Golf Has Never Looked So Much Like Us
As Tiger Woods stood on the 18th green at Congressional Country Club yesterday, he slowly took a 360-degree gaze at the scene around him. "I was taking it in," he said. His 1-under-par round of 69 was a frustration to him, leaving him tied for eighth place and unlikely to win his own event. But in every larger sense, Woods and his inaugural signature tournament have already scored a huge victory, surpassing even Tiger's own high expectations, before today's final round even begins.
Yesterday's announced crowd of almost 38,000 was larger than the number of tickets sold for any day of the U.S. Open last month at Oakmont. For the week, attendance has already passed 100,000, with the biggest crowd for today's spectacle yet to come.
Just as important as the size of the crowds Woods and his friends attract is the composition of those throngs. This huge, enthusiastic weekend group, spilling over hillsides and lining almost every hole, was also the most racially and culturally diverse in the 28 years that the PGA Tour has come to Washington. Every part of Washington society, as well as the international community here, has never been so broadly represented. Scientific proof is both impossible and unnecessary. I've covered them all. It's not close.
In fact, Woods's appeal crosses not only races and classes, but gender and age as well. True to the general demographics of golf, Tiger's tourney has drawn more men than women, more whites than people of color and more fans over 30 than under -- but not by the usual margins. The breakdown is fairly close in all those areas. For golf, that's quite a change, and progress.
"It's a very diverse crowd and that's what we want," Woods said proudly. "That's what America is and we want golf to look like America. And if you look in this gallery, that's what you see. That's the beauty of it."
When K.J. Choi, in second place two shots behind Stuart Appleby, has come off the course every day this week, he's been greeted by dozens of fans speaking Korean and asking for autographs.
"Washington, I'm told, had 250,000 Koreans living here," said Choi, who already won Jack Nicklaus's Memorial event this year. "It's probably the third-largest Korean community in the U.S. To have them support me just gives me a lot of strength and confidence."
One concern when Woods announced the date of his event was that a Nationals homestand during Fourth of July week might dilute the area's available sports dollars, with baseball in RFK drawing more than 150,000 this week. No worries, mate.
"The crowd today was bigger than for any round of the U.S. Open in '97," said former Congressional president Ben Brundred III, whose father was chairman of the area PGA stop for many years. The U.S. Golf Association "prints a specific number of tickets, usually 30,000 to 35,000 for the Open, depending on the size of their venue. But we're selling tickets on a walk-up basis to anyone who comes. When there is a long line of fans, it's tough to say, 'Sorry, you're the last one who gets in.'
"So, on Sunday, I guess we're going to see how many people this place will hold. So far, it's been no problem. There are a few bottlenecks that we'll address next year. Some people worried that fans who'd never come to golf before might not know the etiquette. That hasn't been true at all."
Parking at several satellite lots -- all fans arrive at Congressional by shuttle bus -- ran much more smoothly yesterday than Friday. If that's the case, then how many fans can vast Congressional hold, especially because Woods, seven shots behind his buddy Appleby, still has an outside chance if he can approach the course record of 63 today?
Tour events in Phoenix and Dallas are legendary for drawing enormous crowds for what, in essence, are vast cocktail parties as well as golf tournaments, with many (or most) fans never setting foot on the course. That is, unless you really think the announced Saturday crowd of 150,000 in Phoenix in '06 was holding its breath to see if J.B. Holmes could beat J.J. Henry.