Sunday 5th August
The initial front that was expected this morning came early with a thunderstorm waking me up around 1.30am. However, that was not necessarily a bad thing since it almost certainly would mean that the whole weather system had come forward and we would have a better chance of completing play later in the day.
We arrived at the course at 7.00am to prepare for the 8.00am start times. There was no signs of any water damage from the overnight front but the forecast for later in the morning was not flash. We met with Tournament Director, Slugger White and the rest of the Rules team and were advised that a very nasty front was due to hit us between 9.30am and 10.00am. Obviously, the more play that we could complete before it arrived would give us a larger window of opportunity to complete later in the day.
In view of the volume of water that was expected to hit us along with the thunder and lightning, it was agreed that we should institute a “preferred lie” Local Rule for the round. Later in the day I was questioned on this by several spectators and the rationale for taking such an option is that, with the course likely to be compromised by the storm, having the Rule in place would mean that there would be equity across the board. You can’t introduce such a Local Rule once the round has started since a portion of the field may have completed several holes without having the ability to prefer their lie while those that have not commenced play would have the option for all 18 holes.
I started my course check at around 7.30am and the place looked pristine. The bunkers had not been affected overnight and there was no casual water anywhere on the course. I caught the bunker raking team by hole 7 and had to wait while they completed the front nine. By the time that happened the first group was on the fourth green and so it was time for me to head over to my zone.
The weather team from the PGA TOUR were providing excellent updates on the speed and direction of the impending front, which was approaching at 55kmph. The cell was trying hard to split around Akron and we remained hopeful that it could slide by us all together.
This was not to be and by 9.05am we were preparing ourselves for a suspension of play. Evacuation vehicles were already strategically positioned on course ready for the players to head their way as soon as the air horn sounded.
At 9.16am we got the countdown and the horns were sounded. It was like a well oiled machine with players marking their ball and walking to the vehicles. I don’t believe one player got wet when the heavens opened up 5 minutes later. Fortunately I had taken my full waterproof suit out with me as, while trying to convince spectators to head for shelter, I got smashed in the downpour. It was so heavy that I could barely see ahead of me as I pressed the cart pedal to the metal heading for the Rules office.
The thunder rolled and the rain poured but strangely enough the forecast improved. With the sky starting to lighten around 11.00am and the rain easing right back, the course maintenance team headed out to fix up any bunker wash outs and squeegee any tees that were under water.
I would have to say the drainage on the course was outstanding with all surface water disappearing quickly. We scheduled for a 12 o’clock resumption and this gave players around an hour to go to the range and warm up.
We did have a lucky break in that the 16th tee was very wet in the area where the tee markers had been set for the day. However, as the first group had completed hole 15 but had not teed off on hole 16 we were able to move the teeing ground to a drier spot. Again the well oiled machine rolled into action around 11.50am and we sounded the resumption at 12.04pm.
In the main, pace of play was pretty good for a final round but allowing the players to play “preferred lies” always slows things down a bit.
Once everyone was through my area I headed back over to holes 8 and 9 until the tail end of the field finished their round.
At this point I was asked by PGA TOUR staff to position myself close to 18 green so that I could ferry a player back to the 18th tee should there be a play off. At that stage Furyk, Bradley and Ousthuizen were on 17 green and stood at -14, -13 and -11 respectively, while Steve Stricker had just birdied 18 and was in the house at -12.
After Furyk had gained a significant break with his tee shot, which struck a tree in the left rough and bounced out onto the fairway, it looked like a straightforward one shot win was on the cards but then all hell broke loose. Furyk flew the right hand bunker and left himself a difficult stance for his chip. Ousthuizen stuck his ball to around 10 feet and then Bradley leaked his second into the right hand bunker and his ball plugged.
Furyk still looked safe at this point but that changed when he failed to land the ball on the short grass and held up in the chunky rough. Bradley was next to play and ran his bunker shot at least 10 feet past the hole. Furyk came out heavy and pulled up around 4-5 feet light of the hole.
Suddenly we were into a possible four man play off scenario. If Ousthuizen birdied, Bradley bogeyed and Furyk doubled, all would be at -12 along with clubhouse leader Steve Stricker. Staff were suddenly making plans for getting another two golf carts to the front of 18 to take the players back to the tee.
Bradley rose to the challenge while Furyk’s putt slid by and the result was posted.
It was a great feeling to get play completed with time to spare as staying back on Monday would have caused major logistic problems for everyone heading south to Kiawah Island for the PGA Championship.
