PONTE VEDRA, FL (May 10).
I have been eyeballs-deep preparing for a seminar and researching a white paper on narcissism so I took a week off to be a gallery marshal at The Players golf tournament in northeast Florida. South African Tim Clark won, a popular flash footnote fellow that history will soon struggle to remember. Tiger Woods quitting on Sunday while slapping it around like me, well, history will remember a little bit longer.
I was there all week and spent about 60 hours at the course. Saw it wake up, saw it go to sleep. I saw a curious raccoon on my assigned tee box (#5) try to steal an umbrella and a plastic bag of stuff. I also watched Woods hit it in the water twice, once in practice and once for real (on Sunday, just prior to quitting). I thought his drop on Sunday was ridiculously ambitious and deserving of a penalty.
Most of time I waited and watched galleries come and go. Tiger’s is large and supportive but more subdued than before and noticeably more male. Every minority fan follows him reverently, a very big reason why the PGA Tour overtly protects their cash cow like the Pope protects scoundrels of his own.
Mickelson’s gallery is large and growing, and noticeably more female. The “It” golfer is Adam Scott, the tour’s new Fred Couples. Freddy didn’t play this week but Adam certainly did. The girls love him.
Most players whack it around in anonymity, faces familiar but names not. Two new favorites surfaced, amiable Florida redneck Boo Weekley and bright-eyed Australian lefty Greg Chalmers. Boo passed time on my tee box looking for a water moccassin that lives nearby. Chalmers hit the shortest drive I saw all week: 54 yards. It hit a pine tree branch and dropped in the pond, 300 yards behind the longest shot I saw, a 354-yard fairway tracer by Jeff Overton. Impressive rising star Dustin Johnson was the only guy I saw within twenty yards of him.
Marshaling is boring during practice rounds, fun during the tourney. The heat and humidity were oppressive every day until the last, when temperatures dropped, winds blew, and scores rose with final day scoring frustrations. Sunday is payday and bad shots are expensive. The winner (Tim Clark) got a check for $1.7 million. The guy who finished last of those who made the cut, about ten grand. Subtract expenses and taxes, and divide by hours worked, and it’s not a glorious number.
Few pro golfers look happy. Even fewer act it. Some are sourpuss maximus and can chill a room just by showing up. I pity those guys. This is, after all, a job. A hard and stresssful one. Boo Weekley plays golf to subsidize his true passions, hunting and fishing. Because of that, Boo has balance in his life and comes across that way. A lot of guys don’t. Many sullen players treat volunteers like the rest of us treat hotel maids or fast food clerks: upright non-entities.
Marshals on the fifth hole monitor the gallery on tee and green, and along the fairway if a nomadic gallery is large. We manage ropes to direct players one way and fans another. My favorite task was signaling the direction of the players’ tee shots. I stood behind them, watched the ball flight, and used a red paddle to signal its direction. The guys let me do it a lot because half of them coudn’t see the ball at all. Marshals are old, very old; to them I was a young pup.
We had to buy and wear official uniforms, including a OSFM (“one size fits most”) canvas bucket hat that perched atop the crown of my big melon head like an organ grinder monkey’s. Long pants were mandatory. Because of them we were basting turkeys in bags in the roasting Florida heat. I drank twenty bottles of water a day.
The tournament needs 800 marshals to operate, roughly 40 percent of the volunteers required for the massive show. Our hole had 37 marshalls. I was one of only a few rookies and worked double shifts. I was the tournament’s lone volunteer from Colorado, which made me feel good about making the effort.
Tim Clark’s win was well earned and his first in 205 tour starts. He’s a small man, popular among the players, who doesn’t hit it far and uses a putter taller than he is. He sort of motors the ball around the golf course and doesn’t make mistakes. Sunday was a war of attrition and Clark was the one who captured the flag.
For Tiger Woods, the quicksand deepens. He got heckled by a little boy (7) and a drunken fan (36) got tasered for embellishing the kid’s message with saucier adjectives. Rumors were Tiger got served with divorce papers earlier in the week. I do not know if this is true. Another rumor said he offered Elen $50 million to stay in the marriage and in the States with the kids. Regardless, the scoreboard didn’t care. Tiger played poorly and clearly needs a long break. I hope he takes it. Right now he’s pitiable.
But all was not doom and gloom. One happy couple was found after sundown Thursday night consummating their like for one another inside a Pontiac sedan parked on the eighth green. Officials were afraid to anger the “driver,” lest he ruin the green driving away squealing wheels. So they patiently waited and let the couple finish. The guy drove away in a slow creep and the green was saved. The woman waved goodbye.
Tiger’s drive home was far less enjoyable.
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