PGA Championship Volunteers All Have Their Own Story

July 27, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — You won’t hear much about the volunteers this week at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol until late on Sunday, at the awards ceremony, and even then they will barely get a catcall. The winner or the PGA president or some other person lifted to magnanimity by the events will take a few precious seconds to say that the great championship could not even have taken place, save for the hundreds—nay, thousands!—of volunteers, doing all manner of manual labor. You know who you are, you shuttle-car drivers and range-ball distributors and QUIET PLEASE paddle-holders. Yes, talking about you, Ms. Darcy Myers of Monmouth Junction, 53-year-old golf nut and Baltusrol volunteer with a regular Ladies’ Day game at the Peddie School golf course every Tuesday in season.

Well, not this most recent Tuesday. On the Tuesday of the PGA Championship, Myers left her home at 9:15 a.m., made an hour-drive to the V-lot, took a 15-minute shuttle ride in a yellow school bus, got deposited at some dusty, hot staging area and made her way to the Championship Village, down the left side of the 17th hole. She worked the register from 11 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., took a 15-minute lunch break, then worked an afternoon shift from 3:30 to 6:45 p.m. Asked to explain her motivation to offer all this free labor, Darcy had a quick three-word answer with decisive final punctuation: “I love golf!”

She rang up many Sharpies, many $4 golf balls, hundreds of Polo golf shirts, and also one $140 framed Baltusrol print. “Such nice colors this year,” she said of the shirts. Impulse buying, she said, was out of control. “Those poker-chip ballmarkers? Sold them like candy at a grocery store.”

Darcy even got to see a golf shot on Tuesday. Yes, one lone shot: Steve Stricker approaching the 18th green.

I asked Darcy if she had anything to drink while working, in the way of an adult refreshment.

“Oh no,” she said.

“Any of your colleagues?”

“No, no. That would be a problem. There’s a time and a place for everything. The merchandise tent would not be a place for that. There’s actually a volunteers’ happy hour for that sort of thing.”

I asked those last questions thinking about my friend Jonathan Storm and his merchandise-tent volunteer experience in 1993, when the U.S. Open was last played at Baltusrol. That’s the year Lee Janzen won the first of his two U.S. Opens. (Put him in the Hall of Fame!)

I remember a couple of amusing things about that week at Baltusrol. The first is the presence of Howdy Giles, Arnold Palmer’s dentist, on the 18th green seconds after Janzen holed out for the win. I don’t know how he did it, but Dr. Giles wound up with Janzen’s game ball. Where it is now I cannot say. I can tell you where one of Palmer’s former gold fillings is: in Howdy’s possession, though now in the shape of a ball marker. Howdy can tell you all about the volunteer life. He’s taken a million pictures (or something like that) of Arnold, all on a labor-of-love basis. Jonathan Storm, a retired TV critic, and Darcy Myers would both understand that instinct.

The other thing I well remember well from that year relates to Tom Watson and TV. Watson shot a final-round 69 and finished in a tie for fifth. He came out of the scorer’s trailer on Sunday and was approached by a throng of reporters on deadline in a corral. Steve Melnyk, working for ABC, collared Watson for an interview. While Melnyk was waiting for his red light to go on, some of us from the typing class started posing questions to Watson.

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“Do you mind guys?” Melnyk said. “I’m live.”

To which the great Dave Anderson of the New York Times said, “We’re live, too, Steve.”

Storm would particularly get that story. He worked for years as a TV columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is where we met and became friends. We were both working that Open, in a manner of speaking. Jonathan had taken the week off from the paper and was there as a volunteer, working in the merchandise tent, just as Darcy Myers is this week. Storm had, as all volunteers do, already helped the cause of merchandise sales just by signing up for the position. That’s because all volunteers are required to purchase (at some modest discount) the requisite outfit of the week. He was happy to do it.

