As I'm sitting at my desk getting ready to type this (for the 2nd time- UGH!), I can't believe it's been a week, A WEEK, since my first day Ryder Cup adventure to the Wednesday Practice Round at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota.
A few side bars...about a week and a half before I had tweaked my back. It was about 7 days of feeling awful, not being able to sleep, sit, or stand without pain. If you know me, you'd know that it takes a lot for me to consider going to the Dr. but after about 5 days of pain I made a desperate call to a great friend who is a nurse and she miraculously got me in that day so I could get some pain relief. There was no way I wasn't going to the Ryder Cup, but I'll be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the card rides, walking and standing that were in my near future. This is also a crazy busy time at work for me so I almost didn't have time to even get prepared or excited for what was to come.
But the night before I finally looked online to find out what the day would hold for us. The gates opened at 7:30am, the first shuttle was at 7:00am, and the players would probably start their practice rounds between 8:30 and 9:30am. So we figured if I left my house by 3:30am we should be down to the bus area by just before 7:00am. The drive was good and we didn't really run into any awful traffic until close to our exit to the shuttles. The car line to get to the exit was about a mile long! It wasn't until we pulled into the parking lot that I began to appreciate the enormity of this whole event. There were already hundreds of cars in the lot and it was only Wednesday! All of the security checks happened here, so while there were lines, the screening went pretty quickly and before you knew it we were on the bus!!
The website said to expect 20-30 minutes on the shuttle buses and they were about right. Once we pulled in and got off the bus it was a pretty good walk to the main gates. As we got to the top of the platform and headed down the shute to get to the gate I was having flashbacks to the prior PGA events I had gone to...while I don't think we came in the same place, the walk way with all the player photos was very similar. I could feel the excitement stirring in me and I don't think I was the only one feeling that in the crowd. We went up a few stairs, got the bar code on our ticket scanned and we were in!!
A large Ryder Cup trophy greeted you as you came in and I couldn't help but smile. I was sad that it was still gloomy out, but there was plenty of buzz around to keep my spirits high. As I looked over to the right I saw it...(insert angelic sounds here)...the heaven on earth for golf shoppers, the Merchandise Tent. We didn't go in right away, but I can tell you it was never far from my mind all day.
We got a map, gauged ourselves and decided to make our way to the driving range since there was a sign saying the players weren't going to be heading out to their practice rounds until around 9:30...but first I got a $5 Mt. Dew & a $3 blueberry muffin to pep me up a bit. The range was already full of fans but I made my way over to the left side by the stairs players would come down from the clubhouse area. The sight line to the range wasn't bad and there was some pretty good chances to get some photos if you timed it right. It was too bad it was so grey out!
Fans on the hill behind me could see the players coming and it was fun to hear them cheering. I can't recall which order I saw the players coming but I do remember that Dustin Johnson got the biggest crowd reaction - guys love their bombers!! I, of course, was waiting to see Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker. Steve showed up first and of course I didn't get any great photos (except of his back!)...I then noticed a man standing near me with a really nice camera...I asked him if he could see the guy in the khaki pants and if he could take a picture for me. He said sure and snapped a couple. I gave him my email and asked if could sent one to me and he said he would.
True to his word, I got a couple great pics THE NEXT DAY!! THANK YOU GREG!! I love this pic!!
Most of the players acknowledged the fans as they came, but for the most part they seemed pretty focused, which is understandable. Some were at the range longer than others and even a few European players were coming in as Team USA started to make their way back to the course. We found out that 3 USA groups would start on the back and the other went to #1. Team Europe would follow behind.
I headed to the 10th tee because it was easier to get to and watched a few of the groups tee off. It's a neat downhill hole but there were so many people it was hard to see. I went down by the green and watched for a few minutes while they putted but then decided to make my way through a few more holes on the back.
My back was getting a little sore so I decided I needed to find a place to park and rest a bit. Hole #15 seemed like a good place to go and while none of the groups had even gotten there yet, the entire grandstand was full and had been for awhile. I found a spot by a big tree and was able to lean up against it near a few folks who had brought chairs (genius idea!). I had a good view of the green and should be somewhat close to the approach shots, too.
