As many of you know, I had the opportunity to attend this past week’s PGA Tour event, the AT&T National. Words can’t explain the incredible sights and sounds of attending a PGA Event, let alone with the kind of access that THP had during the tournament. Being inside the ropes, outside the ropes, on the practice putting green, on the driving range, and in the tour vans was truly a unique experience that I will not soon forget. Here is my attempt to summarize what I experienced during the tournament from when the players first arrived to when Justin Rose hoisted the Liberty Bell trophy in victory.
This year’s AT&T National is being held at Aronimink Golf Club which is 12 miles west of downtown Philadelphia. The course is a design from the mind of legendary course architect, Donald Ross, that was completed in 1928. Covering over 250 acres, the 7,237 yard long par 70 course is hosting a PGA Tour event for the first time since 1962. The course is very unique in that there are only two par 5’s on the entire course which means that the par 4’s are a little longer than pros may be normally accustomed to. The greens are all fast and full of different slopes which each provide it’s own test to the players. One of the pros, Sean O’Hair, has been a member at Aronimink for nearly two years now however that ‘inside knowledge’ did not necessarily translate to as high a finish for him this past week.
The field of 120 players was highlighted by the world’s number one player, Tiger Woods. Although the field wasn’t filled with all the top names on the PGA Tour like a major would have, it did have names not normally associated with Top 10 finishes do particularly well. Names such as Justin Rose, Charlie Wi, Ryan Moore, and Jeff Overton came out of nowhere to seize the attention of ‘Tiger’s Tournament.’ Having been around these players for most of the week, it really isn’t any surprise to me with all the work they put into perfecting and tweaking their own individual games to combat the course conditions of Aronimink.
Having been around other professional athletes, the dedication of players on the PGA Tour to their craft is none like I’ve ever seen. The practice and preparation these players have is amazing which is probably an understatement.
The amount of balls that are hit on the practice range prior to a practice round is staggering. Repeating the same shot over and over again with the exact same result only comes from years of practice. One thing that I noticed that amateurs should copy is that every single one of the players use a training or alignment aid of some kind whether it be on the range or on the practice green. The players all want to ensure that their countless hours of repeating the same shots are going where they’re intended to go. Otherwise what would the use be from all the hours of practice?
The putting green is not only a place to practice putting but it’s also a place for the players and caddies to catch up. Of all the places I had access to this past week, this was one of my favorite places. The banter between the players, the caddies, their coaches, etc. priceless. Mostly the conversation was about everything but golf which really showed a ‘normal’ side to the players. It’s interesting to hear what other interests the players have outside the course. Hearing all of the talk on the putting green really brought into perspective for me that aside from being really good, these guys are just like the everyday hacker. They have wives or girlfriends, they have children, they follow other sports, talk about what they did the night before, stay up to date on current events, etc. So not only are ‘these guys good,’ they’re also down to earth guys.
Having access to the practice areas was a fantastic experience. Being able to see and hear what the players do ‘behind the scenes’ was truly special and gave great insight to what the players work on before and after their rounds. I definitely came away with a few ideas to incorporate into my own practice regiment by watching them.
The overall mood was noticeably more serious than it was for the practice round. Some of the players were still friendly and chatty but for the most part all of the players were complete business. One of the best benefits of being inside the ropes is hearing the interaction between the caddy and the player. Things like ‘what’s my lay up number?’ and ‘where’s trouble on the green’ and ‘full shot or back it off?’ were really beneficial to hear and gave tremendous insight into how golf shots are executed. A few holes I was able to sit in front where the players were teeing off and the sound of the ball whizzing away at 110+mph is really something. The crack of the driver….the whizz of the ball….and the ‘oohhhhh’ of the crowd was pretty cool to experience. Speaking of the crowd, it was electric. This is the first time the Philadelphia area has had a tour event since 1962, let alone Tiger being in it, so the gallery was more than excited. People moving everywhere, following some players, trying to find their favorite spots, etc was really something to see and feel. And when Tiger hit the course to tee off? Crazy doesn’t begin to describe the scene. The first tee was at least 15 rows deep of spectators and blocked other players from walking to the 10th. Each hole he was on was like this and the next hole and the hole after that were as well.
You could see the players who did not shoot well in the first round press a little bit in an attempt to make up some strokes. Unfortunately, Aronimink is not set up in a way that allows players to really go at pins so low scores were hard to come by for most of the field. You saw a lot more players on the practice green practicing lag putts and chipping after having experienced the ‘Aronimink greens’ for the first time on Thursday.
After walking the entire course the first day, I decided to stay at one hole for the entire day and let the players come to me. I was able to see many of the players I had not seen the previous couple of days which was pretty cool. If you have the opportunity to attend a golf tournament for more than one day I highly recommend using the above mentioned approach. Walk the course one day and stay put the next. I think you’ll find that you end up seeing more players and have a lot more energy left at the end of the day as opposed to walking 7,000+ yards every day.
On Saturday I decided to take the plunge and follow Tiger’s pairing with Scott McCarron. What a spectacle! Words can’t describe the experience of being caught in a throng of people that numbers in the thousands, all trying to get a glimpse of arguably the greatest golfer ever. But it is something that I will never forget, no matter how well Tiger didn’t play compared to his own standards.
Aside from the Tiger following, I managed to follow the last two pairings of the day as well. The crowd was definitely not Tiger-like but it was still a fairly large following.
For the final round of the tournament I stayed home. Obviously, watching a golf tournament on tv is totally different from watching one in person. The camera views are nice and always seem to capture the important shots but there’s no substitute for the sights and sounds that one experiences while attending in person.
Eye opening is the best term I can use to describe my experience at the AT&T. From beginning to end I experienced first class treatment and amenities. The PGA Tour really knows how to coordinate an event.
I will never be able to watch another golf tournament on TV (or another sporting event for that matter) without appreciating all that it takes to put on the show. All of the people responsible for gathering the information and getting it to the media, all the work that the volunteers and the course marshals do to make sure the players and crowd have an easy time getting around the course, how great it was to hear all of the dialogue of the players and their caddies, hearing the unfiltered sounds of the crowd, and appreciating the condition of the course itself which doesn’t translate through TV. No matter how big your TV is.
A special thanks goes to the PGA and The Tiger Woods Foundation for granting The Hacker’s Paradise media credentials for this event. Hopefully we can do it again when the AT&T National returns to Aronimink next year at this time.
You can check out hundreds of pictures from the event right here in the Golf on Tour section of the THP Forum.