Sunday, August 19, 2012 – Round 3
|Mika Miyazato Wins|
Mika Miyazato wins! I’m sure you all saw the broadcast, or the highlights, or if you’ve been to this website, which you must’ve done if you’re reading this now, you already know that. What a well deserved and well earned victory. She has been playing lights out for several tournaments now over the last few months and has now finally added her name to the champions list. Congratulations! It was heartwarming to see her fellow Japanese players, Ai Miyazato (2010 Safeway Classic champ) and Momoko Ueda, rush the 18th green to help her celebrate this victory.
It was another tough day out there this afternoon. Much like yesterday, most players who needed to make a move to get a chance at the title stayed stuck in neutral or fell backwards as the day progressed. We got to see some late fireworks from Michelle Wie, Inbee Park’s amazing eagle on 17, Cristie Kerr and Brittany Lincicome birdying the final two holes, but none of it was enough. And what can be said about the rookie So Yeon Ryu coming in at a tie for fourth after earning her first victory the week prior? She was impressive. There’s no telling what may have happened if that lipped out putt had gone in on 17. She proved her mettle all day, but confirmed it with the chip in for bogey on 18 after an unlucky break having her drive creep just into the rough. Mika would have none of though, as she played strong down the stretch and made it clear that this was her tournament all day by never relinquishing the lead. By the way, the seventeenth hole continues to baffle and confound the field, especially at it’s drivable under 300 yard state. It is a remarkable place to sit and watch golf, so many things happen there.
|18 Green to Fairway|
Like last year, I decided to take it easy the morning of the final round. Instead of going for the super marathon days of golf that I do during the first and second rounds, I like to try and catch my breath and head over in the early afternoon to catch one of the last pairings out. My friend Christine made her way up from Corvallis to join me for the festivities as she did last year. Prior to that she was not a golfer, nor did she know anything about golf. Now she has taken some beginning lessons and is probably already better than I am as a player. I am telling you, these women can sell themselves and this game to anyone. Anyway, when Christine arrived we grabbed a nice lunch and then ran into a traffic jam letting us know that we weren’t the only ones with this plan today! The crowds looked to be much bigger than last year, and though yes, it makes things more difficult, it also excites me that Portland continues to support this event and that it is still growing.
Once we made our way out onto the course, we wandered around aimlessly for awhile and caught sight of a few interesting groupings that were just getting their round underway, but I made it clear that I wanted to track down my new favorite golfer, Jee Young Lee, who was playing with Sandra Gal (Both at -4 to begin the day), who has been a favorite already. Jee Young charmed me with her incredible play during the Pro-Am on Thursday and after investing my afternoon to see her fight her way through a tough round yesterday, I knew I had to root her on to the end. Unfortunately, aside from some shining stretches from both players, neither one of them could break completely free nor rise up the leader board. Sandra Gal was already two over par when we found her using her wedge on the 6th green (she hit a great shot to save par), but then caught fire with an amazingly easy looking eagle on 9 and a tap in birdie on 10. Unfortunately, she could not sustain the momentum and finished with some late bogeys on 17 and 18. Jee Young Lee also had some big ups and downs. She couldn’t take advantage of the par 5 8th and 9th holes. In fact, she and Gal both three putted the 8th green for unforced bogeys. Lee managed an amazing up and down from the right of the 9th green to save par after driving into the dreaded Ghost Creek the meanders down the right side of the fairway. Her chip shot nearly dropped in and rivaled the touch she showed on the 14th hole yesterday. I think that’s what has me so intrigued by her. She has all of the tools. She has sheer power when she wants (witness her epic drive on the long uphill par 5 15th hole), she can be accurate, she has a nice looking putting stroke and I know she can get up and down from anywhere. Of course, I’m saying this while she shot even par the entire time I followed her around, and 5 under on Friday, while I was not. Maybe I was the problem!
