Yesterday I was privileged to attend the final round of the 2005 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Course. Very few sporting events can measure up to golf in terms of the "in person" experience. By comparison, most sporting events offer static, inert experiences; you purchase an assigned seat and get, in most cases, confined to it for the duration of the game. And those games usually end in a few hours. But you can spend literally the whole day on the course during a PGA event, and (except for the corporate tents) you have complete freedom to roam just about anyplace you like. Choose your own viewing angle and experience: you can watch the action from the tees, the fairways, the greens, etc. Follow your favorite players or choose a comfy spot on one hole and watch the pairings march through. And unlike other games where the fans are more or less omniscient -- you always know the score and can watch just about all the action as it unfolds -- golf relies far more on word of mouth, which enhances fan interaction and enriches the social experience. Roars erupt around the course but at the moment it's unclear why.
Anyway, yesterday was amazing. The weather was perfect and the course immaculate. The players were accessible and gracious, tipping their caps for nearly every ovation. They even seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the pressure. Some personal highlights included:
- Watching Tiger rip a tee shot: he attacks the ball like it owes him money. I'm not sure there's another moment in sports that can compare to this in terms of anticipation -- maybe Barry Bonds swinging at a 3-0 fastball. Maybe. But the buildup during Tiger's pre-shot routine as he waggles the club and surveys his target, then the payoff as he practically shatters the sound barrier with his explosive uncoil and 125 mph clubhead speed -- incredible! People just shook their heads in disbelief. I watched him tee off on the par-4 13th and couldn't believe how the ball explodes off his club face -- it disappears down the fairway at such impossible speed and with such a high trajectory, it looks like it's never coming down. What an awesome display of power and finesse.
- The incredible shotmaking. I was fortunate enough to witness several amazing recoveries: after eventual champ Bart Bryant dunked his tee shot on the par-3 6th, he pitched an amazing recovery about 50 feet over the water to within 8 feet of the cup. He drained the bogey save, pumped his fist, and never looked back. I also saw Scott Verplank chip out of the rough on 10 right into the cup. And I watched Padraig Harrington pull off a similar shot on the par-4 17th -- he practiced his mechanics at least 5 or 6 times, settled over the ball, and confidently stroked it from a difficult angle. While the ball was still 8 feet from the hole, Padraig raised his club in triumph because he knew it was going in.
- The funny or touching little moments you don't necessarily get to see on TV. I raced ahead to 18 just in time to watch Bryant approach the tee, and he seemed genuinely touched (and a little surprised) by the boisterous ovation he received. He was high-fiving fans before he'd even teed off at 18 but, with a 6-shot lead it was just a formality, and he seemed to let the thought creep into his mind: I'm about to win the Tour Championship. After he sank the winning putt, his caddy (who looks like a pro wrestler) ripped the flag from the pole as a keepsake.
I have to admit, I walked around with a goofy grin on my face for most of the afternoon. Just taking in the scenery, the history, the aura of Bobby Jones' home course, the smell of the grass, etc., was truly memorable. I hope to return next year.
Special thanks to Roger Lowenthal for providing my ticket.