U.S. Open 2019: One of the coolest spots at this Open is also one of the hardest to access
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — A U.S. Open is only as good as its player staging areas, and this U.S. Open has one of the best. Sadly (or not) it was retired at the conclusion of the second round. RIP, scoring trailer/flash area/putting green/transportation hub crazy-far from civilization and out by the 13th green. We’ll miss ya!
The centerpiece of this enclave was a perfect-rectangle putting green, nearly the length and width of an Olympic pool and a place for the players to hit some putts, chips and pitches before going to the 10th tee, where half the players started on Thursday and the other half on Friday. They could kill time there, too, decompressing after a round or getting in the mood before it. The only thing it lacked — and this was a serious omission — was anything in the way of food and drink.
At one end of this village green was a trailer where the players who finished on the 9th green submitted their scorecards in a quiet room with drawn shades. Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose entered this room at about 1:30 p.m. on Friday and signed for, respectively, a 72, 69 and 70. As none was in any danger of missing the cut, they surely did not dwell on that subject while in this sacred space devoted to heartless numerical honesty. But for other players that would have been Topic A upon coming in. As all three golfers are boldface names in the game, capable of making news (or what qualifies for news within the game’s narrow borders), all three stopped in the so-called “flash” area to answer questions on various pressing matters.
(Flash is a relatively new term of the art, maybe 20 years old, according to Art Spander, a California sportswriting legend who has covered U.S. Opens since 1966, 52 in total. These interviews are not meant to be long and contemplative, and the subject is never sitting, so flash, as Spander explained, conveys the speed of the proceedings. These sessions also produce a phenomenon of modern newsgathering called “quick quotes.”)
It was in flash on Friday afternoon that Woods, who ended his day by making a bogey on the 9th, had the following exchange:
Reporter: “Clearly not the way you want to finish. How disappointed are you?”
Woods: “Yeah, I’m a little hot right now. I just signed my card about a minute ago. So need a little time to cool down a little bit.”
Kudos to the reporters who made the roughly two-mile trip from the press tent (where there is food and drink) and out to flash to ask those nine questions. And kudos to Woods for even stopping to take nine questions. He’s done that hundreds of times in his career, in good times and bad, and seldom just walks on by.
On the other end of the green, Jason Day, alongside his new caddie, Steve Williams, was preparing for the start of his second round. One-thirty in the afternoon, and their day was only starting, or at least starting in earnest. The time a player leaves his digs-for-the-week house until he gets to this distant staging area, with a suitable stop at the practice range first, would require at least two hours. A golfer doesn’t spend much time actually over his ball, but it takes all sorts of time to get there.
It was also in flash that Spieth stopped to take eight questions. If you didn’t catch the session, you could get the verbatim transcript of it via a service called ASAP Sports. The one word that jumps out from this particular transcript is “indiscernible” which appears eight times in the 1,055-word transcription. Some other key words in the transcript include “Michael” (Greller), “rake” and “mistakes.” Spieth’s a great talker, one of the best in the game, but you wouldn’t call this riveting reading. Give it a look, if you like. It’s available for all to see.
Amid the hysteria and minutia that is at heart of any day at any major golf championship, and with all the interesting sightseeing in this active but distant golfing depot, it was easy to lose sight of the big picture. To wit, this practice putting green offered an unencumbered view of the 13th fairway, an obstructed view of the 9th fairway and a slightly more distant view of the still and heaving Pacific Ocean. A million-dollar-view, as people used to say. No inflation-adjustor app could tell you what that view costs today.
To return to civilization, you go the other way, back to the ocean and up a dirt path lined with cedar chips and bordered by a Tudor mansion with seven chimneys on one side and a powered-by-Spain mansion on the other. Each has its own backyard putting green and each has a 17 Mile Drive address. The combined value of these two homes would be about $50 million and let’s not even talk about curb appeal because you can hardly see them from the street. The backyard appeal, of course, is a whole different thing.
So the players, their caddies, family members, swing coaches — and reporters — go up that path and board Suburbans and other heavyweights for the ride back to civilization. That is, player dining, player parking, the fitness trailer and the like. As the Spieth family waited for a ride, Steven Spieth, the golfer’s tall and lanky kid brother, draped a long arm over Greller. The caddie and his player had had two long days in the office, but the setting was spectacular, anyhow. What happens in the Suburbans stays in the Suburbans, but the pathway there is a sort of extension of flash and Rose, merrily at seven under through the first two days and accommodating to reporters anyhow, talked to a trio of reporters as he made his way along the trail.
One reporter, distracted by his own grumbling stomach, asked Rose about the massive sandwich he ate on the course on Thursday, in a wrapper. When rounds take five hours, it’s surprising more players don’t take lunch breaks during play.
“Jason got it for me, from Whole Foods,” Rose said, referring to his mental coach, Jason Goldsmith. “Yesterday, it was beef, today it was turkey — switching it up!”
Rose was asked if he had ever heard a dictum, attributed to Ben Hogan, about not eating on the golf course, as it causes the blood to go to the stomach and not to the brain. Rose has a more than casual interest in Hogan, in part because he won a U.S. Open at Merion, which he did in 2013, as did Hogan, in 1950.
“I think there’s a lot more sports science than when Mr. Hogan was playing, you know?” Mr. Rose said. “I have to eat, to keep my blood sugar constant and even.”
“How about bananas?” Rose was asked.
“Bananas are good, end of my round only — for the last three or four holes, that last little push.”
Rose finished his Friday round with four straight pars, and you know what Johnny Miller says about pars in U.S. Opens — they wear the white hats.
Rose and his clubs and his family and his people got in a black Suburban, headed down 17 Mile Drive. The man with the lead, just then, was going to see his physio, have an early dinner, and prepare for weekend play. He was leaving this odd and distance staging area, with its attendant scoring trailer and flash area and putting green, for the final time. On Saturday and Sunday, all the action will be near The Lodge. If all goes well, in 2027, when the Open returns to Pebble, Rose will be in the field, and this sui generis staging area will be back in business.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]