After Jee Young’s round, I shook her father’s hand behind the 18th green grandstands and wished his family well. He thanked me for the support and it was then that I started to feel the inevitable feeling I knew I would get. I had the same feeling the prior two years when the Safeway Classic was coming to an end. I knew that I would have to say goodbye. I cannot tell you how much I love attending this event. That’s exactly what it is. It’s an event. So many people working together to make this all happen and such dazzling displays of excellent golf all wrapped up in a package full of heart, excitement, drama and substance. I will take solace in following my old favorites and now my new favorites on the LPGA.com leader boards and on Golf Channel at the CN Canadian Women’s Open next week, but I really wish I could leave town with everyone and continue the ride. Until next summer.
Saturday, August 18, 2012 – Round 2
Whew! Another epic day. My plan was clear today, and I was on my own for this one, so there was no dissuading me of my set goals.
8:21 AM: Leta Lindley, Alison Walshe and Jennie Lee off of #10 tee.
I have made no bones about my longtime fandom of Leta and after a +1 round one, I was thinking a few birdies and she could get herself back into this thing! Plus there’s Alison Walshe, who I am not overly familiar with, who impressed yesterday while following her around. Heck she bounded her golf ball into my friend Ryan on the par 3 11th hole en route to a double bogey and still rebounded to shoot magnificent 5 under 67. This grouping included the tiny and young Jennie Lee, who fought to a 3 over 74 in round one and I wanted to see her pull through and make the cut as well.
My arrival was met with some dark clouds overhead and a serious chill in the air. I didn’t actually think it was possible after the last few days of scorching heat. I watched about three groups tee off from the 10th hole to start the second round and in between found time to watch and learn from these girls as they practiced and warmed up. It was eerily quiet out, maybe due to the dark skies and increased intensity as we draw nearer cut day and the final round. The theme for the day played itself out right away as I trailed along behind my threesome. The course was going to play tougher and players would find more bogeys along with their search for birdies. It was a day where most players seemed to be grinding. The holes seemed to have a smaller circumference. After yesterday’s multiple 67’s and 68’s littering the scoreboard – those types of rounds today landed a couple of strokes higher. The cut line fell from +1 to start the day to +3 by days’ end. This AM group was not immune. Alison Walshe immediately jumped straight up the leader board to a tie for second place by getting to -7 with her remarkable holed bunker shot on the uphill 13th hole. But it was the loose iron shot that dropped into that bunker that proved to be a sign, as she began to struggle over the remainder of the front 9 – eventually dropping four of those shots back. However, like she did after the double bogey yesterday, Alison fought back and birdied her final two holes to finish her round at even par and stayed within shouting distance of Mika Miyazato’s outstanding -11 lead. Leta Lindley’s putting looked much sharper this morning, after not giving many a good run yesterday afternoon. She had some early impressive par saves and eventually worked her way down to -1 overall after rolling in a long downhill slider on the par 5 8th hole (her 17th). Unfortunately, she gave that stroke back with back to back loose approach and greenside chip shots on the 9th to close at even par. Lastly, the drama of trying to make the cut struck its unforgiving head again. Jennie Lee hung in there all morning, but she could not get a put to go down until finally she rolled in a medium length putt on the second hole and she let out a huge sigh of relief and held her arms upright in triumph. She had burned so many edges on the greens that I’m sure she was convinced that she would never make one again. Unfortunately, her ability to keep grinding started to fade down the stretch and this young girl scored another +3 75. She definitely has a solid all around game. I will be rooting for her down the line.
|Dori Carter and her dad|
1:32 PM: Dori Carter, Jennifer Rosales, and Jee Young Lee off of #10 tee.
