For non golf fans, going to a tournament can seem like a boring experience. All you do is watch guys hit a ball over and over again right? Wrong. Viewing a golf tournament live is one of the coolest live sports experiences that exists. Why? Because you are a part of the action.
On Monday I was lucky enough to find myself at Augusta National Golf Club for the Monday practice round of this year’s Masters. For those of you that are golf fans, you understand what this means. For those of you that aren’t, Augusta National is the most divine piece of earth this side of St. Andrews, Scotland. Walking through the gates of the hallowed grounds is an almost religious experience and one that every golf fan needs to experience at least once.
My experience attending golf tournaments is vast, having been to countless Memorial Tournaments while growing up in Columbus, Ohio. I completed the “career spectator grand slam” in August when I attended the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. The other majors: the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional CC, the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews and the 2008 Masters. Toss in the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills and a few other random PGA Tour events, and I have been to quite a few golf tournaments.
While watching the players make the most frustrating sport on earth look like a cake walk is one of the reasons the sport is so intriguing to watch live, it isn’t the one that keeps me coming back. The most unique thing about being a spectator at a golf tournament is the fact that you are just feet from the action, can compliment the players and even occasionally be a part of the action. This point couldn’t be better demonstrated than my experience on Monday at Augusta.
Late in the day during the Monday practice round, my buddy and I were taking in the sights of Amen Corner as the sun began to set, making the most beautiful section of the most beautiful golf course even more, well, beautiful. As the shadows grew long, the throngs of people that littered the fairways and greens at Augusta — at Augusta, 30,000 people show up to watch players practice — filtered out, but we weren’t going anywhere until the last player was off the course. In this case, that player happened to be 2010 U.S. Open champion, Graeme McDowell.
Being on the course with so few fans gave us a chance to be among just 5-10 people following McDowell. But it wasn’t even the fact that we could stand 3-4 feet from McDowell as he ripped drives down Augusta National’s back nine that made viewing his practice round so special. The special moment came as we walked up the 18th fairway and I spotted McDowell’s father walking next to me.
I recognized McDowell’s dad from the TV coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where McDowell played in the final pairing with Tiger Woods two weeks ago. As we walked up the 18th, I told McDowell’s dad that we wished his son the best of luck and were rooting for him. He thanked me and we kept walking. Then, my buddy made a quick joke, asking how many strokes does he give Graeme when the two play golf. This got Mr. McDowell laughing and he told us how he took Graeme’s money the last time the two played. After a few more shared stories, we wished Graeme luck again and Mr. McDowell walked off to meet with his son after his round. We got to have a personal moment with one of golf’s major champions and one of the best players on the planet.
This story is just one example of the type of contact you get with players and their families at golf events. There is nothing that separates spectator and competitor and it never feels out of control. When a player hits a good shot, you can say “good shot” and he or she will respond with a “thank you.” This is just one of the many stories I have about having personal interactions at golf tournaments. Off the top of my head I can remember wishing Phil Mickelson luck in a one-on-one situation at the Memorial Tournament, chatting with Nick Watney and his caddie during a wind delay at the Open Championship and getting a golf ball tossed to me from Nick Price. At so many sporting events, it is tough to get close to the athletes without paying an arm and a leg. At golf tournaments, anyone can be mere feet away from greatness.
Next time someone invites you along to a golf tournament, give it a shot even if you are not a golf fan. You might find it is one of the most unique sporting experiences of your life.