I had originally purchased general admission gallery passes for all four days at this weekend's AT&T National. While they proved more than fine for the first two days, I will admit, as I did after the first round, that the allure of the private chalets and lounges was more than getting to me. A chalet, at least when it comes to golf, is a large corporate tent with stadium like seating and a special, sometimes complimentary, food and beverage hook up. In the past, I would have referred to such a structure as a tent. I would have been wrong. Trust me, it's a chalet.
I woke up Saturday morning to a call from my friend Jon, with whom I had walked the course on Friday. Jon, as it turned out, had lucked into two extra passes for day three. These were no ordinary passes, however; these tickets came complete with access to the Aronimink Golf Club clubhouse, private parking lot F and the Anheuser-Busch corporate chalet, which just happens to overlook the 16th green. Jackpot.
After coming to the mutual conclusion that I drove the least expensive car in lot F, Jon and I boarded the next shuttle headed for the course. As luck would have it, so did St. Joseph's University Men's Basketball Coach Phil Martelli. After a five minute ride down St. David's Road, I was able to catch up with Phil once inside the grounds. When I asked him what he was looking most forward to since Tiger was already finishing his round by the time we arrived, he responded:
"I'm just hear to take it all in. I'm here for everything. This is a great golf event for a great golf city. Granted, when Tiger's here, it's not just an event, it's an event. But honestly, this has just been great for the city and I'm excited to be here."
It was nice of Phil to take some time to chat with Jon and I; and, from what I observed both on the shuttle and at the course, he was shaking hands and making small talk with literally everyone who approached him. I know I'm usually pretty hard on the Hawks as a product of a certain institution up on Broad & Cecil B., but I will have to make a point to be a little kinder to Martelli in the future. His team will not be so lucky.
After making a quick pass through the clubhouse, we made it down to the driving range where we met up with CBS Sports golf analyst and the 1991 British Open Champion Ian Baker Finch. He revealed to us that he was familiar with more than a few of the area courses and had the privilege of getting on a very important local track Friday. For any of you golf fans who are potentially worried about the Merion Golf Club being too short for the U.S. Open coming in 2013, Finchy assured us that the greens and the rough will be more than enough for the West East Course to hold her own when the time comes. At a mere 6,800 yards, the Golf Association of Philadelphia and the members at Merion sure hope he is right.
One other quick note about the practice grounds, I spotted the 2009 PGA Champion Y.E. Yang hitting balls at the far end of the range at about 1 p.m. I quickly checked the tee sheet and discovered that Yang had missed the 36-hole cut and had evidently stayed around to do a little bit of work on the weekend. I watched for a few minutes as he pured wedge after wedge into the valley below. To skip ahead just a little, I found myself back at the range hours later, hoping to catch a glimpse of Tiger or any other big name hitting balls after their rounds. Though, I never saw Tiger, I did see Y.E. Yang. Again. Still hitting a wedge. At 4 p.m. Three hours later. Amateur golfers should learn something from the only man to ever take a 54-hole lead from Tiger Woods on Sunday at a major, learn to hit a wedge before you go breaking out the lumber.
Finally, we made our way to what we had built up in our minds as the greatest place on God's green Earth: the Anheuser-Busch chalet at 16. And you know what? It was great. Though the beer was by no means comp'd, as we had hoped, the unbelievable convenience of having, food, beer and a bathroom within a few hundred feet was a welcome change to the miles of hiking I did on Thursday and Friday. A day in the shade with a brew and bar stool, it's like I said, jackpot.
With just one more day to play, Englishman and European Ryder Cup lock Justin Rose sits atop the lead by four shots at -10 after turning in an impressive 67 on moving day. The tournament is his to lose. Unlike Phil at Winged Foot, I'm betting he pulls this one out. But who knows, there are grand stands down the left on 18.
Fairways and greens, Justin, fairways and greens.