
And he wasn't.
He played a perfectly placed safe shot to the back left portion of the green. It was something to watch. I admired the smooth, calm swing that he had. He had a long putt but he had avoided the water.....no matter. He sank the putt anyways! He even birdied 18, just for good measure....and the record.
|Rory hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy!|
See you next time, Ocean Course.....I can't wait to make a tee time here! Need to start saving...
|The Ocean Course Clubhouse at Kiawah Island|
Well, I hope you enjoyed that. Something a little different - but still a sport that I am very passionate about and enjoy collecting memories and memorabilia for.
Thanks for reading!