U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee: Maybe it's worth being there

Golf is a great game to watch on TV. But occasionally you want to be there, even if the viewing is better on the screen.
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After this week's Senior Open, the next big chance for Seattle-area golf fans to see the game's stars will be at the Chambers Bay course south of Tacoma in 2015.

Golf is a great game to watch on TV. But occasionally you want to be there, even if the viewing is better on the screen.

When asked by friends, family members and absolute strangers why some, as I do, actually can enjoy watching golf on television, my response, only half-facetious, has been: "You must've done something really bad during a prior incarnation."

I grant that it's counter-intuitive to view something as passive and patently slow-moving as the ancient game as constituting compelling television fare. I also note that many — no doubt the vast majority— of TV-sports observers prefer viewing events that have certain measures of motion associated with them: hockey and every "ball" sport except, well, golf.

Thousands no doubt will trek to Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish when the U.S. Senior Open starts in earnest Thursday (July 29) but I won't be among them. It isn't that I deny the value of seeing a major sports event first-hand. The problem is that those who go don'ꀙt really "see" much of it at all.

The last time I watched high-level golf (as opposed to the duff variety usually on display where and when I play the game) was on the occasion of the 1998 P.G.A. tournament, also played at Sahalee. The most memorable aspects had less to do with winner Vijay Singh'ꀙs nine-under-par performance on the wooded layout, more to do with seeing up close the other reigning pro-tour stars: Tiger Woods, et al.

Seeing the greats play in person, of course, is what drives spectator golf. In 2015, despite being somewhat less than accessible by most forms of transportation, the U.S. Open may prove to be the Northwest'ꀙs all-time sports-event draw when the world's best players tee it up at Chambers Bay south of Tacoma.

For my purposes the greatest years of local golf-watching came during the late 1980s and '90s, when the region hosted regular events with senior-age names. These were opportunities for those of my generation to stand near the bygone titans of golf and watch, say, Arnold Palmer knock in a hole-in-one on the par-three eighth at Inglewood in Kenmore, where the seniors annually convened starting in the summer of '87.

The problem is that I never saw Palmer make the shot. An Inglewood member and I arrived at the eighth a matter of nanoseconds after Palmer had swung and the ball had disappeared into the cup some 180 yards in the distance.

We'd been hanging near the par-three sixth trying to see whether the old pros used the same club as we did when we played the hole. Of perennial interest to me was the legendary Miller Barber.

"I don'ꀙt know if I can watch this," I whispered. "He'ꀙs the one guy out here whose swing is actually uglier than mine."

Barber jerked his upper body through the swing plane like a man trying to throw an overloaded trash can into a truck. But be somehow caught the ball square and it stopped and checked up about three feet from the cup for an easy (for him) birdie.

"Wish my ugly swing got me birdies here," I said, still wondering how Barber could have won 24 times as a senior with a swing like, uh, like mine.

After Arnie'ꀙs ace we left the Palmer group and went to a hospitality area, watching some of the action on TV. Two decades later, "coverage" of high-level golf also has more to do with television-viewing than watching the game live. At major tournaments golf journalists now routinely sequester themselves in press tents where they can both monitor numerous holes and players and be positioned to hustle over to nearby interview areas to pick up quotes when competitors complete their rounds. Such no doubt will be the protocol at Chambers Bay.

Anyway, I was glad my buddy and I were out on the course with Palmer's group when it went off on the 18th hole that day at Inglewood. "The King," as he'ꀙs known to golf fans (and, not incidentally, to other pro golfers in debt to Palmer for his huge part in making tournament paydays so lucrative), hit a weak three-wood on the downhill finishing hole. He sliced the tee shot so the ball wound up where many of mine had: in the right rough with no clear look at the green.

When it was time for his second shot, Palmer hung on to the three-wood and took his stance. Then he paused and looked up and straight ahead about 20 paces toward that day's ranks of Arnie's Army. He caught in the crowd the eyes of a worried-looking grade-school-age kid. Suddenly the star winked and grinned at the young fan then promptly unleashed a perfect fade that bent around course obstacles and into the green, landing him in range for a classic Palmer birdie.

I doubt I'd have seen that on television. Thinking about it now, maybe I'll just make this sabbath a day of rest for my high-def plasma and wander out to Sahalee on Sunday.


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