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Matt's U.S. Open Golf Diary

 

I’m back after a two week holiday in sunny San Diego. I was off watching the U.S. Open golf and had a fantastic time. As I’m still catching up on all my movies (as evidenced by the number of reviews above), I’m a little out of touch with what else in happening in the cinematic world.

 

So, for this week’s spool, I’m giving you a rundown of my U.S. Open experience from San Diego. I know I’ve forwarded this to a few people already but if you haven’t read it and you’re a golf fan, here’s your chance to do so.

 

If golf bores you, don’t worry. In next week’s Film Pie newsletter, I’ll be revealing the nominees for my Toomey Awards which honour the best films and performances of the last 12 months. Also in July, I’ll have a look at the Brisbane International Film Festival and do my annual Mr. Cranky tribute.

 

MATT’S US OPEN DIARY

 

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

 

It was a long day of travel. Left Brisbane airport at 3:30pm and flew via Fiji to Los Angeles. Total flight time was around 16 hours. After clearing customs, I caught a bus to Union Station and then a 2.5 hour train to Solana Beach (about 20 minutes from San Diego).

 

My friends picked up me up from the station and took me to a very nice house where we were staying.

 

After settling in on the upstairs couch, I started to watch The Golf Channel’s preview of the US Open. It’s amazing to think that there’s a television station that shows nothing but golf 24 hours a day.

 

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

 

My first day on the course was the final practice round for the players. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that going to the practice round is one of the best things you can do. Here’s why…

  • The crowds are a lot smaller. The crowd total for the four tournament rounds averaged 51,673 people per day. For Wednesday’s practice round, just 29,290 people were in attendance. This made it a lot easier to get close to the players and see them in action.

  • You can take camera. There are metal detectors which prevent people bringing in phones and cameras during the tournament. So Wednesday is your best day of getting snaps of the course and players.

  • You can get busy in the merchandise tent. There was a 39,000 square foot merchandise tent which had an amazing array of products. Whilst it’s open all week, you can get all the best stuff on the Wednesday before it sells out. The other advantage of getting it out of the way early is so you don’t have to carry around your shopping bags whilst watching the tournament.

I got there around 8am for the practice round and followed a bunch of players. I managed to get some great photos of players including Adam Scott, John Edfors, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Retief Goosen, Miguel-Angel Jimenez, Ryuji Imada, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia, Tim Clark, Trevor Immelman, Camilo Villegas, Boo Weekly, Stuart Appelby, Paul Casey, Ernie Els and Nick Doherty.

 

It was interesting that probably only about two-thirds of the field played a practice round. Of those, many only played 9 holes. They spent most of their time on the practice fairway, chipping green and practice green.

 

Those that were out on the course hit either 1 or 2 balls off each tee and into each green. Once they got to the green, they spent time practicing bunker shots, chip shots and putts to the pin placements they thought were going to be used for the tournament. To do this, they either put a tee or a white disk on the ground to signify the hole.

They players were all very relaxed. Some made a few jokes with the gallery and most were busy signing autographs between holes. Many fans had bought US Open flags which they were getting the players to sign. It was a great atmosphere.

 

Another highlight of Wednesday was getting to hold the US Open trophy. It was on display in the Lexus tent and you could get a photo with it if you’d like. I made sure to do so.

 

After raiding the merchandise tent (you don’t want to know how much I spent), I left at around 4pm to get some well earned rest before Thursday’s opening round.

 

Thursday, 12 June 2008

 

I arrived at the course right on 8am to see the feature pairing of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickleson and Adam Scott play the first hole. I was stunned when I saw Woods make double bogey. It left me rather excited and I knew right then that the tournament was wide open.

 

It was tough to follow this feature pairing. The crowds were building with each hole and you’d have to go 2-3 holes ahead to get a good vantage point. It wasn’t too bad for a tall person like me but if you were short, you’d have to be right up against the gallery rope (or in the grandstands) or you’d have no hope.

 

After checking out a few other groups, I found a spot in the 18th grandstand and stayed there for about 3 hours. It’s a great finishing par 5 – you can see players go for the green in 2 and risk going in the water in front of the green. For those players that lay up, you can see them hit skilful wedge shots to within close range of the hole.

