First-tee jitters? Some puke, some pray

Playing in the U.S. Open is one of the most nerve-racking experiences for a professional golfer. Teeing off on Sunday in an afternoon pairing can make some players literally want to puke, as Bubba Watson so aptly put it this week.

“I’m going to be sick every day,” Watson said after he found himself near the lead at the U.S. Open.

So the players find different ways of dealing with the pressure. On his way to the tee box for his 12:50 p.m. pairing, Ian Poulter blocked everything out. He listened to his iPod and did not pull out his earbuds until right before he teed up.

Nick Dougherty, the first-round leader, came to the tee immediately after the pairing in front of him, giving himself a full 10 minutes to wait around before he hit. After his Thursday round, when he shot a two-under 68, Dougherty talked about how cheerful he looked while he was playing.

“I think you have to be a bit upbeat at these events, because it’s just so much disappointment, because it’s so difficult,” he said.

If he looked cheery Thursday, he was anything but on Sunday, staring at the first-tee starter while waiting to be announced. Dougherty’s playing partner, Lee Janzen, arrived much later and didn’t even take a full practice swing. But then again, the two-time U.S. Open champ had been there before.

Mike Weir, dressed all in black, including his glove, took out a wedge on the tee. Minutes before he started, he focused on swinging the wedge in the rough rather than practicing with the hybrid he ended up hitting.

In the next group, Tim Clark looked extremely jittery. He began by swinging his driver, then switched to a long iron, then went back to his driver. He took a deep breath, looked at the oak trees beside him to see how the wind was blowing, and finally hit.

Jerry Kelly might have been the most interesting on Sunday. When he arrived at the tee, he squatted in the middle of the tee box and smoothed the grass out over and over with his driver. As his playing partner, Scott Verplank, hit, Kelly was literally biting the skin off the side of his thumb.

In the final pairing, Tiger Woods, who has been in this position many times before, looked confident as he took practice swings and studied his yardage book. His playing partner, Aaron Baddeley, closed his eyes just before he hit, just as he has all week. Baddeley, a devout Christian, was saying a prayer.

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