I watched Michelle Wie’s first meltdown, I stood five feet away from Lorena Ochoa as she hit a golf ball, and I’ve already gotten in trouble.
And I’ve only been here a day.
Today is Day 1 of the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Resort in Southern Pines, N.C., which for my family members who may be reading this … is just half an hour from Sanford. I’m here with my media credential, even though I’m probably the least accessorized, least golf-savvy and least serious person in the room. I’m also one of the only “media” guys to have spent the morning walking the course … here’s a little secret, the media are so pampered at these events (big screen TVs, air conditioning, giant leaderboards, interview and photo rooms just yards away from the media room, free lunch, free drinks, etc) that they don’t even have to leave their chairs to cover an event like this. That’s a secret though.
But it’s 10:30 a.m. and I’ve been here since 7 a.m. There’s a lull while the first round of players make their turn, so I’m in the cozy media room beginning this blog. I’ll just go with a minute-by-minute detail for what I’ve seen (all apologies to Bill Simmons, though he didn’t necessarily invent this type of reporting). Keep in mind, my golf knowledge is limited and I’ve only broken 90 through 18 holes twice in my life.
7:35 a.m.: Parking is a breeze if you’re media. If you’re anybody else, it didn’t look that bad this early. Then again, it’s this early, it’s Thursday and there was nobody here. If you’re planning on a weekend trip, come early. Leave happy.
7:45 a.m.: The first thing you notice walking to the 1st Tee is the sound. It’s quiet. There are hundreds of people around, but nobody’s talking. The early crowd gathered around the putting greens, where I got my first glimpse of two of the stars of this show (pictured): Lorena Ochoa (the top-ranked woman in the LPGA) and Michelle Wie (who’s popular, but not because she’s that good.)
Just three minutes into this, I realize why I stink at golf. I don’t practice. Ochoa spent about half an hour putting the same three golf balls from all different angles. Wie did the same, but missed more and frowned more (Yes, I’m going to pick on Wie today). When I golf, I usually buy a bucket of about 20 balls, hit them, then putt about 10-15 times and I’m ready. Also, I never practice in between.
Note to self: quit job and practice putting.
The other thing I notice about Wie is she towers above everybody else. At over 6-feet tall, she’s a giant out there, and you immediately realize why she can drive a ball 300 yards.
8 a.m.: After 10 minutes watching an exciting round of putting, I head over to the driving range, where I meet Sakura Yokomine (pictured). I have no idea whether she’s a great golfer, but she’s certainly won Day 1’s fashion contest. Popped collar, unnecessarily large sunglasses and a pink fuzzy cartoony club cover in her bag … plus her caddie’s hair is spiked up about a foot. Through 9, she is 1-over … I hope she wins.
While we’re on the subject of dress, there’s something else I’ve noticed out here. The fans. Find me another sport where the crowd all dresses exactly like the players. Most of the guys out here are in their plaid golf shorts, while the women are donning the golf shirt and visor. Lot of Nancy Lopezes out here. I’ve even seen some fans in spiked golf shoes, which is unnecessary, to me.
Imagine if all sports did this … fans wearing shoulder pads to football games, baseball fans in batting helmets and jock straps, bowling fans in Hawaiian shirts. OK, this is going nowhere.
8:06 a.m.: Natalie Gulbis (pegged by many as the hottest woman golfer in the LPGA) and Michelle Wie are in a trio with Christina Kim. To be professional, I’ll just say Kim looks out of place in this trio. Through 12 though (looking at my giant media scoreboard right now), she’s holding her own. Gulbis (pictured) is even, Wie is 2-over and Kim is 3-over.
It’s early, but this is by far the biggest gallery (photo below), thanks mostly to two factors — the large number of scary-looking older single men following Gulbis around and the high number of fans waiting for Wie to either A) break one of her clubs over her knee or B) shock the world by having a great tournament.
8:52 a.m.: I’ve decided to go a hole behind and watch Ochoa, whose gallery is sadly half the size of Wie and Gulbis’. Ochoa is the No. 1-ranked player in the world, and she’s here to win her first major. I compare her to Tim Duncan, perhaps the greatest basketball player of the past decade, yet if he golfed, his gallery would be smaller than Allen Iverson’s … who has the potential of a meltdown. I love sports.
8:53 a.m.: Camera is not allowed. I didn’t have my red “MEDIA” badge that you’re supposed to have if you’re carrying a camera, so I was politely told to put it away. Tomorrow, I’ll have the red badge. Today, I just got a slap on the wrist.
9 a.m.: One complaint, the greens are mostly raised here, so it’s tough to see the hole from around the green. It makes for the gallery waiting to see the golfer’s reaction before applauding or “ohhh”ing after a putt. Just a small complaint, but one nonetheless.
9:15 a.m.: Wie’s first meltdown. Hole 4 is a beautiful Par 4 where the first 150-200 yards is a giant pond. Gulbis and Kim cleared this perfectly, while Wie (who took out the driver … even though I read she went almost a whole round recently without it because her confidence is shot) went far left of it and into the woods. Her gallery was uncomfortably silent, save the few who giggled because they’d been waiting for this. Wie’s response was a vocal “gaaaahhhhh.” She wound up with a bogey on the hole.
As I mentioned at the first of this article, I’m not much of a golfer, but I could have cleared this. It was one of those rare moments where I thought … “hey, if I practiced, I could …. uhm, make the LPGA tour.” People get satisfaction out of watching professionals (ESPECIALLY golfers) mess up. I never had, until this very moment.
9:20 a.m. I envy those with homes along this course. How great would it be to wake up one morning and head out in our backyard, only to find Michelle Wie digging around looking for her errant drive. Wie didn’t REALLY do that (she has caddies for that), but it would have been great if she did. It would also be great if I had a house near Pine Needles.
9:30 a.m.: Time to head back to the cozy confines of the media room and begin this blog. The walk is all uphill from the fifth hole and it’s about 15 degrees hotter than it was when I got here. I can’t wait to get back and get my free beverages, so I give in and buy a $4 Gatorade. The LPGA, it’s fantastic.
More coming this afternoon, until then, keep swingin’