 

Watching them all hit into the 18th showed just how good they were. Their distance control was amazing. I only saw 2 balls go in the water (one was Justin Rose) and many players made birdies after hitting nice wedge approaches. Eric Axley even made an eagle.

 

Another player of note was Ricky Fowler. Fowler is a 19-year-old amateur who comes from California. He qualified for the Open and shot a fantastic opening round of even par (71). When Ricky came up the 18th, he received a fantastic round of applause from his local crowd.

 

Let me say though that the rough was deep. It’s also thick and clumpy. I saw Thomas Levet come to the 18th and he laid up in the rough. He tried to chip the ball 10 metres back to the fairway and it took him 3 shots to do so. That’s nasty!

 

I stayed on the 18th until Woods, Mickelson and Scott came through. Woods made a rare 3 putt to finish the day at 1 over par (72).

 

In the afternoon, I again watched a few different groups. I had backed Luke Donald before the tournament and so I followed him for a few holes in his pairing with Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. Donald shot even par (71) which was pleasing.

 

I left the course at around 4pm once again and was able to get home in time to see all the highlights on The Golf Channel.

 

Friday, 13 June 2008

 

Friday was the only day I didn’t have tickets to. So I took the train to San Diego and spent the day looking around the city.

 

America is a very interesting place. It’s just as I thought it would be from movies and television shows. Still, it was surreal to be experiencing it at the first time. It’s a strange feeling to realise that you’re the one with the different accent.

 

I checked out the baseball stadium in San Diego (where the Padres play) and walked around the city. I was amazed how many “sports bars” there are. I then took the trolley (tram) out to Fashion Valley to do some shopping. Fashion Valley is their major shopping complex (like our major Westfield centres here in Brisbane). The clothes were much cheaper than here in Australia and I took advantage using my credit card.

 

While at Fashion Valley, I took some time out to see a movie. I saw Don’t Mess With The Zohan starring Adam Sandler. American cinemas were much the same as those here in Australia. The price at this particular cinema was similar to those at Birch, Carroll & Coyle. The popcorn and coke was well overpriced. The only major difference I saw was that everyone was buttering their popcorn!

 

I got home from downtown San Diego around 7pm and had an early night in anticipation of a big weekend.

 

Saturday, 14 June 2008

 

The first tee off time for Saturday was 8:30am and with the leaders not hitting off until 3pm, there was no need to get to the course too early. I arrived around 10:30am and watched some of the early players in action.

 

One player setting the early pace was Brandt Snedeker. I saw Snedeker hole a downhill putt of around 20 feet on the 10th hole which broke 2 different ways. He was playing with Jeff Quinney who called a penalty on himself when he was addressing his 8 foot birdie putt and his ball moved slightly. No one saw it move and it takes a lot of class to do what he did. I know there are some players who wouldn’t have said anything. Snedeker finished the day with a 3 under 68 and vaulted up the leaderboard.

 

After munching on a hot dog (my standard lunch at the course), I got ready to watch the leaders. I positioned myself on the beautiful par 3 3rd hole and watched the players in action. It played very tough and I didn’t see a single birdie amongst the final 7 groups.

 

I also had the misfortune of seeing overnight leader Stuart Appelby 4-putt the 5th hole for a double bogey. The greens were quick, undulating and bumpy and players were taking their time over even the short putts. I’ve never seen so many short putts missed. When you see how much slope is on the greens, you realise how tough it can be. There are a lot of places on some greens where you can’t put a hole because there’s too much undulation.

 

The highlights of Saturday’s play though were the two eagles that were recorded by Tiger Woods on the 13th hole and the 18th hole. I didn’t see a lot of Tiger in round 3 but I saw these two putts. The crowd went bananas. I don’t know how he holed those putts – it was simply incredible. It was on the great charges in US Open history and I can’t believe I saw it.

 

I have such respect for Tiger Woods. I said after the round that he is super-human. How can he keep pulling it out when he needs it? If this was a movie, I wouldn’t believe it. Those putts were freakish. That said, Tiger was carrying an injury. I was in the crowd behind him when he drove on the 15th tee and then bent over with pain. When you consider that injury, his performance was even more incredible.

