The grandeur of a U.S. Open is carefully plotted
PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF.
Because Washington has hosted a pro golf tournament almost every summer for the past 30 years, the city's fans justifiably feel that they understand the experience of the sport at a high level. From the days when Greg Norman and Tom Kite won the Kemper Open to the AT&T National with K.J. Choi, Anthony Kim and host Tiger Woods as champs, the area has gotten to witness almost every great star of the last generation at arm's length.
But what we've shared in that time, enjoyable as it has been, has simply not been comparable to the sine qua non of American golf -- the U.S. Open. Only once in the past 46 years, back in '97, has the most excruciating, demanding and important event in all of golf come to Washington and the elegant Congressional Country Club. But next June it will again. And the palpable sense of excitement has already started, because every aspect of this week's Open at Pebble Beach has reinforced the majesty, magic and malevolence of this event.
Events in the middle rounds of an Open, like the 66s here by Phil Mickelson on Friday and Tiger Woods on Saturday, feel as thrilling at the time and evoke roars as outlandish as at victories at any normal PGA Tour event. Personal histories get rewritten and fresh protagonists, such as leader Dustin Johnson, who enters Sunday three shots ahead of Graeme McDowell, come into focus before we even reach the last day.
For those who've watched or worked for decades as Washington doggedly established itself in the elite Open rotation, the rewards are now just a year away.
"For several years, we've been in the on-deck circle, getting ready for our turn," said Ben Brundred III, Congressional's co-chairman of the '11 Open.
"But now, since this Open is actually underway, we're finally at bat," said Paul Klinedinst, the other co-chairman. Both men have been in town this week to pick up tips, but, most of all, to soak up the utterly outsize ambiance that gives all Opens an aura that intimidates players and inspires stunned galleries with a fresh sense of what golf can be.
"Our task," Klinedinst said, "is to build a city for a week."
For example, after visiting here, the Congressional folks now know that next June, they will need 18 tractor trailers, all of them 53-footers. That doesn't sound like an awful lot.
"But that's just to supply the merchandise tent," Klinedinst said.
That hints at U.S. Open scale. Everything that's for sale or on display, everything to eat or wear, is set much farther back from the actual golf course, preserving the beauty of a venue that has been deemed one of the dozen best in the country. From Congressional's massive clubhouse, nothing commercial will be visible to those gazing down the water-guarded 18th hole -- just the sweeping, tree-lined golf course and packed grandstands.
But the USGA, golf's governing body, also requires sites that have enormous grounds surrounding them, or entire extra golf courses onto which their extravaganza, designed to sell or celebrate every aspect of the game, can sprawl at will. If you wander at a U.S. Open, trying demo clubs, reading about golf courses of the future or buying your 17th towel for a friend, it's guaranteed that, fairly soon, you'll be so disoriented that you'll say, "Where the hell is that 7,532-yard golf course? I've lost it." Total morning-until-nightfall kingdom-of-golf immersion, all burnished and grandiose: That's the Open's goal.