Trying to track Tiger
CHASKA - What Jack Nicklaus was to my parents' generation, Tiger Woods is to mine.
He is simply the best golfer of my time and is on track to break Nicklaus' records. Another step toward Nicklaus would be a PGA Championship this week.
So Friday, I decided to take advantage of a rare opportunity and track Tiger in person. I have a press credential, but at a major tournament, inside the ropes armbands are awarded only to the giants of sports journalism like Sports Illustrated. Without one of the prized golden armbands, I set out on the course to track Woods with the fans and joined the gallery.
I asked Larry Fitzgerald, Sr., a veteran Minnesota sports journalist, to show me the ropes of covering big time golf. His name should sound familiar to sports fans as his son is the standout wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.
"How do you follow Tiger, is there an easy way?" I asked.
Fitzgerald replied with touch of laughter in his voice.
"Well, hole-to-hole, you really can't do it because there's just too many people," he said. "For us, the best way to really watch him is just like everyone else - on TV."
It's an obvious answer that's hard to put into perspective until dealing with the mass in person. Woods draws an incredible crowd of thousands. Think of putting a sold out John Glas Fieldhouse crowd around the green. Multiply that vision dozens of times over from both sides of the fairway from tee to green for 18 holes and you start to get the picture.
The gallery averages about five to 10 people deep on every hole. And that obsessed crowd will wait for sometimes hours just to catch a glimpse.
After Woods teed off, I made my way to the first point where I could find a reasonable view. I found that spot along the edge of the sixth green and began Tiger watch.
A woman standing next to me was a mother from Eagan who brought her three sons.
"All they want to do is see Tiger," she said as the mid-afternoon sun beat down. "It's amazing to do all this work and waiting just to see eight minutes of golf."
The kids were surprised with Minnesota Nice when a senior couple standing closest to the ropes exchanged spots with the middle-schoolers.
Tiger did not disappoint. He stuck a short pitch shot to 10 feet and drained the birdie putt to a roar from the gallery.
Like a crush of standing room only concertgoers entering a stadium, the flood of fans bristled away from the green to try and secure a spot around the seventh tee.
"Do you want to join Tiger's army?" a college student asked as people rushed around him.
"Nah, What's the point?- you can't see anything anyway!" his friend replied.
The more clever fans used modified handheld periscopes. Others simply found chairs or brought small stepladders to carry around and stand on.
The trick at following a major in person is to sometimes step away from Tiger after getting a glimpse and watch the other golf.
One of my favorite moments of the day was spent watching play between the 11th and 15th holes.
While watching play on the 11th, I heard people scamper when an errant drive bounced off the hill behind me and the ball came to a stop inches away from my feet.
Naturally, a group surrounded the ball quickly. The owner of the ball was Masters champion Angel Cabrera. About 260 yards away from the hole, Cabrera faced a tough lie in the thick rough and needed to hit a low shot under a branch to advance the ball.
Cabrera looked lost as he walked back and forth between his ball and the two fairways checking the wind direction.
But it was no problem.
Cabrera pulled a long iron out of his bag and whipped his club through the ball. The bullet shot zipped over a bunker, skipped up the fairway and rolled softly to a stop on the front of the green.
Just an easy birdie and a memorable shot to the few dozen fans who walked away from the Tiger crowd to witness it.