It's an odd thing, getting goose bumps on a golf course. Goose bumps are for the first row of the opera or the last minutes of a movie. But goose bumps while standing behind the par-3 17th at Bethpage Black? Please let me explain.
I have a history at the 207-yard 17th, a gorgeous, slightly uphill hole with a green surrounded by five deep bunkers and set into a hillside amphitheater.
The first time I played the Black, the 17th was the only green I reached in regulation, but the real magic of 17 came later, when I was standing behind the green during the third round of the 2002 U.S. Open.
It was late afternoon when Phil Mickelson arrived at the tee. The hole was cut in the front of the green, just over a bunker, and Mickelson launched a five-iron to 25 feet. As soon as he hit his birdie putt, the stands began creaking as the gallery stood up and shouted. When the ball neared the hole, a tidal wave of sound rose up from the amphitheater. The ball dropped. Time stopped. As the fans roared, an army of goose bumps raced up and down my forearms. Mickelson was bathed in sound. "A really cool feeling," he would say.
The gallery was still buzzing when Tiger Woods appeared minutes later. He hit a six-iron, but I lost his ball in the sky. Then, like magic, it dropped to within eight feet of the pin, and another roar brought the goose bumps back. This was different from the cheering for Mickelson. Phil's was a from-the-gut scream for an underdog. Tiger's was the acknowledgement of genius. It was as if Frank Sinatra had walked into your local bar and started singing Summer Wind. Of course Woods made the putt, and he would win his second Open the next day.
Seven years later, who knows what'll happen? But I do know this: I'll be at 17, and I bet the goose bumps will be too.