As I mentioned in the first post from Thursday, I was a caddie for the Pro-Am group that featured the shy South Korean, Jee Young Lee. I could not have been more impressed and after hearing about her shooting 67 on Friday, I knew I had to follow her group in the afternoon. Luckily, they were teeing off within 15 minutes of seeing my first grouping home and getting to wish Alison and Leta good luck for the final round. I still cannot believe that Leta is retiring at the end of the season. I hadn’t seen Jennifer Rosales in several years, since she had a couple of wins earlier in the 2000s. She still sports those fluorescent colors and the headband. She started at +2, so I knew she would be grinding to make the cut. Finally, I had never heard of Dori Carter until she popped up on the leader board while I was wandering around with the Ai Miyazato, I.K. Kim and Sandra Gal grouping. Turns out she’s another young American girl just getting her first full season in on the big stage. What an up and down day! Dori, the youngest of the group actually played the most consistent and level round. She started at -3 and finished the day at -4. There were a few hiccups along the way, but she always found a way to bounce back. She has an impressive all around game and kept her composure throughout. Jennifer was in full on grind mode today. Her stern expression showed her determination. She hit some really solid shots, but like so many players today, she faded down the stretch. She had fought back all the way to even par, but lost shots over three of the last four holes. It was frustrating, but I’m glad she managed to slide in under the cut line. She earned a pay day for sure. My new girl, Jee Young Lee, had me mesmerized and dumbfounded all day. She missed a super short birdie putt on the par 5 10th hole to begin the day, burned the edge on 11 and 12 and then dropped in a missile on 13 for a tap in birdie. After a long wait in the long downhill par 3 14th hole, she hit way right of the green, but managed a dazzling up and down for a par. Her flop shot was phenomenal! She almost pulled off a birdie! She followed with a routine birdie on 15 and I’m envisioning following her in the final group on Sunday. It was then that her swing began to fail her. She dropped shots on 17, 18, 4, and 6, all the while squandering some chances on the finishing back to back par 5’s of the front nine. It was late in the round that I realized that I was the only non player parent in the gallery. I had met Jee Young Lee’s father by association during the Pro-Am, so I introduced myself officially. It was later that I realized that Dori Carter’s parents were also there to support their girl. I honestly don’t know how they do it. I live and die with each shot as a spectator. It is so devastating when a bogey or worse is carded and my heart races with excitement when they drop in a birdie. I am not a parent, but I’m not sure I could take it if I had a son or daughter out trying to be a professional golfer. As a recreational golfer, I realize how incredible difficult and frustrating the game is. The helpless feeling of watching from outside the ropes might be too much for me to take. Having said that, I am impressed by the quiet support so many of these women receive from loving parents and they clearly have raised honorable people to be proud of. Like I’ve mentioned before, these ladies are so easy to root for, because they are all such great people.
The big final round is all that’s left! The headlines will have Yani Tseng, Christie Kerr and Paula Creamer in the chase to pass the as yet winless Mika Miyazato (though she has been all over the leader boards for the last year). It should play out in exciting fashion. I think I will start off the day by watching my girls from the last few days and then park myself near the 18th green and watch the drama unfold.
Friday, August 17, 2012 – Round 1
The Safeway Classic finally got underway officially this morning at 7:15 and I’m pretty sure it was already about 70 degrees outside. Last time, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Chris Gilliland and I have two major hobbies: listening to and collecting music and playing and watching golf. Is that really four things? I am a lifelong north westerner. I grew up in Portland and on the Oregon coast, so having back to back 100 degree days is something we’re not used to in these parts – especially if managing it involves walking several miles over sloping hills out on a golf course. By the end of my day out there, all I could think about was that guy from the mini mart ads from the late 90s, where the guy is sitting on the front sidewalk, with his saggy shorts and knobby knees sticking up, slurping down a huge cup of soda, all the while holding a Popsicle and it looks as though these are not his first. The ad then shows a woman, who is apparently his wife approaching from the parking lot. She questions him by saying: “I thought you were going for a run?” and he looks up at her with squinty eyes and shouts “I GOT HOT!” This is my roundabout way of saying it was really hot out there today and that phrase was shouted a lot between my friend Ryan and I. The players seemed to thrive in it, but they see this stuff nearly every week all year long.
Anyway, there were several marquee groupings scheduled to head out for their opening rounds off of the parallel 1st and 10th tees between 8:45 and 9:15. Ryan and I decided to follow the Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson group. We knew it would be a popular one, since they are all American sweethearts and all tour winners, but that’s why we wanted to follow them. Kerr and Creamer have been shut out for over two years now, but are both seemingly always near the top by the end of each week. Lexi is still extremely young and gifted with limitless and talent and an athletic stature that are remarkable. I cannot believe that she’s still a teenager! All three started out with solid birdies on 10 and away we went. Aside from some early missed scrambles by Lexi, all three players impressed and played very confident and enjoyable golf and all of them finishing the day under par – headlined by Kerr’s 6-under 66. In fact, it seems as though a lot of players played well today. The course must’ve been up for grabs, though having played Ghost Creek at Pumpkin Ridge several times now, I’m not sure how. Oh yeah, these gals are really good.
