On the ground in Boston: 9 takeaways from the Dell

September 5, 2017

I’m here to bring truths to the masses, so I went to check out the action this weekend at the Dell Technologies Championship. Here’s what I learned inside the ropes:

1. Spieth told Phil a secret on the putting green.

Both Spieth and Phil were on the practice green warming up a couple hours before their tee times. After rolling in about a thousand four-footers, Spieth went over to Phil, dapped him up, and said something to him. Phil listened, nodding appreciatively.

“Thanks, man,” he told Spieth. “Go have a good round today. Hey, Michael (to his caddie). You guys have a good one.”

I know—not exactly revelatory. But whatever Spieth said, it clearly stuck with Phil, and he appreciated it. After holing another few dozen putts, Jordan walked off the green toward lunch, and Phil went out of his way to flag him down. “Hey Jordan! Thanks a lot for saying that, man.” Jordan waved him off, as if to say, “don’t worry about it,” and nonchalantly hopped the fence as he headed to the clubhouse.

A lesser journalist might wonder: was Spieth telling Phil that he’d vouched for him as a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup? A compelling thought, indeed, but I wouldn’t engage in that sort of irresponsible speculation.

2. End-of-summer golf in New England is important, and it should stay.

Golf is a sport of the summer, and for most of the country, summer eventually ends. For all its imperfections as a spectator golf course—and there are many—being in Norton felt like an authentic New England experience, the kind of place where a wayward tee shot could leave you with poison ivy. It felt good to be there at the change of seasons, with cool, damp mornings and leaves starting to change color, a far cry from the sterility of Jupiter or Orlando. The playoffs shouldn’t leave Boston.

3. The Boston crowds came ready to play.

It was an emboldened Labor Day crowd, particularly as sun and beer worked together over the course of the day. That meant a lively group, many of them would-be comedians, and nearly all of them New England sports fans. “Fire Goodell!” was in vogue as the week’s “get in the hole!” replacement, and without sons of New England Keegan Bradley, Jon Curran, or, say, Brad Faxon in contention, the fiercely loyal crowd was more than ready to hop on board with Pats fan Justin Thomas. The loudest roar of the day came when Thomas poured in a par putt in front of the bleachers on 16, and I would’ve loved to be by the 18th green if the tournament was still hanging in the balance—even with Thomas’ three-shot lead, the atmosphere was electric.

4. The forgotten pairing played forgettably on Monday.

I was interested in the Boston Un-Heralded, the duo of Grayson Murray and Adam Hadwin, each winners on Tour this season—and Hadwin is going to be a President Cupper!—but relatively anonymous compared to the star-studded lineup around them Monday. The three groups in front of them featured Rickie, Phil, Rahm, and DJ, while Spieth and JT headlined the groups behind them. Tough to compete with.

Watching a dozen or so players putting a couple hours before the round, Murray seemed the most solitary. He had headphones in and stayed largely to himself, while most of his peers were in dialogue with coaches, caddies, and other players. That’s not to say he’s always that way—it just served as a reminder in the moment that at 23, he was among the youngest and least accomplished of the high-powered leaderboard.

Needless to say, they didn’t play themselves into fame and fortune: Hadwin’s two-over 73 dropped him to 13th, while Murray’s birdie-free 77 dropped him from 4th to 25th.

5. Paul Casey has massive forearms.

Not a big fella, but a strong fella. A couple times, it looked like Casey might stay in the hunt, but he couldn’t quite bridge the gap to the lead pack. Still, he seemed like an incredibly pleasant guy, and he had some notably big forearms. Good on ya, Paul.


6. The flow of the event—from front nine fireworks to back nine survival—was perfect.

We generally want three things from a golf tournament. We want proof of how crazy good these guys are, we want some evidence that still, golf is hard, and we want a down-to-the-wire finish. Leishman and Spieth shot matching 30s on the front 9, while JT shot a measly 32—all three were basically infallible. And then we got the satisfaction of watching their mortality, too. Over a ten-minute stretch on early in the back nine, all three leaders made ugly bogeys, while Phil contributed a shank from the bunker. “We can do that!” said everyone watching.

Impossible, then relatable, then pressure-packed. In the end, Thomas closed so well that we missed the photo finish—but two out of three ain’t bad.

7. JT is relentless.

One thing that stands out about both Spieth and Thomas is their honesty in admitting their shortcomings, but JT never yielded an inch on Monday. Spieth was in his view all day, and the roars made it eminently clear whether good or bad things were happening, but whether it was an eagle putt going in or a par putt sliding by, Thomas stayed glued to his yardage book, jaw slightly clenched, fully dialed in. He played quickly, confidently, and he played to win—and by the end, it was Spieth and Leishman hitting desperation shots just to try and catch him.

8. The circus rolls on.

This was my first time writing a “game story” on deadline after a tournament, and it’s SO strange the way things clear out in the hours after an event. It was dusk by the time Justin Thomas finished his remarks to the press, and pitch black by the time I’d sent in my story. Just two hours before, thousands of people were desperately crowded around the 18th green; now I needed the flashlight on my phone just to find my way past the bleachers and back to the parking lot.

It was a reminder of just how abruptly the circus picks up and moves on. Months of preparation crescendo for a few hours of must-see action—I can only imagine the anticlimactic feeling of disassembling bleachers, tents, and equipment in the days and weeks that follow the event. Luckily the Tour seems to have some experience in this matter.

9. It was a nostalgic trip for me.

TPC Boston was where I attended my first professional golf tournament, 11 years ago this weekend. My mom accompanied 14-year-old me to chase Tiger around the Deutsche Bank, and I was so excited how close we could get to him, particularly when he hooked his drive on the second hole into the left trees. I was one of the first eager fans to surround the ball, and when Tiger finally arrived to join our starstruck band of spectators, he delivered a pithy, forceful, soliloquy I’ll never forget: “F***!”

It was great to be back, reliving fond memories.