The TRUE PGA Experience

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2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill. -- A large man with a shaved head and unshaven chin sits in a chair. He eyes everyone who walks by, trying to weed out those who dont belong.
 
If you dont have the proper credentials, then hell ask you politely to leave. And it would probably be best to heed him. He could very well be a gentle man, a pacifist even. Or he could make his own bullets at home. Its really not worth finding out which one.
 
Medinah Country Club Clock
It's almost 2:20 p.m. Must be time to get a massage.
This man is the protector of the media center, the man charged with keeping out all intruders.
 
Might not seem like theres much to guard, but theres gold in and around that there tent.
 
Having a media badge the week of a major championship, more specifically at the PGA Championship, is like finding Willy Wonkas golden ticket: free breakfast; free lunch; free evening snack; free drinks; free ice cream; even free booze in the later hours, if you so desire.
 
You get most of these things are every PGA TOUR stop ' though, not always as tasty ' but what you dont get elsewhere are massages. Thats right, theres even a little booth you can walk into and get a 10-minute rubdown for 10 bucks.
 
While I love the free food ' on my salary Id rather eat complimentary goulash than pay for a burger ' I find the massages a bit extreme, like when rappers put television screens in the trunk of their car.
 
But apparently Im in the minority, because these two ladies were busier than a Hooters waitress serving John Daly (well get back to him).
 
I can understand why a photographer, somebody whos been humping it up and down Medinah all day, might want one to relax their muscles. But a writer? Elle McPherson with a porterhouse couldnt tempt most of these guys out of the air conditioning and onto the course.
 
This was just one of the things I happened to take note of this week.
 
Another would be the fact that my hairline is retreating like Napoleons army out of Russia.
 
While following the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson-Geoff Ogilvy threesome Thursday, I stopped by the practice green at the turn to do a little two-minute interview with The Golf Channels Rich Lerner for the early Live From coverage.
 
I saw myself later that night, when they re-ran a snippet to promote Fridays show. I wish I had taken off my glasses ' not during the interview, but while watching it.
 
Seeing yourself on TV is a little too revealing. I was reminded that, when I actually put a razor to my face, I look like a teenager with his grandfathers scalp. And, while Im 6 tall, standing next to Lerner, who is 64, makes me look like a hobbit as well.
 
But, as they say, Se Ri Pak ' thats Korean for Thats life.
 
Covering a major might not be stressful enough to turn what little hair I have left gray ' Im sure thats coming, though ' but it does make for an exhaustive seven or eight days. For me and a lot of the behind-the-scenes Golf Channel personnel, the work week starts on a Monday and ends on a Monday. This week, I figure to have been at the course for about 80 hours.
 
Not that Im complaining. Its not like Im picking cotton all day ' or having to touch some of these writers with my bare hands.
 
Probably the best part of this week ' outside of the 45 Twix ice cream bars I consumed ' was following the Woods-Mickelson-Ogilvy group on Thursday. As a member of the media, you are given a badge that allows you onto the grounds, onto the practice areas, and into the press room.
 
They also give, to accredited news sources, inside-the-ropes armbands, which well, its pretty self explanatory. This means you dont have to deal with what can be excessive crowds and lets you really see and feel whats going on. Most of the time, its not necessary to have one of these; this week it was.
 
Ive followed Tiger inside the ropes on countless occasions, but this was by far the largest gathering of media, officials and security that Ive ever seen for one group. We looked like those bunch of saps running across the country with Forest Gump.
 
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson showcased their scrambling abilities on Day 1.
It truly is a treat to watch these guys up close and personal ' to walk beside them at times and get to see them play with an unobstructed view. To know that youre just a few feet from the greatest player of this era, and possibly of all time.
 
Its an experience unlike anything else in any other sport, and one which I appreciate fully.
 
This Thursday was a little different than times past. I spent most of those 5+ hours, not focused on the specifics of the round, but writing down observations, trying not to get caught staring at Elin Woods, and trying to make sure I didnt get bumped into a bunker or step on anyones ball ' just making sure I didnt draw the ire of Steve Williams.
 
I really didnt want Tiger to have to find a new caddie had there been a confrontation. I drink protein shakes, Steve. Think before you act.
 
The one thing I learned most about watching those 18 holes was that Ogilvy strikes the ball as well as Woods and Mickelson. But when Ogilvy got in trouble, he lost shots. Tiger and Phil saved shots like lost souls.
 
Even under duress, these guys know how to get the ball in the hole. Thats what makes them the best in the world.
 
This was my second trip to Medinah. I attended my first major championship here in 1999. One of the more memorable moments of that tournament came after Sergio Garcia posted his first-round 66. He had just come off a disastrous performance at the Open Championship, where he shot 89-83 and left the course crying in his mothers arms.
 
I was the first person to pose a question and simply asked if he was to glad to put the Open behind him with a good score here. My Lord, I thought he was going to cry again. The British Open is done, he defiantly said. I dont want to here any more questions about the British Open.
 
The winning score that week was 11 under. This week it was 18 under. Some people complained, including some Medinah members, who felt their club was embarrassed, that the No. 3 course allowed such low numbers.
 
Stop it. Who cares what the winning score is? Once again this was a very enjoyable tournament to watch, and the leaderboard going into the final round had Woods, Luke Donald, Mike Weir, Ogilvy, Garcia, Chris DiMarco and Mickelson all with varying degrees of opportunity to win.
 
Its not the outcome of the final score, but whos involved in the final outcome, that makes a tournament ' any tournament. And variety is good. Who wants all four majors to play the same?
 
Granted, Sundays finish had less drama than the Popes social life, but that had nothing to do with the tournament or the course, and everything to do with Tiger.
 
Back to Daly. Rumor had it early in the week that he had died of a heart attack. A few phone calls quickly put that to bed. I saw him Tuesday afternoon, trudging down to the practice range, with a heater in his mouth and doing the old walk-and-sign. He looked a little rough, but he wasnt dead. I dont think.
 
That sarcastic little voice in my head said, Give him time. Hes working on it.
 
I thought back to the movie Kingpin, when Woody Harrelson says to an old man smoking a cigarette, Those things will kill you. To which the old man dryly responds, When?
 
Daly, now theres a man who would truly appreciate everything the PGA media center has to offer.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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