As some of my readers know, I live locally in Atlanta. I got the bug to watch some golf in person this week and decided to head down to East Lake to follow the guys around on Saturday. What follows is a diary of my day, along with some observations.
Good thing I've attended this event a couple of times. I clicked on the "buy a ticket" button at pgatour.com on Friday and was told it was $70.00 for a grounds pass for Saturday.
Are you kidding me? There's plenty of cheap tickets to scalp out in front of the place.
I was also told there was no parking at East Lake and that I should park at Turner Field and take a 15 minute bus ride over. Also nonsense. If you get there early, you can park on the lawns of local houses for a modest fee.
I drove down at 9AM and parked right across the street from the entrance for $10. Even better, there were three very nice guys who had driven up from south Georgia waiting in the "parking lot" with me. They just flat out gave me their extra ticket. I gave them $10 to buy some beers (OK, considering the concession prices, to buy ONE beer).
Sweet. Into the Tour Championship for $20 total! Lou Vozza getting over on the man!
I would have gotten there early even if I'd paid full price. One of my favorite parts of attending tournaments is watching the players warm-up.
East Lake has a nice grandstand behind the driving range. Even better, one end of the driving range borders a sidewalk. If you beat the crowd to the right spot, you can stand practically right next to the player at the end of the range.
Two years ago, I was able to stand 15 feet from Tiger Woods as he went through his entire warm-up.
No such luck this year. The highly unglamorous Johnathan Byrd, who was in last place and scheduled to tee off in the first group, showed up and took that spot.
As with all these guys, Byrd has a gorgeous swing and it was quite an experience to stand next to him while he hit some practice balls.
As a seven handicapper myself, I find watching these guys very good for my game. I just kind of zone out and try to channel their tempo all day.
It's amazing how pros never change their tempo, no matter what club their swinging. Until you see it, it never occurs to most golfers that they can hit a ball over 200 yards with a 2-iron with the same tempo that you hit a wedge 60 yards.
What follows is the best and worst of what I saw on Saturday. Remember, I didn't see everything and everybody, but I was there all day and tried to spread myself around as much as possible:
Longest hitter on the range:
A tie between Gary Woodland and Bubba Watson. Both of these guys got their drivers deep into a part of the range no one else did. Woodland's drives had a more penetrating flight. Watson's were higher and landed softer.
Best ball striker on the range:
Surprisingly, Bill Haas. He was almost as long as Watson and Woodland with the driver.
Shortest hitters on the range:
Luke Donald and Mark Wilson
Adam Scott. He was coming up short on his hybrid and driver shots. He wasn't happy about it.
Coolest looking golfers:
Aaron Baddeley, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson
Nerdiest looking golfers:
Matt Kuchar, Mark Wilson, Geoff Ogilvy
Golfers who are trying to look cool and it's not working:
Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler...woops, I forgot. Rickie didn't make it.
Best shot of the day:
I'm walking up the fairway on seven and run into Jason Day, who's driven his ball into the trees on the right. His ball has come to rest against the trunk of a large tree. There's only six or seven patrons there, so I was able to stand right behind him.
He actually hit this ball up over a tree in front of him and onto the front edge of the green, where he got up and down for par. Above see picture of the actual divot he took out of the tree with the tow of his club.
Where are the Koreans in K.J. Choi's gallery? Let me tell you something, Atlanta's loaded with Koreans. You can drive for blocks in some parts of town and see Korean only business signs.
Here's a national sports hero, playing in the final group with Adam Scott, and I'm counting maybe 10 or 15 Koreans in his gallery. If you had told me it was just some friends and family, I would have believed you. I felt sorry for the guy and let out of a couple of "Go Tank!" chants after his shots.
He seemed to appreciate it.
I give Atlanta's black community some credit. When Woods plays here, they show up in force to support him. Which brings up another issue. I haven't seen the official attendance numbers, but the crowd looked very sparse to me compared to previous years.
Most nervous moment:
Losing control of my smartphone in my lap while sitting on the Porto-Potty.
Guys who are smaller than you think:
Chez Reavie, Butch Harmon, Steve Williams
Guys I wished I had been able to see more of:
Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson
Best spot on the course:
The landing spot of the par-5 ninth fairway. The guys who hit good drives have a 250-yard shot over the lake to a small green.
I also like the tee box on 16. You can stand right behind the players. This is always the best view to watch the ball flight of a golf shot. I saw Bill Haas just SMOKE his tee shot down the middle.
Best up and down:
Baddeley out of the deep Bermuda rough, just off the green on the eighth hole.
Worst up and down:
Luke Donald fluffing his shot out of the rough around the green on the sixth hole. As a local golfer, it was comforting to watch these pros struggle with the Bermuda rough around here.
I don't even practice those shots, the results are so random. I just gouge them out and make sure I get on the green no matter what. You take your two putt and get out of there.
Thing I liked that surprised me the most:
Seeing myself on TV later that night. If you have it on TiVo still, that's me in the white visor and teal polo shirt in the small gallery behind Jason Day on his bunker shot on 15.