I have heard a lot of interesting things about the Pete Dye course and so I am now looking forward to getting down there and having a look around.
Saturday 4th August
With no cut made in this Championship we started the day with 76 players playing in groups of two from the first tee. An overnight withdrawal by Toru Taniguchi due to illness saw Tom Lewis drop back into the 8.00am group with Rickie Fowler rather than having a couple of two balls in the early field.
I set out on my course check this morning and enjoyed testing out a few of the pin placements with a couple of rolls of the ball. Hole one was really tight left with a severe slope to the left edge. The play would have to be for the centre of the green to give yourself a reasonable birdie chance since anything moving left would end up off the green.
The pin on two was also a tough one as it was in a little tier on the front left quadrant. Anything big and or right could prove fatal as it may be impossible to stop the ball anywhere close to the hole.
Holes three, four, five and six offered birdie chances before hole seven tightened things up again. Eight was fine and nine was close to the false front of the green in the centre and could see shots with too much spin sucking back off the green.
Once play got under way, maintaining the pace of play was our biggest issue throughout the day. With over six hours of tee times and no starters gaps it was important to keep the guys moving over the early holes. The first 5 or 6 groups were flying along but, as tends to be the case, after about an hour we were back on time par. The par 5 second hole can lose a minute or so due to guys waiting to go for it with their second shots and the fourth hole can also cause a few problems but almost every group plays the 5th, 6th and 7th holes under time par and are able to get back in position before they hit the turn.
One bit of drama that happened today was when Ben Crane injured his back while playing out of the bunker at the 5th green. He tried to drive at the 6th and felt another twinge in his lower back. I got a call that he required assistance as he walked down hole six and he advised that he may have to withdraw. When he attempted to play his second shot he went down in a heap with acute pain and was forced to withdraw.
My first duty was to ensure that Ben signed off Kyle Stanley’s scorecard for the holes that they had completed and then pass the card on to the walking scorer who assumed the role of marker. Secondly I had to get Ben back to the clubhouse to receive treatment from his physio. Hopefully he will be able to recover in time for the PGA Championship next week.
Once all groups were through my area I was relocated to the back of 16 green. With the greens firming up, even those players who had played short of the water hazard in two were finding it difficult to judge their approach and there was potential for them to fly into the hospitality area behind the green.
Other than two players finding the water hazard there were no further problems and my time in the sun was fairly uneventful.
However, the forecast for Sunday does not look great and plans have been made for a change to three balls off two tees to try and get the final round completed. There are two possible fronts coming through bringing both heavy rain and thunder and lightning. Planning will be the key to ensure that all possible scenarios are covered.
Tomorrow should be very interesting in many ways.
Friday 3rd August
A restful 6 hours of sleep meant that the batteries were good to go this morning for round two of the Championship.
The seven minute car trip to the course has been trouble free each day and there are surprisingly few dramas getting to our car park at the golf club. Free enterprise remains healthy in the USA with front lawns adjacent to the course being used as parking lots each day. On Tuesday the house 5 down from the course was $5 a day with the others $10 a day. On Wednesday house one was up to $10 and the others $15. Guess what, market rates dictated that yesterday and today’s fees were $15 at house one and $20 at the others.
As front nine set up “checker” I was out on course from 8.00am this morning and other than a ½ hour lunch break at 12 o’clock I was there for the duration of the round.
As we had a withdrawal from the field overnight due to Thongchai Jaidee’s sprained ankle, this meant that Scott Piercy would be playing as a one ball from the 10th tee. As he would be playing faster than the two ball on the other nine the bunker raking team had to be restructured to accommodate this. When I caught up with our team on the ninth fairway they were already sweating profusely in the early morning heat.
The bunkers at Firestone were refurbished around three years ago and with the hand raking they come up fantastic each day.
While checking the pin placements I took the chance to roll a few balls on the greens. They are running beautifully and at a good speed. Today there are a good mixture of positions with some short, deep, tight left and tight right. Shot placement will be key as putts that are hit a little firm will roll on by and leave a testing return putt.
Pace of play was once again one of the main roles for the Rules team with several groups being put on the clock or accompanied for a while until they were back in position. I had to put Kevin Na and our own Marc Leishman on the clock for 4 holes in order to get them back into position. Marc was absolutely fine with this as his pre-shot routine is well structured and well within the time allowed. This means that when he is timed he doesn’t have to stress out and change anything but simply maintain his rhythm.