It wasn't long before our little area filled up with people and not long after that the first groups came. Most players seemed pretty relaxed and a few hit a couple extra approach shots from the fairway. Once they got to the green it was putting mania for awhile. I was surprised by how many people were with each group...family, friends, media, coaches, etc.
I'm the first to admit I'm a horrible photographer, but I sure wished I would have brought a regular camera besides my phone, but one good thing, I did put a 32GB SD card in my phone so I didn't have any problem taking dozens of crappy pictures and still get a gem or two.
The groups were coming through pretty steady now and then I realized I hadn't heard from my Friday ticket connection person. I messaged my contact on Twitter (the son of the guy with the tickets) and it turns out he gave him a wrong number for me! We finally connected and agreed to meet at the big trophy. Once there he broke the news that he forgot the tickets in his car and because he was staring a volunteer shift soon he wouldn't have time to get them. He assured me he would be at the course on Friday and he would meet us at the gate as early as we wanted to. I totally trusted him but I'd be lying if there wasn't just a tinge of worry in me not to have the tickets in hand before Friday.
Since I was there, it was time...the Merchandise Tent. As I walked through the door my breath caught in my chest and just for a moment I had to focus my eyes to take it all in. I knew right then my credit card was going to be in trouble.
The clothes, the HATS, the "accessories", it was all too much!! I won't disclose how much I spent on day one, but I will say several items were presents!!
The line was something else - it started at the front door and you basically shopped all over again while you meandered through to the check out...and just when you think you're there, then there's the whole rope maze to go through to finally reach the friendly check out people. I appreciated the gal who helped me when she said she had definitely seen higher receipts than mine.
Since you go out the back end of the tent to get out you walk along the long outer wall...and that's where I saw the 2 panels that were a tribute to Arnold Palmer...it touched my heart and I stood there for a few moments to take it all in (see gallery below for pic). I texted my friend to see where he was and I waited by the big trophy while he experienced the check out maze of fun! A man was standing by me with a really nice Greg Norman pullover so I asked how much he paid, he though about $60 which wasn't bad at all. He said he actually got it last week because they had opened the tent to the public before the event started.
We had a nice chat - he told me about the busing and entrance issues - no one could be dropped off or bike or walk to the course. Every person either had to take one of the shuttle options or have a coveted VIP grounds parking pass. He lived close enough to bike but he got dropped off at a metro shuttle center (which was $5) and made his way over. Canterbury was free, but it was farther away. We talked about school stuff (he was a teacher) and how the area schools closed for the whole week since there was a high school right across the street from the golf course.
Our goal was to head out around 3pm so we could maybe beat some traffic and meet up with my Sunday ticket connection. Little did we know that EVERYONE decided that 3pm would be a great time to leave! I looked with awe at the line of people going to the shuttles and I took a pick and messaged my ticket guy...I said, I think we're going to be late! He was more than understanding and we made plans to meet a little closer.
By the time we got back to Canterbury and on the road we were in rush hour. It was slow going but we finally made it! For the record, my Sunday ticket connection (via Twitter) could have easily sold his tickets for more than what I paid, and for that I will be forever grateful that my brother and I could spend Sunday at the Ryder Cup together...THANK YOU GREG from Maple Grove!!
With Sunday tickets now in hand and a quick bite to eat we were on the road for home. By this time I was feeling pretty awful but at the same time beyond thankful for such a great day. I was home by about 9:30pm and after doing a quick once over on my purchases it was time for pain relievers and hopefully some sleep. I had to do this all over again in less than 36 hours!!
Ryder Cup Friday, here I come!!
See below for a slide show of Wednesday photos (I wish they weren't so gloomy!).
Part 3- Friday at the Ryder Cup, coming soon!!
Thanks for reading!!
I love golf and I love to write, so I can't think of anything better than having a happy place like this to write about golf to my heart's content. Thanks for joining me!