 

I left the course around 8pm thinking that Tiger was definitely going to win. He’s 13 for 13 when leading after the 3rd round of a major and with only Rocco Mediate and Lee Westwood chasing him down, victory seemed assured.

 

Sunday, 15 June 2008

 

Championship Sunday was everything I could imagine.

 

Given that Tiger had double bogied the 1st hole twice this week, I positioned myself near the green to see what he’d do this time. At 1:30pm, he teed off with Lee Westwood in the final group.

 

What I saw was shocking. Tiger pulled his drive way left and then hacked his way to the green. He had a one-putt double bogey that left everyone speechless. The lead was gone. I followed Tiger to the 2nd hole and saw him 3 putt from the front edge. He was now trailing and the leaderboards showed that Rocco had hit the lead.

 

The final round was amazing. I spent the day trying to watch the leaderboards and chasing the players who were making the most noise. A few players made a charge but faltered down the stretch. It turned out to be a duel between Tiger, Rocco and Lee.

 

I was on the 14th tee for a while and saw the leaders play the shortened par 4 (267 yards). It was an exciting place to be as some players laid up (and were booed) whilst other players went for the green (and were cheered). Both Rocco and Lee made nice birdies here whilst Tiger made a surprising par.

 

While I was walking up towards the 18th (to position myself for the finale), I thought I’d watch Tiger drive on the 15th. He hit a big slice which narrowly missed me. As all the fans scrambled to get a good spot, I found myself standing a few people back as he played his 2nd shot into the green.

 

By this time, the 18th hole was jam packed. I managed to find a spot about 80m from the green where I could see ok. The crowd was packed in like sardines. Tiger laid up near where I was position and looking at his lie, I thought that there was no way he’d make birdie. I was wrong.

 

He hit a fantastic wedge and then holed the putt. The roar from the crowd was incredible. I couldn’t see Tiger’s reaction from all the screaming fans but I saw it on TV that night. I’ll say it again – the guy is a freak.

 

As I left the course with about 50,000 other people, all I could think about was whether I’d be able to see the play-off the next day. My flight wasn’t booked till 10:30pm so I’d have time – it was just a question of whether I’d be able to get a ticket.

 

Monday, 16 June 2008

 

After speaking with my friend, I realised we had one ticket to the play-off. Could we get another? It turned out to be easier than I thought. There were plenty of scalpers at the ticket gate and we picked up one for $50. Not bad, eh? A ticket to a US Open play-off with Tiger Woods for $50. I credit my great negotiating skills – I talked the scalper down from $100. J

 

The atmosphere was electric for the play-off. Players were split in their allegiances for Tiger and Rocco. This may sound strange but Rocco had endeared himself to the crowds. He’d wave at all the fans when they yelled his name and he became the people’s champion.

 

This was most evident on the 18th hole. As the two players walked to the green, Tiger was completely focused – he hardly acknowledged the crowd and walked past the pond with a steely look. Rocco on the other hand, looked up the crowd, waved his hands and soaked it up. He won himself a lot of fans this week.

 

For the first 10 holes of the play-off, I followed the players. The crowd was around 25,000 and it was pretty packed but I was able to secure some good vantage points. When Mediate bogied the 10th to fall 3 behind, I thought it was all over. I then went back to the 18th to get a good spot in the grandstand – I just wanted to make sure I saw the winning putt and the presentation.

 

Well, didn’t things change in a hurry. There was a leaderboard at the 18th which was updated after each hole. Every time the scoreboard attendant went to change the score, the crowd murmured with anticipation. There was a massive roar when they posted Rocco’s birdie on the 15th to show that he’d taken a one shot lead.

 

Tiger came to the 18th one behind and did what he needed to do. He made a fantastic birdie to send it to a sudden death play off. I then had to race out of the stands and to the 7th hole (which was conveniently behind me). The play-off hole was a little anti-climactic. Mediate never looked like making par and Tiger took the title.

 

I walked to the exit thinking that this was one of the greatest US Opens ever played and that I was there. What a thrill. Tiger described it perhaps his best ever major victory. Wow!

 

We were out of the course by 2:30pm, had a quick shower and then boarded my train at 3:34pm en route to Los Angeles. It took around 24 hours to get back to Brisbane and here I am.

 

What a tournament! What an experience!