The entire tournament after day one is up for grabs as 28 players are within five shots of the lead after one round. This is quite a change from last year when the course played like a US Open course. I was surprised to see some names pop up on the leader boards spaced out every few holes that I did not recognize. Sydnee Michaels, a tour rookie, amazingly started off her round birdying the 10th through 14th holes to go five under immediately! That is phenomenal playing for sure. Once we had made the turn with this superstar threesome and watched them navigate the 1st hole (their 10th), all the while picking up more and more spectators, we decided to back off a bit and watch the grouping directly behind, which in itself was full of headliners: Ai Miyazato (past champ!), I.K. Kim and the statuesque Sandra Gal, but a lot fewer followers. We were also sidetracked on the second tee box as this mysterious Sydnee Michaels was finishing up on the 17th hole now at 6-under. Too be honest, it gets a little much for me sometimes. There are so many players that I want to see and yet I prefer following groups as opposed to staying at one hole and watching a sampling of everyone. It is the biggest dilemma of every live golf spectator. We finished the front nine with this second group and enjoyed their solid play immensely – again, all of them finishing under par.
The course is once again in incredible condition and is playing firm and fast, but I was surprised to see that the set-up crew changed the par 4 difficult 9th hole back to a par 5 for the tournament, by playing it from the tips (474 yards). I remember it causing major logjams in 2010 because that gave the layout three consecutive par 5’s – two of them consistently reachable. I do remember hearing controversial rumblings about last year’s playing as a par 4 as well. The concern in 2011 was that the tee was up too far, so the players were forced to lay-up from the tee and then have a really long and dangerous approach to a water guarded green. It wouldn’t bother me if they just removed that hole completely, because it has eaten my lunch and my golf balls repeatedly. The back-up didn’t seem too unreasonable today, so maybe they’ve sorted that issue out somehow. We’ll see how the weekend plays out.
After watching Gal, Miyazato and Kim finish up and getting rehydrated, Ryan and I headed out to catch my favorite Leta Lindley finish up on the first hole. I have always liked Leta. She’s around my age, and I developed a little crush on her back when she first made a run at the U.S. Women's Open in 1995, I believe. Ever since then, I started paying a bit more attention to the LPGA in general, and to her career in specific. If she was in the hunt, I would find a way to tune in. Last year was the first time I actually got to see her play in person and now that I hear that she is retiring from competitive golf, I decided that I’d better get out after her again. This weekend will be my last chance. Leta was fighting her putting on the front nine, first by missing some makeable birdie attempts and then by missing a couple of par saves. It was breaking my heart. She managed to fight and stay in the game by finishing up at +1. Sadly, Ryan and I ran out of gas by the 12th hole. It was nearing 6 pm and we had been out there for nearly 11 hours during some trying conditions. It was time to get away while we were close to the exit off from the 12th green. I always feel like I’m betraying the players when I leave their group. I know that I have nothing to do with how they play, but I pull for them so hard, that I feel a tinge of guilt when I walk away.
Tomorrow I will not walk away. Leta’s group is scheduled to head out in the morning and now that our previous days’ Pro from the Pro-Am, Jee Young Lee, continued her brilliant play and carded a 5 under 67, I will seek her group out in the early afternoon and try and pull her through to another great round. It’s going to be another busy one and tomorrow is cut day, so it will be an emotional roller coaster to watch the players at the top scramble for position into the final round and watch the incredible rarely seen drama of the players fighting for a paycheck.
