I spent the first week of June in Dublin, Ohio, covering my first Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Country Club. No, I didn’t nab a Buckeye milkshake, but I wandered the grounds and scoured the range and talked to anyone and everyone I could. Here are my enduring takeaways from a week at Jack’s Place.
1. Summer begins
I left Muirfield Village Country Club just after 7 p.m. Thursday night and headed to the first public course I could track down on my phone: Golf Club of Dublin, which advertised itself as “the only true links golf experience in the Midwest.” To me and my childhood friends, summer meant maximizing daylight, playing evening rounds until we couldn’t see. I felt a twinge of that as I played Dublin’s pleasant front nine; when I got back to the clubhouse I noticed there were still nearly a dozen people on the range, invigorated by the tournament in town and their western-time-zone-edge long, light nights. There are certain parts of the schedule where golf really feels like it belongs: Florida in the winter, Georgia in spring, New England in the early fall. Add the Midwest after Memorial Day to the list – it’s the perfect welcome to summer.
2. “Chicago’s just so … big“
We’re distinctly in the Midwest, and that’s a good thing. Dublin is an upscale suburb of Columbus, and Muirfield Village an even more upscale enclave within Dublin. But there were reminders of small-town charm everywhere. From the course, the only building in the skyline was a water tower, and the event offered free parking, music festival style, in a nearby field that threatened to turn to straight mud in the mid-week rain. One high school senior on the shuttle ride to the course spoke to her friend about going to DePaul the next year with some apprehension. “I don’t know,” she said. “Chicago’s just so … big.” The golf we see and cover on television every week can bounce through big cities and vacation destinations — Hawaii, L.A., Monterey, Florida, Dallas, and so on. But the Tour’s swing through Western Ohio served as a reminder that golf is often most naturally occurring in rural towns, sprawling America, where land runs cheap and time moves slow.
3. Sorry, David Lingmerth
I shacked up at an affordable extended-stay suites for the week and rallied myself to the fitness center Friday morning, which consisted of a 10×12 foot room that held two machines and a small rack of free weights. After a few minutes, a short, muscular man walked through the door wearing a pair of oversized noise-cancelling headphones: It was David Lingmerth! He was holding a small foam roller and looked slightly dismayed by the size of the room and the fact that I was in it. After a few minutes of stretching and rolling, he headed out. “Good luck today,” I told him. He didn’t hear me. I shouldered some of the blame when he shot 73. The next morning I didn’t make it to the gym, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Lingmerth did. Whatever his Saturday warmup was worked: he birdied seven of the first eight holes en route to a 66.
4. More “village” than “Muirfield” — or Augusta
I heard a few people early in the week suggest that Muirfield Village is the Augusta National of the Midwest, and I could see a bit of it: the tranquil water features, the severely sloping greens, the immaculate conditioning. Muirfield didn’t mind leaning into that particular vision, too: large leaderboards changed by hand, simple sandwiches in green packaging, even members of the tournament committee pacing the range in green blazers (this seemed a little too on-the-nose). But the two courses are far more different than they are alike. Muirfield Village – more “village” than “Muirfield” – wanders one hole at a time through rows of upscale houses and thick stands of trees, in stark contrast to the open, roughless expanses of Augusta National. Plus there’s the caddie outfits at Memorial – short-sleeve baggy white shirts that look like a Spring Training equivalent of Augusta’s full-length jumpsuits. “I feel like a barber,” one caddie told me.
5. The kids are alright
Before Sunday’s round, Tiger Woods set up shop at the far right corner. Midway through Woods’s session, 19-year-old Chilean sensation Joaquin Niemann sauntered onto the range, sending a text right before he noticed the 14-time major champ. The two greeted each other eagerly and earnestly, Woods congratulating him on the week’s play. Then Niemann took the spot right next to Woods, set down his Trackman and finished his text. The new generation.
6. Attention to detail
Just shy of 9 p.m. Friday night, Bryson DeChambeau was the last man on the range in a fervent exchange with his team on a little detail of his swing at address. I got a kick out of it – how could someone be this fired up after shooting five-under 67 that included a double bogey? The next night, after bettering his second round with a Saturday six-under 66, DeChambeau said he couldn’t stop thinking about the short putts he’d missed during the round, and headed for an evening putting session. Listening in on DeChambeau’s self-narration during these practice sessions and the frenetic pace of his self-diagnoses, you’d think he was lost, struggling to stay afloat rather that beating a field of the world’s best players. But the sequence made a lot more sense late Sunday afternoon when DeChambeau poured in a 12-foot putt to win the tournament. Winning is hard, and hard work (plus some other things) pays off.