Thursday morning at Chambers Bay was eventful, and not just because of all the big names on the leaderboard early. I walked a few holes inside the ropes on both nines, hopping back and forth between the threesome of Brandt Snedeker/Henrik Stenson/Francesco Molinari and Matt Kuchar/Graeme McDowell/Hideki Matsuyama.
11:45 a.m. PST
All three in the Kuchar/McDowell/Matsuyama group hit tee shots on the par-3 third hole within 10 feet of the hole. Kuchar was the only player to make birdie, which sent off a resounding “KOOOCH” from the crowd. Once it died down, a high-pitched “GO KOOOCH” rang out. Kuchar tossed his ball to the young fan and gave him a fist-bump.
Stenson and Molinari each hit straight tee shots on the driveable par-4 12th that came to rest just shy of the green, still within putting range. Snedeker’s tee ball, well right of Stenson’s and Molinari’s in the air, kicks out of the fescue and winds up well left of his playing partners, remarkably in better position. Chambers Bay is weird like that.
Seated on a hill beside the 12th green, I watched as Stenson/Molinari/Snedeker approached the green. Once they reached the green, fans standing on top of a hill beside 14 green (adjacent to 12) began attempting to climb down the steep bank to get closer to 12 green. Several fell and slid down, but it appeared nobody was injured. One guy actually picked up his son and carried him down over his shoulder. Spectating at Chambers Bay ain’t easy.
Molinari’s first putt on 12, from just short of the green, needs to climb two ridges, a mound, then feed down to the hole some 70 feet away. It gets about 80% of the way there, but doesn’t scale the last mound and rolls back towards Molinari, leaving about 25 feet over the mound for birdie. No problem; he drains it.
Stenson walks off the 14th tee after blasting a driver down the pipe. The fans are somewhat scarce this high up on the course at this time, but one manages to catch Stenson’s attention. “So it’s nice and flat for ya’ll out here, huh?” the fan says sarcastically, referring to the sloping, maze-like terrain that makes up Chambers Bay. Stenson, even more sarcastically, replies in his deep timbre, “Oh yeah, it’s as flat as a pancake.”
The walk from 14 green to 15 tee requires players to trot across the 12th fairway, meaning they’re often waiting as drives from the 12th tee fly overhead. Stenson/Snedeker/Molinari cross paths with Brandon Hagy, Sebastian Cappelen and amateur Matthew NeSmith. The look NeSmith gives Stenson resembles that of a 10-year-old wanting an autograph. The awe is all over his face.
I decide to stay near the 15th green after Stenson/Snedeker/Molinari play through, mainly because Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jimenez are the next threesome. I walk a few holes with them. As they trot up the 16th fairway, a plane flies overhead with a banner reading “MARY MART: TACOMA SELLS LEGAL MARIJUANA.” The cop walking alongside the group quickly quips, “Gotta love Tacoma. We really put on our finest face for the world stage.”
Stay tuned for more inside the ropes tidbits from Chambers Bay.