Another of our members displayed the perfect attitude when his group fell behind after three holes. John Senden’s group lost several minutes on the third hole when Toru Taniguchi had some problems around the putting green. I was on my way to ask them for some assistance in making up the time when, after having hit their tee shots on four, I saw Sendo motion to Toru that they needed to speed up and they both started jogging down the path to the fairway. Players taking responsibility for their own position in the field is not something that we regularly see and it certainly was a pleasing sight. They were back in position by the end of the fifth hole and so no further action by officials was required.
It was hot out there today and it is due to get even hotter tomorrow. Keeping fluid levels up is really important whether you are a player or an official. My kidneys have had a good healthy clean out this week with many bottles of water being consumed over the last few days.
While Sendo and Geoff Ogilvy have maintained their position in the field, it was great to see Badds bounce back with a 66 today. Hopefully we will see these guys perform well on moving day and be in with a shout on Sunday.
The forecast is pretty grim for the fourth round and so being there or there abouts going into the last day could put you in with a good chance.
There is a change to the format tomorrow with all groups commencing on the first tee. This will mean 6 hours and 15 minutes of tee times with first off at 7.45am and will mean us arriving at the course at 7.00am in order to complete the front nine set up.
As it is now 10.30pm I am heading to bed for hopefully another decent sleep before heading back out into the sun for another 10 hour searing.
Thursday 2nd August 2012
The golfing gods were smiling on Firestone Country Club today with absolutely beautiful weather meeting the 78 competitors throughout the day. It was pretty warm but the thermostat is due to rise again tomorrow with the mercury creeping into the 90s (F).
As tends to be the case with me in tournament mode, the sleep patterns went out the window last night and I rolled around in bed waking up every hour or so. I have to admit to still getting a bit nervous before tournaments and generally feel better once I have saddled up the golf cart and hit the rough line.
This week I am the “Checker” on the front nine meaning that I have to follow the bunker rakers and hole cutter to ensure that there are no slip ups before the players start moving through the course. At many of our Tour events back in Australia we will do this job at the same time as setting the pins each morning for the next day. Sometimes this can mean waiting on the holes where you have caught up with the course staff. We all have our own systems of recording which tees and pins we have set as sometimes it is faster to jump to areas of the course rather than follow the natural sequence of holes.
Yesterday I spent some time with Tony Wallin from the PGA TOUR who is doing front nine set up this week. I find it both informative and educational to compare notes on methodology and philosophies of set up, particularly when it comes to selecting pin placements. It seems that Tony and I have a similar approach to this aspect of our jobs and so that is quite reassuring.
The course looked majestic this morning as I drove around pacing greens and checking bunker rakes. With little or no wind out there it was always on the cards that someone could post a low score.
My zone today was to be around holes 3, 4, 5 and 6 but I had only just finished checking hole nine when Bill Haas, who was playing with Rob Allenby, called me over for a ruling on hole #1. Relief from a drain cover – nice start and something straight out of the Rule Book to ease me into the day.
As is often the case, today’s biggest role was monitoring pace of play. With the field playing in two’s and in two waves there was no real excuse for the guys in terms of keeping play moving. In the main play moved at an excellent pace. Our time par was 3 hours 45 minutes and we went very close to nailing this with the last groups of the day. Geoff Ogilvy was in the final group this afternoon and was only a couple of minutes over time when they passed through my zone. He did make a great 2 on hole #5 after hitting his tee shot through the back of the green. A nice wee chip back towards the hole that suddenly disappeared from my view. Not so good for his fellow competitor who hit the green and then three putted for a four.
Sendo and Geoff were our best performers out there today but with no cut during the four rounds there is always the chance to play yourself back into contention.
Tiger had the multitudes following him again today with the usual numpties (Scottish word meaning a less than intellectual genius) shouting “get in da hole” and “you da man” each time club made contact with ball!
All officials had a smattering of rulings to deal with today as well as chasing and cajoling some groups back into position.
For you chaps who think that you can give the ball a bit of a nudge, the longest hitting today was definitely that of Belgian rocket launcher, Nicolas Colsaerts who hit his tee shot close to 400yds on the 667yds par 5 sixteenth and followed it up with a four iron to the green! He did make birdie as well!
Anyway, I must get some beauty sleep as the alarm clock will be ringing again very shortly and we will start preparing for round two.
Wednesday 1st August 2012
This morning our international travelling team of John Paramor (European Tour), Andy Yamanaka (JGTO) and myself arrived at Firestone reasonably early even though our tournament meeting was not until 11.00am.
