For this week’s travel themed article I did not have to go far. For the last few years, my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky has been preparing for a major sporting event. No, not the Derby (although that’s a different story—if you want more info read an article I wrote about the Derby here), not an annual University of Kentucky versus University of Louisville football or basketball game, and no, we are not finally getting an NBA or NFL team.
No, “This Is Major”!
Aka, the 2014 PGA Championship! Yes! Golf! In my own city! A staycation!
Now, I know golf can be a bore to watch, I truly do. I played golf for four years in high school, and I am here to say that just like any other sport, it isn’t for everyone. However, when you know the rules and scoring method of golf, it really isn’t that bad! In fact, I really like it!
Especially this tournament that took place last week. It was filled with dramatic play, rain delays, extensive mud, birdies, birds and an ending that was the best in golf this year.
Valhalla Golf Club was the selected course for the tournament, and it did not disappoint. The course was designed by golfing great, Jack Nicklas and opened in 1986 in Louisville.
The week started off on Monday with practice rounds, Tuesday with the longest drive competition (won by Louis Oosthiezen with a 340 yard drive–wowza), and a scorching hot Wednesday of more practice rounds, but Thursday marked the beginning of official play.
After the first round, Lee Westwood, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Chappell were all tied for the lead with six under par. Rory McIlroy and four other contenders were in the mix as well at five under. It was already looking to be a good fight from many of the sport’s best.
A key highlight from Thursday’s round included McIlroy’s second shot on the par five 10th hole. He had won the past two tournaments he played in, making the PGA his third tournament in three weeks. After his win the week before, he regained the world’s number one golfer title from Australian Adam Scott. Therefore, McIlroy was playing the best golf of his life, so it is only realistic if he hits a bad shot every once in a while, right? Right. On the 10th fairway it was time, and he hit his shot far left and ultimately out-of-bounds. The result was a double bogey, or two over par, and cost him the lead at the end of the day. However, it is extremely important to take golf one shot at a time, and that is eventually what he did, and birdied four of the next eight holes.
Then came Friday, when I was finally able to see some action myself! There was one problem. When I woke up, Louisville was already wet from overnight rain, and the radar showed no signs of it stopping. When my family and I made it out to the course around 12:30, there had been about an hour rain delay and everywhere you looked around the course there was deep mud. It was even still raining softly. My rain coat was definitely a good choice to bring.
The first thing we did was head to the ninth hole to see McIlroy on his final hole of the day. He had teed off earlier in the morning with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer from the 10th hole. This group definitely had the most spectator attention of any other group that day, and we had to carefully walk down a mud hill to see the three hit their second shots and finish the hole on the green. I am not kidding when I say that we were standing ankle-deep in mud, as were the other people on the hill (and there were a lot). My sister fell down in front of me, as did a woman wearing white pants a few minutes later. Whoops! Nothing worse than mud on your butt….
Note: don’t wear light-colored pants to a golf tournament if it has rained, or will rain, that day. Just don’t do it. Bad idea. Bad idea.
Here is a picture my sister snapped a few minutes after she fell:
(TBH I found her fall pretty funny. She laughed about it later, don’t worry)
We were able to see McIlroy sink his birdie putt on hole nine that put him at nine under for the tournament before we cautiously made our way back up the mud hill again and to the fairway of the 10th hole, right where the player’s drives were landing and in front of the Wanamaker Tent. This was more than a tent, however. It was a private area complete with hundreds of tables, chairs and a large TV that was broadcasting the action. Inside the actual tent were bathrooms that were not port-a-potties, food stations and many more TV’s. People could enter if they had tickets like this:
So my sister was able to clean up after her relaxing mud treatment, I was able to get a hot dog and my dad was able to get a beer. Thanks Wanamaker Tent!
