On Friday morning my sister in law and my 2 nieces escorted me to the golf course since my brother had to work in the morning. It was just after 8am when I arrived and I knew the players I wanted to see were on the back 9 first. I headed over to the 10th hole and there was already a full grand stand by the green and the fairway was at least 2 people deep. I tried to find a spot to watch at the green, but there wan't much close. The 16th green was right behind the 10th green, so I decided that I was going to find a good spot by the green and commit to being there for the morning. I figured it was a good 45 minutes before we'd see the first group come through, but we were entertained by watching Nick Faldo doing some sort of backstory on the fairway with Lake Hazeltine in the background.
The 16th offers up not only a challening drive, but the approach isn't any easier - a slightly elevated green is 2 tiered with thick rough on the left and the Lake Hazeltine hazard no more than 6 or so paces off on the right (we saw a few balls go in there). With the pin in the front (slightly right), the ideal shot would be to hit it past the pin about 10 feet and get a little spin back. But what we saw over and over again were shots that hit about pin high and then spun off the front and down the slope. Several players never even got to the green and faced the chip up the slope. Most of the players that hit past the hole had their balls check up and not come back, so we never really saw a lot of tight approaches.
Geoff Ogilvy attempted to putt up the slope and left it just on the front edge leaving himself about a 15 footer for par...which he drained! It was fun to watch the chip shots that almost went in., and we saw more than our share of shorter putts that didn't drop. Ernie Els made about a 20ft birdie putt from above the hole and put his hands in the air and mouthed "that was one". It was hard to watch the leaderboard being updated and seeing my favorite players going the wrong way. I was excited to see Cabrera 4-under for the day through 5 holes on Friday, but his par at 16 after a great drive was the beginning of a string of 4 bogeys before getting 2 more birdies to end at -2 for the day. I tried to will Steve Stricker's approach shot onto the green, but he was one of the many who never got it to the green.
After about 4 hours at 16 I decided it was time for some lunch - I met my friend Bob and we decided to head over to the 18th grandstand to watch for awhile. We were able to see the approaches on 9 and 18, so we were able to start seeing some of the early groups on the back coming up 9. The pin on 18 was back left, and with bunkers in front of it, we didn't see many balls close for birdie. We also saw player after player misread the putt coming from middle right of the green. The pin on 9 was front right, sort of in a bowl, so we got to see several shots get close...but the putt must have been tough because there were quite a few groans from the other bleachers when putts were missed.
The wind was definitely a factor on Friday, but for the fans it was a welcome repreive from the high temps. It was working against the players on 18. I remember someone holing out a 2nd shot on 9 on Friday, but whoever it was wasn't going to make the cut. I'm sure the name will come to me sometime. I also remember seeing Alvaro Quiros' drive about 70 yards ahead of his playing partners...wow!! The guy is just long! It was nice to have a leader board to watch, but not many of my favorites ever made it up there. (Sidebar - Steve Stricker didn't have 1 birdie in 36 holes at Hazeltine - not one!)
The heat of the day had finally gotten to me so I headed back to the tent - I couldn't believe it was already almost 5pm! My brother allowed me one last trip to the merchandise tent and I felt compelled to buy at least one more thing, along with picking up a few requested items. As I was trying on a jacket (which I didn't buy) I ran into a friend from my hometown, which was nice. I got my last few purchases and we made out way out of the gates for the last time.
My brain was flashing back to countless highlights as we walked to the car and I couldn't help but smile as gratefulness swept over me - grateful for the PGA for choosing Minnesota as their site to have their major championship. Grateful for the opportunity to win tickets to go - for my friends who had extra tickets so my brother could come - and to my brother and sister in law who gave me a place to stay. How lucky were all of us to be treated to the chance to watch the best players in the world to show us their skills both physical and mental?!
I was reminded that golf is hard - that the elements can really throw a wrench into things - and it's fun to celebrate great shots!! I spent a little time thinking about all that goes into planning an event like this and I can't imagine the coordination it takes...I'm very grateful for all of the hard work everyone put into making the PGA Championship such a success.
I hope everyone that attended had a great time! I know I did.
Filed under: PGA Championship, Hazeltine