What I Learned From the U.S. Open
By aaronm04 on 7/3/12
aaronm04, a regular oober, recently volunteered for the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, and he wanted to share his experience with us. So naturally, we agreed to let him write a recap for us and here it is. Enjoy!

This year, I volunteered at the US Open at the Olympic Club. It was my first time ever volunteering at a golf event. It was also the first time I was a spectator at a pro golf event. The whole experience opened my eyes to some golf realities.

About Me

To give a little background on myself will be helpful to understand the perspective of this writing. I’m a relative newcomer to golf but have embraced it wholeheartedly. I’ve only been playing since 2007 but I play a lot. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be featured as oobgolf Golfer of the Week

I feel like I still have a lot to learn about the sport, especially when it comes to history. I never watched golf growing up. Never played it with my Dad. Don’t know a lot of mid-tier golfers from years ago. Don’t know a tremendous amount about the better golfers of the early 2000’s and before.

I know about Casey Martin and his litigation to use a golf cart. Even back then, I was still on his side, though some of my golfing friends were opposed. As someone who lives with hemophilia, I could easily identify with someone who had trouble getting around. Even more so today than back then.

I spent a little time on the range with a friend when I was in high school trying to get me into the game. I played two rounds with another friend a few years later. This was the mid-90’s. Then around 2006, I played another slice-ridden round. That’s about the extent of my involvement with golf up until 2007 when I went all-in.

I signed up on the US Open web site and was accepted into the Admissions and Information Committee. Unfortunately, my role wasn’t on-course but there are far worse gigs to have. I spent my shifts working at the gates, either providing information to spectators or scanning the tickets of those entering. There was a noteworthy brush with a sports celebrity, which I certainly didn’t expect at this location. I scanned in Herm Edwards--former NFL coach, ESPN analyst, and avid golfer--on Saturday.

The Course

I didn’t know the history of the US Open and this course or what to expect. When I first got there for my practice round shift on Tuesday morning, it was quite a spectacular sight. The early morning fog had yet to lift, giving a fuzzy backdrop and prominent foreground to the towering cypress trees. Mowers scurried everywhere like ants after you step on an ant mound. The cool bay area climate enhanced the sense of majesty.

The hills and pitched fairways were immediately obvious as I made my way to my gate. This would clearly be the most difficult aspect for players in navigating the course. Hitting a fairway and keeping the ball in that fairway were going to be different things. Hitting a specific part of the fairway with a specific flight path and trajectory would be imperative to keeping the ball out of the rough.

Ah, yes. The rough. It’s the real threat in any US Open making a ball in the short grass the premium. And, like the topography of the course, TV doesn’t do it justice.

The rough at the 2012 US Open was supposedly short by US Open standards. I can’t imagine longer rough. The rye-poa annua grass doesn’t lie in any particular direction like the bermuda grass of Texas that I’m used to. It’s softer and swirls as it gets longer which leaves the lies a complete crapshoot. It also tends to create a heavier underbrush. If your ball is buried, you will have a VERY difficult time getting a club underneath it. If it’s sitting up, it won’t be as bad. Your best bet is to avoid it at all costs.

This type of rough/grass may be typical for many golfers out there but for me, it’s definitely not the norm. I have played golf in the Monterrey area so I’m not completely unfamiliar with this. I also wasn’t playing in US Open-length rough which is far more gnarly than what your basic weekend in Monterrey will give you.

The Players

In short, not what they seem like on TV.

On-TV Phil: Always seemed a little pudgy and slightly muscular. In-person Phil: Much more fit and not nearly as pudgy.

On-TV Vijay: Tall and lanky. In-person Vijay: Tall, lanky, and slightly pudgier than TV portrays.

On-TV K.J. Choi: Medium height and muscular. In-person K.J. Choi: Short and build like a tank. Much more solid than he appears on TV. Same can be said for Angel Cabrera.

On-TV Ben Crane: Average build, average height. In-person Ben Crane: More of a runner’s build. Think Lance Armstrong with bigger arms. Then again, he wasn’t in a red jumpsuit which may be deceiving.

On-TV Robert Karlsson: Average build, average height. In-person Robert Karlsson: HUGE. He towered over Rory, Graeme, and Lee Westwood during their practice round foursome. He has a build proportionate to his height which is deceptive on TV.

I didn’t actually see Tiger but discussing this phenomenon with a fellow volunteer, he had similar findings. He said Tiger is not as muscular as he appears on TV and much more of a regular but fit build when seen in person.