Another drive around the golf course raised a couple of questions in terms of relief options and it was useful to clarify the status of several objects prior to tomorrow’s opening round.
There were good crowds out there today which gave the volunteers out on marshalling duty the chance to practice their roles before the predicted 15,000 fans turn up on Thursday.
After the course inspection we headed back to the office for the tournament meeting. Rules staff, course staff, club staff, weather staff and TV representatives were all in attendance and covered off each aspect of the event.
Even though there are only 78 players in the field, the draw structure is a morning and afternoon field with players playing in groups of two. With fine, warm weather forecast over the first three days this should work well but with possible storms on Sunday the format may have to be reviewed before the final round.
After a bite of lunch I went out on the course again, hoping to bump into several more of our members so I could say hi and wish them well for the week. Over on the range I barely recognised the new dad, Jason Day who has trimmed his flowing locks. Jason is really enjoying the new fatherhood role and looked relaxed heading into this event.
With his mobile bus home parked up next to the lake here at Firestone he is enjoying the casual walk to and from work and a bit of fishing at the end of the day.
The next person that I catch up with is Geoff Ogilvy. After a top 10 finish at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Geoff had a week in Europe before heading over to Firestone. Clearly very popular with the American golf fans, Geoff has a never ending queue of autograph hunters chasing him and, being the good natured guy that he is, he signs a multitude of flags and caps before heading to the locker room.
Adam Scott was working hard on his putting stroke on the practice green but I did get a chance to catch up with his caddie, Steve Williams.
After a final get together with the Rules staff we headed back to the hotel. With an hour available before we were due to head back to the golf club for the induction of Sir Nick Faldo as the 2012 Ambassador of Golf, I have a chance to catch up on the day’s emails.
Before the official ceremony began, myself and JP caught up with Ian Baker-Finch who was scheduled to MC the function. Faldo has done a huge amount for golf since retiring from the highest level of competition. His junior series just continues to grow, as does his reputation as a course designer and commentator.
Tomorrow I am on the front nine and also down as set up checker. This will mean a 7.15am departure and a full day on course. Looking forward to getting into it!!
Tuesday 31st July 2012
After arriving in Akron, Ohio last night, this morning was my first chance to visit Firestone Country Club and start familiarising myself with the course and additional tournament infrastructure.
I was able to secure a lift over to the course from our hotel which is around two miles away. There are quite a few of the players also staying here so there was no shortage of tournament vehicles heading over that way this morning.
The first person that I bumped into was a familiar face that had lived in Melbourne for almost as long as myself – Matt Kiminski, from the PGA Tour. Matt was based in Melbourne in preparation for the Presidents Cup and sends his regards to everyone that he worked with during his stay in Australia.
After obtaining my tournament accreditation for the week it was time to meet the other Rules staff that were already on site. Tournament Director for the week is Slugger White and I have had the pleasure of working with him at several majors in the past. Michael Bradley from the PGA Tour is also on our team and we last worked together at Royal Birkdale in 2008.
I had no sooner checked in when my good friend from the European Tour, John Paramor arrived. Being an old hand at working this event, JP offered to give me a guided trip around the course and point out any areas of particular interest or concern.
The course is in absolute mint condition with the fairways resembling green carpets. Many of the holes run parallel and, with players walking back to quite a few teeing grounds, it is easy to see that the course has been lengthened over the years.
We talked with the PGA Tour agronomist and, although the recent rain in the Akron area has left the course a fraction more moist than the optimum level, the next three warm sunny days should help to dry out the surface and present a perfect golf course.
The greens are a beautiful surface but running reasonably fast. There are certainly some testing pin placements out there and you do not want to get caught out by finishing up on the wrong side of a knuckle or ridge.
Like any other big tournament there is a significant number of large structures on the golf course which will be treated as Temporary Immovable Obstructions (TIOs). However, the majority of the course is pretty clean in view of the fact that no advertising signage is positioned inside the ropes.
While out on the course I did catch up with Marc Leishman and hope to say hello to our other Tour members over the next couple of days.
One unusual Local Rule for this week relates to the large cavity that had developed within a mature tree on hole #13. To maintain the rigidity of the tree, the cavity has been bricked up and covered by concrete. This repair work is deemed to be an integral part of the course and because of this a player will not receive relief without penalty should they have interference from the condition.
Wednesday will be a busy day on course as we have a Rules Committee meeting in the morning and this will be followed by further course checks to ensure that any unusual situations are covered by the Local Rules for the week.