I witnessed part of this red-letter morning in golf through a tiny frame provided by the head posts of two fine Chicago gents. We crowded around the 14th tee at Medinah No. 3 as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy began the fifth hole of the most popular pairing since peanut butter and jelly. And by crowded, I mean, wow. And how. Insert your favorite intensifier here.
It was a polite and quiet group, to be sure (peppered with a number of kind Whats In The Bag? watchers, which I greatly appreciate). But Ive had more wiggle room in a Tokyo subway.
So between the necks, collars, golf hats and haircuts of a number of Chicagoans, I watched this years major championship winners settle into the campaign to get another big title. Im six feet tall, and I had a tough time seeing. In the absence of my own son, I kept looking around for a little kid to hoist onto my shoulders.
Tiger and Ogilvy hit good drives on the par-5 14th; Mickelson shoved his into the trees left. Tiger birdied, Ogilvy bogeyed, and Mickelson saved par. The crowd moved on in a controlled surge.
Its times like these I remember golf tournament photographs from the 1950s and 1960s, when five-deep crowds held cardboard tubes with angled mirrors at either end: makeshift periscopes.
You dont see those anymore. Some tournaments, disquieted by the cornfield-like look of a bunch of cardboard stalks growing out of the crowd, prohibit them. But the old school scope isnt the only option.
As it happens, the father of one of the golfers in Thursdays featured pairing has updated the old periscope. Phil Mickelson, Sr. has for more than a decade been making a small, portable periscope, two tubes about an inch in diameter that slide up and down to adjust for height. Its black, unobtrusive, and easy to hold, thanks to a hand grip on the bottom. Theyre available in the merchandise pavilion at Medinah, $65 for the basic model and $75 for one with a nifty zoom feature. The display wasnt full this morning; there were about six left. With Tiger and Phil and Geoff playing early, I figured people would be beating down the doors for them. Perhaps they will, in anticipation of the second round with that group, which starts on No. 1 at 1:35 p.m. CDT Friday.
Periscope or not, if its an education in the state of modern golf to watch any group that includes Tiger or Phil, seeing them together is a high-powered graduate seminar. They were cheered for whatever they did, wherever they went. Roar upon roar greeted them even during the walks from tee to green, and curtain-call applause rose in volume from tee to tee.
It appears from the clapping that Chicagoans like Tiger, but they got vocal for Phil, shouting his name over and over as he walked onto the 14th tee Thursday morning. Then, when poor Ogilvy came on, the crowd chuckled as a group at his plight and burst into clapping for the good sport from Australia, who has been gentlemanly and smiling throughout.
It pays sometimes to back a few steps out of the crowd, as I did after the tee shots on 14, and watch the tableau unfold. From under the shade of the ancient trees I could see the players strolling up the slope of fairway beyond the pond that fronts the tee, well-dressed gladiators in an emerald arena, gilded by flawless summer sunlight. The fans along the left side, those who had waited by the tee of the par-3 13th, now moved like an advancing army to stake out their positions along the ropes as the players came back their way. Conversation after conversation could be overheard about the wisdom (or not) of hitting driver, and what the second shot would be like.
Viewed between necks or from above, ten years after Tiger first came on the professional scene, it is still quite a spectacle.
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