Tour Caliber Swings

The spectating I did was all on Tuesday and Wednesday during practice rounds. This is a great time do your spectating. Far fewer people and you can get much closer to the players. Many signed autographs on the course which was a nice surprise, though I feel far too old to be asking Rickie Fowler to sign my hat.

The amazing thing to me was the players’ tempos. Having viewed them on TV and knowing their actual clubhead speeds, it looks like they are really going after it. Make no mistake, they are going after it, but their swings are not nearly as fast as TV makes them seem. They are very smooth and seem more controlled when viewed in person.

For all the distance and power they generate, the fluidity and balance of their swings are to be marveled. If they ever appear as if they are swinging easy, it’s because they are. Their bodies move very rhythmically and it’s difficult to understand how the clubhead is getting that much speed and power behind it.

What seemed to help with making the swings appear fast and hard are the microphones. Each tee box has them right next to the tees. Not to diminish the fact that there is a lot of clubhead speed being generated. There is. But the microphones really amplify that fact when experiencing golf on TV. I would liken this to putting a microphone underneath the ring during pro wrestling. It amplifies the overall effect. The club-ball impact sound in person was about the same as the better players around my home course when they make solid contact.

Bringing It Home

So for all that I observed during my week, could it help me at home? So far so good. The time away from golf did let a bit of rust settle in and it took me some time to get back on track. Armed with my new sense of tempo, I had to put this stuff to work. Not only for my full swing but also for my short game.

I tend to get too quick in every aspect. After getting back into the flow of my golf game, I started to feel that slower tempo paying off. About all the same distances but I wasn’t working nearly as hard to get them. And they were much more solidly struck with a consistent trajectory--a perfect, slight draw. The same can be said of my less-than-full swings and putts. Slow it down, make solid contact, and reap the benefits.

It took me about 18 holes to get things on track. Once I found it, things really clicked. Not perfect but I had a good round on Sunday, shooting two strokes below my handicap. It may not sound like much, but that was also on recently aerated greens. I had a few birdies which don’t happen all that often and a late double bogey brought about by going OB off the tee. I certainly left the course feeling better about my game.

Now it’s time to hit the gym, hire a swing coach, and install a putting green in my backyard. Then I’m a shoo in for the PGA Tour right?

This was written by Aaron Madeley, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.

Image via USGA

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[ comments ]
guzzlingil says:
good work......
mschad says:
Very interesting getting the average 'joe' perspective, especially about the players statures and such. Nice write up!
nickmomrik says:
If you ever get a chance to watch pros on the driving range, spend an hour or two just watching them. It's something to see.
bducharm says:
Aaron, great write up! Looks like we are in sister clubs. I am a member at River Place. You need to bring your game north and play!!!
Duke of Hazards says:
Also, they're all impeccably dressed.
Matt McGee says:
Great article. Excellent observations. Intentional or otherwise, it's easy to forget how much television can distort reality.
aaronm04 says:
Thanks all! @nickmomrik: I really wanted to hang out at the driving range but it was up by the clubhouse and my gate was on the opposite side of the course. And it was all the way up hill to get there. And that was a big hill.

@bducharm: Sweet! Been meaning to try some of the sister courses.

@Duke of Hazards: They are nicely dressed though I've always felt like all of that additional advertising makes them more NASCAR and less PGA. I think Tiger gets props on his dress because all of the Nike stuff is either his logo or a simple swoosh. Very understated.
jwheaps says:
Great article for sure. Thanks very much for this perspective, I am quite jealous!
joe jones says:
Good job. For someone new to the game let an old timer give you a big pat on the back.
bkuehn1952 says:
Thank you for the excellent inside view of a USGA Volunteer. I may be tempted to do it someday.
jfurr says:
Good write up. Sounds like a pretty cool time.

I watched Hunter Mahan and others for about 45 mins on the range at Quail Hollow - I was also impressed how smooth the swings are, like you said.
mmontisano says:
i couldn't see my feet at the US Open at Oakmont. it really is nasty. and i agree about tv misleading you about the stature of the players. i was surprised by how big the players on the LPGA are. not fat, but more a sporty build to them.
meddle says:
Great article, thanks!
accarson3 says:
Good article and good insights on players and course. Nice to know we really can learn something from the pros even if we can't hit it exactly like them.
[ post comment ]
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