Thursday, August 16, 2012 – Pro-Am
I have been looking forward to this day for what seems like forever! The first time I attended the Safeway Classic, not too far from my home, was in 2010, and it was there that I fell in love. That year, I attended for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday. Last year, I took time off from work to check out the scene at Thursday’s Pro-Am and then spent all of Friday and Saturday out on the course following groups for full rounds, while taking a nice and easy six or seven hours of trekking during the final round. I have always been a golf fan, but it wasn’t until I went out there to see these amazing women in person that I realized that I absolutely loved this experience! Anyone that knows me can attest, because I rarely shut up about it. Several months ago, I signed up to be a volunteer caddie for today’s Pro-Am. I wasn’t sure how it would work. My mental picture varied from me mishandling the clubs of some CEO of potato chips to getting the chance to caddie for a top ten player and having them decide that I’m so good at it that they would want me to join them for the rest of the season. I always thought I had the goods to be a great caddie, but I don’t know how one goes about becoming a professional caddie. Turns out I may not be so good, as I dumped the bag over for my unfortunate amateur partner, David Spohr from Safeway, while looking for a ball I didn’t find. But that’s okay, because we had a good time.
|Jee Young Lee|
Our professional leader, starting out just after noon on a day that was destined for triple digit temperatures, was the South Korean Jee Young Lee and never have I seen anyone drive the ball so consistently straight and so far! Our four amateurs all seemed to be returning veterans of the event and were listed as coming from Mike’s Hard Lemonade, but I’m not sure how that works. There was Brian, who went by ‘Mike” and Pat, who clearly had some game, but was looking for swing tips from Jee Young’s caddie Kenny throughout the day. There was my guy David, who I knew had some skills, but he was hampered by my lackluster lagging behind performance. And finally, we had Jim in our group, who had so many golf one-liners that I was reduced to multiple laughing fits and some that mercifully ended after gasping breaths and tears. There’s no way I can duplicate his delivery on paper, or in any other format for that matter, but after Pat took Jee Young’s spectacular drive on the par 5 15th hole and ran a perfect 3-wood up to about a foot for a tap in eagle from 220 yards, Jim suggested that Pat steal Jee Young’s orange shirt to play in the tournament for her. It was a ‘had to be there’ moment, but I definitely plan to bust out a few of his lines next time I golf with the crew. Pat also hit almost all of his tee shots directly at Jee Young’s father who was following along quietly all afternoon. He didn’t seem to mind shagging the wayward shots for the guys after dodging them. Among us caddies were Jana, who got us all signed up to volunteer to begin with (thank you!); Ryan, whom I’ve known forever and is my main golfing buddy (his game is supposed to get really good, so I can caddie professionally for him); and there was Gina, or, as she became known as the day went on, “Snacks.” Snacks left the event late this afternoon with maybe a life time supply of granola bars.
Honestly, at first, I was a tad nervous about the entire scenario, but golf almost always proves to be an equalizer. It brings people from all walks of life together and it’s out there on the golf course that we realize that we have the same lot in life and that no matter how solid and far one hits their drive; Jee Young Lee will hit hers straighter and farther. Did I mention what a driving exhibition she put on? Going in, a part of me wanted to get in a group with one of my many favorite professionals, so I could get up close and personal. I was familiar with Jee Young and am now happy to have another player on my must watch list. She has a warm smile, a strange adversarial and intriguing relationship with her caddie, and has an amazing tee to green game. We actually didn’t get a strong sense of her short game or her putting because she hit so many shots in tight in the first place. She won all eight of us over while following her around in the burning heat and she was gracious to spend a few minutes with us afterwards handing out autographed golf balls and signing pictures and hats and our volunteer handler’s shirt and shorts (shorts are for caddie signatures only – apparently) who was waiting for us at the end of the round. This was fantastic fun and I have a sneaking suspicion that similar positive experiences were had by all, because I have not yet run across an LPGA player who isn’t absolutely gifted with a humble and easy going attitude when dealing with the rest of us.
I’m not sure if I’ll do this volunteer caddie gig again, but I recommend it as a must do activity for anyone who loves golf. Now I wonder if David would give me a letter of recommendation for the professional caddie job I need to apply for. Maybe next year I’ll be able to find a different volunteer job to do. It’s so much fun to feel a part of the action in some small way.
The real action begins bright and early tomorrow and will go until nearly dusk. The forecast for a hot and humid day and I cannot wait to get back out there.