NORTON, Mass. – Kevin Chappell felt a deep sense of appreciation when he arrived at the TPC Boston for the second FedEx Cup playoff event.
He is among 10 rookies on the PGA Tour who are still hopeful of getting to the Tour Championship for a shot at the $10 million prize. A tie for third at the U.S. Open assured him of his first trip to the Masters next year, and a return to the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, a short drive from his hometown of Fresno, Calif.
Only his feelings had nothing to do with his playoff performance, or anything else about his game.
Hurricane Irene altered his travel plans, and he showed up at the Deutsche Bank Championship earlier than expected. It gave Chappell a chance to see what a tournament looks like before the show starts – especially a tournament that had to prepare for a hurricane.
About a week before the tournament was to get under way, workers stripped 95 percent of the signage around the TPC Boston. The green mesh around bleachers and TV towers was removed, leaving a rudimentary appearance of steel poles and wood. Some of the corporate boxes and video boards were either taken down or were delayed going up. And on Monday, there was no power on the golf course.
He registered in the clubhouse – in the dark.
“It was like a ghost town around here,” Chappell said. “It was a little bit humbling to see what goes into tournaments. We get worked up over missing a cut, and it’s not the end of the world. You have people out here working their butts off to make sure we have a well-run golf tournament.
“It’s pretty special what we get to do.”
As he hit balls on the practice range, the sound of power drills could be heard in the distance as the blue-and-white Deutsche Bank signs were being replaced, scoreboards were being erected again. Carts zipped around the course to remove debris from limbs that had fallen in the 50 mph wind and rain on Sunday.
Eric Baldwin, the tournament director, spent Sunday at home with his family – the pro-am featuring former Boston athletes two days away and players due to arrive. He said it takes about six weeks to get everything ready, with the final week for putting on the finishing touches.
“We still had 25 to 30 tents that we never put up until the storm passed,” Baldwin said. “We took down some of the wind screens. We removed 95 percent of the signage. And then we had no power. Our office went offline for two days so we had to set up a temporary office.”
The tournament doesn’t start until Friday, which helped.
Most of the 99 players in the field began showing up Wednesday for practice rounds. The TPC Boston looked like it always does – immaculate landscape, grandstands and scoreboards in place, the refrigerators in the locker room humming with electricity, stocked with every kind of drink.
“They will have little to any sense that anything happened,” Baldwin said. “That’s a testament to all of the guys who do the hard work and never get credit.”
The pro-am is Thursday, followed by the opening round on Friday, when players will at least try to get into the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings and advance to the third playoff event in two weeks outside Chicago, one step closer to being in the top 30 at the Tour Championship.
Chappell is at No. 74, putting him on the wrong side of the bubble.
He achieved the first goal of his rookie season by securing his card next year, helped by a runner-up finish at the Texas Open. Then came the U.S. Open, and while never had a chance to win – no one did at Congressional except Rory McIlroy, who won by eight shots – Chappell closed with a 66 to tie for third.
He started these FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 88 and went to The Barclays knowing he only had to make the cut to advance to the second round. It was an odd kind of pressure, for Chappell can’t recall going into any tournament this year with such a modest goal.
“There were probably a few tournaments – with where my game was – that I should have thought about making the cut,” he said with a laugh. “But no. It would be hard if you’re only goal was to make the cut. I’m on the bubble now, and I’ve got to jump from that No. 74 spot.”
Dustin Johnson won the playoff opener at The Barclays with a 65 in the final round of a 54-hole tournament that was cut short by the hurricane. With the points counting five times as much in the playoffs, he moved to No. 1 on the list, followed by Barclays runner-up Matt Kuchar.
They left behind a course at Plainfield in which several fairways on the back nine had turned into miniature lakes after Irene came through New Jersey. Players and others don’t see the work that goes into getting ready for a big PGA Tour event. No one is around to see the cleanup, either.