One down. One to go.
An unprecedented amount of press coverage and hand-wringing commentary has been devoted to the uncertainty of how a pair of U.S. Opens might unfold. It’s kind of nice to report that things thus far have come off largely without a hitch.
The biggest hit may be Coore and Crenshaw’s new old-fashioned links-style golf course, which to a remarkable extent resembled the mottled brown and green layouts of the Open Championship, playing much the same way as Royal Liverpool will play come July. Perhaps this is a sign that our collective colonist tastes in golf courses are finally maturing. Most pundits and patrons I spoke with loved the wild and under-watered Pinehurst No. 2. The players? Probably not so much.
Though there’s no pause for the weary, Reg Jones and his staff of USGA logicians should be commended for orchestrating a men’s edition that drew quite possibly the largest crowds in championship history yet contained the flow so efficiently residents of only a few surrounding neighborhoods felt the impact of the massive land and air invasion. In most of the surrounding towns, which would normally be dozing off for the balance of the summer as locals vanish to beaches and mountain slopes, travel was completely unaffected and the extra business most appreciated.
Before the girls take over, though, a few Monday morning leftovers from a reporter’s busy notebook:
* The full moon that rose spectacularly over the eastern flanks of No.2 just after dusk on the 13th and hung like a Japanese lantern over the course every night since is called the Strawberry moon, which indeed it resembled as it rose through the pines.
One can only wonder how the bright lunar light affected the sleep patterns of the championship’s contenders. Better than the tenacious afternoon thunderstorms predicted to interrupt the flow of the Open earlier in the week but that never quite materialized.
On the other hand, just to prove nature holds the upper hand, there was the violent Shakespearean tumult that blew out of nowhere on a tranquil midsummer night around 9:30 Thursday as four veteran locally based golf writers were beginning their conversation on-stage in Tufts Park at the Open Experience following the debut of a USGA film on the history the Open. One minute we were reflecting on the splendid restoration of No.2 and its potential impact on the future of championship golf in America, the next scampering for our lives as lightning struck a pine tree behind the stage. The hardest rain in a long time left this reporter looking like he dove into the Carolina Hotel’s pool before finding refuge at the Holly Inn.
* One of the smartest things the USGA has done is adopt the policy first tried at the Women’s Open a few years back of providing free tickets to kids 12 and under accompanied by a paying adult. Anywhere from 500 to 2,400 Junior tickets a day were distributed this past week. At a time when most professional sports are pricing themselves out of the family budget, it was heartening to see young families and kids all over the grounds.
Every time I passed the Thistle Dhu putting green, which was several times a day, the attraction was teeming with wee ones rapping balls at cups. At one point I asked one of the teenage managers from the First Tee of the Sandhills if I might be permitted to play a quick match against a friend’s grandson in order to write about the experience, prompting a firm shake of his head and sly grin. “Sorry, sir. You have to be 18 or younger. You’re just too old. Maybe you should try the big course.”
* For better or worse, Masters champ Bubba Watson seemed to presage his own quick departure from the Open in the interview tent after his first practice round Monday afternoon.
“Coming here I didn’t know what to expect. Every championship is about making birdies but I don’t see many birdies around here,” he said. “The U.S. Open gets in your head. You can hit great shots and end up 20 feet over the green…In four days I’ll tell you how much I love or hate it. Whatever happens, I look at life differently now. 2014 is about rejoicing in my life – my wife, my son, the fact that I get to play golf on the PGA Tour. Sometimes you lose perspective. Whatever I shoot [at the U.S. Open this week] I try to remind myself how great my life is.“
In only his second Open quest, Bubba went 76-70 and missed the cut by two stroke. The good news? He got to spend Father’s Day at home with the family.
One of the more rewarding interviews I found this week was with Chilean born Miguel Chacoff, the catering supervisor for the Media dining facility. He took me on an impromptu tour behind the scenes to watch lunch being prepared. He introduced me to veteran soux chef Darryl DeWitt who explained that Ridgewells Catering of Bethesda, Maryland, which has catered every Open since 1993, will serve more than 60,000 catered meals this week. They’ve done that using locally sourced foods and more than 650 local chefs and service workers recruited from various restaurants and culinary schools around the state, including Moore County’s own award-winning culinary school at Sandhills Community College.
With more than 60 different tents to feed, and another week to go, every tent has its own chef and cooking team, with a menu that is surprisingly diverse. “We pride ourselves on serving memorable dishes,” DeWitt explained, adding that his day starts around 3 a.m. and ends with a planning session with his staff around six in the evening.
“It’s a very full day and probably hotter in here than out there on the golf course,” he quipped before pausing to take a phone call from his wife and offer a sample of the delicious Korean barbecue on offer that day for lunch. “This is the U.S. Open of cooking.”
New York Times best-selling author Jim Dodson is the Sunday essayist for The Pilot and editor of the monthly PineStraw, O.Henry and Salt magazines. His latest book on golf is due in stores next summer.