There we watched six groups of lesser known golfers go by before the group consisting of Rickie Fowler, Victor Dubuisson and Ernie Els hit their drives. After them was Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood and Adam Scott. Scott’s drive landed twenty feet from us. Let me just say, he is beautiful on TV and even more beautiful in real life and we had a perfect view… <3<3<3<3
After another group came the most popular group of the afternoon, Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. My dad is a huge Mickelson fan, and has two framed newspaper headlines and pictures of him in the kitchen, so it was pretty cool to see him and Tiger in person, rather than on TV or, you know, in a frame in the kitchen.
Both Mickelson and Woods hit their drives to the right and into the crowd, where both of them also hit spectators. Each ball also bounced in the fairway… I know. Super coincidental. However, when each of them reached their balls they signed other balls from their bags and gave them to the two guys each of them hit. It was a nice gesture, especially for the guys that got pelted with a drive from professional golfers. I have been hit by a golf ball before, but there is a big difference between a shot hit by a high school golfer and a 30-40 year old professional…and I thought mine hurt…geez.
After that group was out of sight we tiptoed through the mud again to the right side of the fairway on the 13th hole. We saw the Spieth, Westwood and Scott group hit their second shots onto the island green on the par four. Once Harrington, Woods and Mickelson finished the hole we went into the merchandise tent (that felt more like a mall because of its size) and then passed through our last sinkhole towards the exit.
When we were leaving the sun poked out of the overcast clouds for the first time that day, however, the humidity was still pretty brutal.
When play Friday was finished McIlroy had a one shot lead over Jason Day and Jim Furyk who each had totals of eight under.
Saturday brought sun and fierce competition to Valhalla. By the end of the day, McIlroy still held the lead at 13 under, but had Austrian Bernd Wiesberger at 12 under hot on his trail, plus 10 other players within five shots. The highlight of the day though had to be Jason Day’s second shot on the second hole. Day was playing in the final group with McIlroy and hit his tee shot left, over a creek known as Floyd’s Fork and into thick, tall grass. This area wasn’t a hazard, so Day had to find his ball and hit it. There isn’t a bridge over the creek though, so Day and his caddy took off their shoes and socks and rolled up their pants. They wadded through the shallow water to the other side where Day eventually found his ball, hit the shot without shoes on, and made a par on the hole. It was pretty entertaining to say the least.
Then came the final round, much anticipated after a dramatic week before. The drama was not over though. Heavy rain again delayed play, and ducks were happy all around the course. The final group of McIlroy and Wiesberger didn’t tee off until 4:20 in the afternoon, leaving them with only four hours to play before dark. The race against each other and time became a roller coaster of up and down scores. After each hole there seemed to be a new leader, with Rickie Fowler on top for a few holes and McIlroy dropping to 11 under on the front nine.
The 10th hole proved to be another game changing hole for McIlroy, and he made a putt for eagle, or two under. This put him back in the game with Fowler and Mickelson (who, like Fowler, made key birdies on the front nine). In the end however, McIlroy won the tournament after the sun went down with a total score of 16 under par. “Lefty” (Mickelson) came in second, one behind McIlroy, while Fowler and Henrik Stenson finished at 14 under par, tied for third.
It was a historic week for McIlroy, who joined Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklas as the only three players to ever win four major tournaments by the age of 25. Holy smokes. He was very gracious after his win and since then I have read nothing but nice things about him, Mickelson, Fowler, Louisville, Valhalla and the fans.
All of the players’ hard work and dedication paid off, and the television viewers for the tournament went up about a third. Even though I was only able to go for one day, I still enjoyed following the scores day in and day out from my phone, TV or my trusty dad. It was also nice to see the positive attention the city gained because of the tournament, even with the erratic Louisville weather living up to its’ level of immense unpredictability. As a sports fan, I can say this has been one of my favorite events ever (Louisville Men’s Basketball winning the National Championship in 2013 and the Football Team winning the Sugar Bowl in the same year still are still tied at number one, but I can definitely place this one at number two).
I hope to attend another tournament soon, and in light of Travel Tuesday, I think traveling to a tournament would be a lot of fun! Sure, golf may be boring sometimes, but I hope I have inspired someone to give it a shot.