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TPC River Highlands superintendent Tom DeGrandi, 55, has seen, heard, and squeegeed it all

Tom DeGrandi
Angus Murray
KEEPIN' ON: DeGrandi says he's calm on the surface, but "paddling furiously down below."

This is my 20th year as the superintendent here, going back to the Greater Hartford Open. Tournament week, I get about four hours of sleep per night. I'm up at 3:30 a.m. with my two yellow labs. I sleep in a separate room to give my wife some quiet.

Pressure? I'm like a duck: Calm on the surface, paddling furiously down below. Tour players are tremendously demanding. They want firm, fast, hard conditions, because a tough course eliminates weaker players.

Something cool happened when Bubba Watson won here [in 2010]. We had a three-man playoff with Bubba, Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank -- the longest driver on Tour, the shortest driver, and an average-length guy. Now that's a fair course!

The pros have no problem telling me their complaints: the sand is too soft, the trees aren't pruned correctly. A few years back, there was this Tour winner -- sorry, no names -- who drove it into a fairway bunker, and his ball ended up next to a small rake mark. He had a fit, saying, "He should be fired," talking about the maintenance kid who raked the bunker. I'm not gonna fire a kid for that. I wanted to say, "Look, it's a bunker -- it's not supposed to be perfect. Don't hit it there in the first place." [Laughs]

Players are demanding, but my real boss is Mother Nature. This week, we're dealing with record heat in the upper 90s. The grass is bent-poa. It gets heat stress. We take the course to the edge to get the fast, firm conditions the pros want. It's all about decreasing water, but you have to be careful, because if you kill the roots then you have dead grass the rest of the year. You can't maintain Tour conditions for much longer than a week. The course is like a marathon runner. We train for three months, and this week we push it to the limit, almost to failure.

Storms are my biggest stressor. If torrential rain comes in, then all our work? Done. Gone. If we get four inches of rain, then we're out there for hours shoveling sand, getting water off the course, squeegeeing greens. No question -- gimme the heat over rain.

The pros like the layout. It's scoreable, with soft greens and wide fairways. Sure, 16-under might win, but you still have to go shoot 16-under. The course won't give it to you. Not every week is the U.S. Open, otherwise all the players would be in therapy.

Doing this tournament must be what grandparents feel like when the grand-kids come over. Grandma loves to see them arrive -- and she can't wait to see them leave, to get her house back. I love it when the fans get here, and I love it when they leave.

When the week's over, I get my bed back. No more bachelor life for me.

 

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