He’s 69 now and recently had eye surgery. As part of his recovery, Jonathan has been told to keep his head down. (It is not everyday that your surgeon and your teaching pro will tell you more or less the same thing—or is that keep-your-head-down thing a myth?) Jonathan has been around golf all his life, learning the game as a kid at the Country Club of New Canaan, in Connecticut, in the late 1950s. At St. George’s, a boarding school in Newport, R.I., Jonathan was on the golf team, although it should be noted that the “team” had no opponents and that in Jonathan’s era it lost its playing privileges at the sublime Newport Country Club for reasons lost in the sands of time. Another note about Storm, just so you get the full picture of the man: he is loyal to that old-timey country-club thing where you place a thin Handiwipe (although nobody would call it that) in thirds and fold it over the back of your belt to make ball-cleaning more convenient. In my experience, playing with Jonathan when he was a member of Hopewell Valley in western New Jersey and elsewhere, he is about the only person still faithful to that custom.

Storm’s story as a volunteer at the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in ’93 is a simple one, really. It was warm that week. U.S. Opens in the Northeast are always warm, just as PGAs in the Northeast are always hot. Jonathan noticed that the volunteer marshals on the course, or some of them, had coolers filled with beers. He decided that folding shirts, etc., in the USGA merchandise tent would be an altogether more pleasant experience if he could sip a beer between folds. He bought a beer—a single beer—at a concession stand and brought it in to the merchandise tent.

As he has been explaining it for some years now, Jonathan was not the only volunteer who had this ingenious thought. But he was, he notes, the only one who was approached by a young, brusque Baltusrol assistant pro and fired for the offense. Yes, he was fired from a volunteer job.

“I was not in any way intoxicated,” Jonathan told me on Tuesday. “I was still helping customers. Nobody seemed to mind. There was no rules sheet then, nothing that said, ‘No drinking on the job.'”

He had signed up for the job motivated by his desire to “walk the hallowed fairways of Baltusrol.” He wasn’t a rookie, not at all. Storm has been volunteering at USGA events “since Francis Ouimet,” he said.

But after being summarily terminated in ‘93 he vowed never to volunteer again at a U.S. Open and he held on to that principled position until 2013, when the U.S. Open was at Merion. Later this summer, he’ll be a walking scorer for the Women’s U.S. Amateur at Rolling Green, outside of Philadelphia. In September, he’ll work the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Stonewall, another Pennsylvania club. He’s had a clean record since Baltusrol.

Jonathan cannot really specify why he does not feel the same compulsion to volunteer for PGA of America events. It is not because the club-pro who first taught him, an old Irishman at Country Club of New Canaan named Mike Buckley, had him play as a righty. Jonathan is left-handed and he has wondered over the past nearly 60 years what might have happened had he started on the other side of the ball. Remembering his first lesson with Buckley, going back to the Eisenhower era, Storm said, “I’ve been playing poor golf ever since.”

Jonathan also, it should be noted, has nothing against Baltusrol. Quite the contrary. That warm week, when Lee Janzen won 23 years ago, Storm was on hand and has good memories from it. He was there when Sandy Lyle hit it over the 17th green, the monster par-5, in two shots.

He—Storm, that is, not Lyle—got on the course by finding some official somewhere, explaining the terms of his termination and asking if he might still be admitted to the championship with his volunteer credentials. Some sympathetic gent said yes. And that’s how Jonathan Storm got to see the course and the players on it for the four days of the event and did not have to fold a single shirt to pay for the privilege.

As for this week’s championship, Storm will be watching on TV, with his head down and his critic’s pen put away. If he sips a beer while doing so, that will be up to him.

Darcy Myers won’t have any of the problems Jonathan had, for any number of reasons. For one thing, she is not going to be drinking on the job. For another, she’s not working on Sunday. She bought for tickets for the finale, and she and her people are going to have quite the busman’s holiday. Maybe she’ll get a shoutout—I’d like to thank the volunteers—when the championship wraps up.