Tower editor finds that covering golf fits him to a tee
It's not every day you get up close and personal with your idols. But at the CordeValle Golf Club in sleepy San Martin, a 30-minute drive south of San Jose, I did just that.
Since 2008, the year-end Fall Series on the PGA Tour has made a stop at CordeValle. Last year, Tiger Woods showed up for the first time and drew record crowds. This year, Tiger was playing in Turkey.
No Tiger means fewer eyes on the tournament, which is just what an aspiring golf journalist needs if he wants to find his way into the pressroom.
Weeks before the tournament, I began contacting the public relations people to request media credentials. Credentials were key. They would give me access, and allow me to cross a threshold of fandom, through the looking glass, that takes you to a bizarre place where entertainment becomes reality and the real world seems absurd.
Just days earlier, combining my obsession for golf with my passion for journalism seemed light years away. Now, a single piece of mail could change that. Needless to say, trips to Laney's mailroom became a daily ritual.
The CordeValle Golf Club is nestled between the wineries and horse ranches of San Marin, and its long and rolling fairways meander through the golden troughs of Hayes Valley. It's a beautiful sight. But by the time I arrived on Saturday, I didn't have time to enjoy the scenery.
Champion Golfer of the Year Ernie Els was already teeing off at the par-5 twelfth, his round almost over. With few big names in the field, I had already missed the big draw of the tournament. Regardless, there was still plenty of golf to play.
When you're with the press at a PGA Tour event, you get treated differently. While the rest of the crowed trekked from a far end of the course to the clubhouse, I was picked up in a golf cart and driven right to the front door on a closed route.
When you're a reporter, people like to talk to you, and the volunteers from San Martin and near-by Morgan Hill, who acted as my chauffeurs for the weekend, shared their stories with me on our rides around the grounds.
For the first time, I realized I wasn't just a fan; I had become part of the tournament. I wasn't going to hit a single shot, but with the implicit promise to cover the match that came with my credentials, I was no longer a spectator.
After the tournament, I sat down in the pressroom for a drink as John Mallinger, the tournament leader, took his spot in front of the microphone to answer a few questions.
I had questions of my own. I had watched him all day, and felt I had opinions about his round that he might like to hear. But I spent the time listening to other questions and debating how to word my own. Before I knew it, my chance was gone. My first interview with a professional golfer would have to wait till tomorrow.
On Sunday, I sat with Brandel Chamblee and Todd Lewis from the Golf Channel and watched the leader on the range. To be frank, it was the golf journalists and broadcasters who excited me most.
Great golfers are a dime a dozen, all you had to do was look around at the 150 players in the field. But golf journalist is a title reserved for the few.
As the leader cycled through his clubs he looked good, hitting his targets and controlling his tempo. "Who you pulling for?" I hear from beside me. It was Chamblee asking for my opinion on who I predicted would win.
"I think Mallinger's got it," I said. He had been leading for the past two days.
"He's playing good," Chamblee responded.
I wound up being wrong, but being able to talk to someone you normally listen to on television brings a whole new meaning to interactive entertainment.
As the day went on, other members of the media began to recognize me. As I was tediously recording every shot by the players in the final group, the voice of the PGA Tour on Sirius radio, Fred Albers, turned to me and asked, "You working?"
I said I was, and he told me to hop in his golf cart. For the final few holes of the tournament Albers and I plowed through the crowds in that golf cart.
Walking was a thing of the past. Exclusive access inside the ropes, and Fred was able to share information with me about players' lies and the intricacies of covering a golf tournament.
Mallinger had squandered his lead to lose by two strokes. It made for 157 Tour starts without a win. This time it was just us; no one had asked him into the media center, but I still had questions and I finally got my interview.
Jonas Blixt, a rookie from Sweden, eventually took home the trophy. But if you ask me, I was the big winner that weekend.
I was put on the same level as my heroes. I made conversation with the very people I normally talk about. The Frys.com Open lived up to its open status.
For while the biggest names in the game didn't not find it worth their while to show up, it became an event for the rest of us, a celebration of the game for the games sake, and a tournament I won't soon forget.
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