June 28, 2002
Kevin Conlon and I reached Bethpage State Park early Sunday morning, well before the first pairing in the final round began play at 9:40 a.m. We decided to walk around and see some of the course, and then return to the last hole to watch everyone finish.
We ended up in the stands on the 18th, five rows back from the front edge, looking out over the center of the green.
The 18th at Bethpage Black was no gimme on the tournament’s last day. The hole location for the 418 yard par 4 sat in a classic sucker spot toward the back of the green, with an adjacent huge bunker ready to gather shots that were not only too bold but too right.
As the golfers completed their final round, I was impressed in two respects:
First, it was obvious that almost all of the players tried very hard to finish with at least a par, if not a birdie, no matter how far down they were on the leaderboard. Second, many players showed a keen sense of their role as sports entertainers. Here are some examples:
When John Daly drove into the left fairway bunker, the crowd groaned slightly as he simply punched out for his second shot instead of trying for the green. The fans roared their approval, however, when he stuck his third shot to 6 feet, and made the putt for par. They clapped even louder when he blew a kiss to the crowd, which also earned him a standing ovation.
Donnie Hammond’s drive was a bit shorter than most, but made the fairway. His long iron approach drifted right, into the greenside bunker. From my seat five rows up in the center stands, I could only see the top of his head as he blasted out to only 6 inches from the hole. It was the best up-and-down from that bunker all day, and he grinned broadly as he tapped in for par.
Corey Pavin showed why he’s a perennial favorite of golf fans, despite his own troubles on the course. He came to the 18th hole 8 over par for the day, well down the list. After slinging a shot from the fairway to a spot 20 feet left and a bit above the hole, he walked up the steep hill toward the green. Somehow, Pavin appeared to shrink as he neared the front fringe. The reason became obvious almost immediately—he was literally crawling onto the green, as if he’d been completely beaten down by the difficult course. The crowd roared with laughter.
As he lined up his putt, Pavin’s caddie called out “Quiet, please!” in a voice that cut through the din. The grandstands silenced immediately, leaving only a sharp buzzing noise coming from a small plane pulling a banner overhead announcing that “MERRILL LYNCH DISCRIMINATES AGAINST WOMEN!”
(It did not appear that the fans at Bethpage were at all impressed by this message.)
Pavin put a finger to his lips, and pointed his putter in the air while looking back at the caddie, as if to have him silence the plane. The crowd laughed heartily at the pantomime, and then gave Pavin and playing partner Kevin Sutherland another standing ovation as they completed their rounds.
As Nick Price and Craig Stadler finished up, the clouds rolled in and the rain poured down. As soon as the announcers told us we had to leave the stands, a clap of thunder underscored the point.
Conlon and I decided that we should go home at that point, since we had a long way to go and no way to know how long the rain delay would last.
We were in the middle of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge when Tiger rolled in his final putt to win the Open. We reached the Cape Region just before midnight.
What a great weekend!