While making small talk with the CEO at my workplace Friday morning, he asks me if I would be attending the PGA Championship at all. ”I wish”, I replied. ”Well, would you like to”, he asked me. Anytime I can start the weekend early, I’m all for it! But to have the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious, in-demand venues (i.e. a PGA major tournament) was positively mind-blowing! So courtesy of one of our vendors, I was heading to the 91st PGA Championship!
I arrived at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska at about 1:30, which was about fifteen minutes before my favorite golfer, Tiger Woods, was set to tee off. Initially I decided to wander around the beautiful golf course and just soak in the atmosphere. Part of the perks I received with my complimentary pass was admission into one of the three “hospitality villages”. Each of these three areas was named for a golfer (Tony Jacklin, Payne Stewart and Rich Beem) who won a major tournament played at Hazeltine. As I made my way to the Rich Beem Hospitality Village (which was complete with air conditioning, private restrooms, free drinks, free food and H.D. TVs), I was passing the green on the 2nd hole just as Tiger, Padraig Harrington and Beem were getting ready to putt. All three golfers attained par on that hole so I followed them to the third tee box to witness the vaunted Tiger Woods tee shot. With the 3rd hole being a 633 yard Par 5, I witnessed Tiger hit the fairway right down the middle with his driver!
After taking about 30 minutes for lunch, I headed out to the nearby 10th tee box to see the various threesomes come through. As a result, I got a glimpse of such notable players as Sergio Garcia, Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry. There was about 20-30 people near the 10th tee and fairway for the five threesomes that passed through while I was there. But when Tiger’s group arrived? Literally hundreds of fans walked alongside Woods & Co. as they approached the tenth. This time I followed Tiger the entire hole. As I made my way towards the tenth green, I came across legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist! Given the sports rube that I am, I have heard Mr. Lundquist’s work in the NFL, NCAA football and basketball, as well as golf. In fact, one of Lundquist’s most memorable calls was Tiger’s unbelievable chip in at #16 at the 2005 Masters. As I greeted Verne, I asked him if he is ever asked to recite the “Christian Laettner call". He got a good chuckle out of that one.
But I digress.
Unfortunately, Tiger would go on to bogey the tenth, falling into a tie with Harrington for the overall lead. I then watched Tiger’s tee shot at the 606-yard, par five #11, only to see him hit it into the rough. Up to that point I personally hadn’t seen Tiger do anything truly spectacular.
Given the insufferable heat and humidity, I decided to reconvene to the Rich Beem H.V. to rehydrate. After watching Tiger on TV save par on #11, I decided to hang out by the nearby 16th green to see the various groups complete the hole. One player which caught my attention was an Englishman named Ross Fisher. After putting for birdie on the 16th, he was tied with Tiger for the overall lead (minus-5 at the time) thanks to a second round score of minus-6 through sixteen! Since I also enjoy golf’s “Cinderella stories”, I decided to follow Fisher to holes 17 & 18. Unfortunately he bogeyed both holes, thus falling back to minus-3, but still good for a second place tie through two rounds.
I then returned to my spot at the 16th green in time to watch Tiger’s group. Finally I got to see vintage Tiger Woods as he hit about a 20-foot putt for birdie! That gave him a four shot lead, which he maintained as he finished up on Friday. Since Tiger is 8-0 in majors where he has led after two rounds, it appears he is on his way to a record tying fifth PGA Championship title.
I headed out at about 7:30, six hours after I arrived. I was probably a little sunburned and definitely soaked with sweat. But it’s an experience I would re-live in a heartbeat!