I am in Akron, Ohio today at what is now called—let’s see if I get this right, “The World Golf Championships—Bridgestone Invitational.”
Once, this was The World Series of golf and it was a four man event—the four players being the winners of that year’s majors. Now it has a field of about 100, a huge purse and—much to the delight of the locals and CBS—Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Woods is here because he loves the golf course (six wins) and decided to play two straight tournaments prior to next week’s PGA since his win two weeks out, skip a week and then play a major strategy has bombed this year. Mickelson, of course, is coming back after his wife Amy’s surgery for breast cancer and will be treated—as he should—as a returning hero.
That’s not why I’m here though. In fact, for me, the presence of Tiger and Phil just means more security, more crowds and more media. I understand their importance to the game—CBS’s rating for the Buick Open went up a ridiculous 167 percent with Woods leading on Sunday—but more often than not, they aren’t my job.
My job the next two days is Ben Curtis and Mike Weir. I am wrapping up the research on a book I’m writing on the 2003 major championships. The winners that year were Weir, Jim Furyk, Curtis and Shaun Micheel. The latter two had never won on the PGA Tour and came completely out of nowhere; Weir had won but wasn’t known anywhere outside Canada except by golf geeks. People knew Furyk, but he’d never won a major. The book is about sudden fame and how it changes your life and how people—including family, friends, agents—deal with it.
It’s been fascinating to work on. I was supposed to do what I call my “exit,” interviews—the wrap-up talks to tie up all loose ends—with Curtis, Micheel and Weir at Congressional five weeks ago, very convenient since Congressional is two miles from my house. Heart surgery got in the way that week so here I am. I’ll have to go to Greensboro in a couple weeks to catch up with Micheel because he’s not playing here.
The great thing about covering golf is that, in most cases, the guys are almost always cooperative. They give you their cell numbers and return your calls—eventually. With luck, I will finish the reporting in two weeks and, since the book is about 60 percent written, finish writing it by the end of September for publication in the spring.
Since I’m back at a golf tournament, a word today on parking. At any sports event, parking is an issue. Some places—like the Masters—its simple: you have a press credential they give you parking, easy walking distance to the front gate. Other places—the U.S. Open for example—there is, for all intents and purposes, no media parking.
I’m a control freak. I don’t like waiting for shuttle buses or being dependent on others. I like to walk out after a day of work and get me in my car. Am I spoiled? You bet. The only person more spoiled than I am is my friend Tony Kornheiser who won’t go to an event unless he gets what he calls, “Feinstein parking.”
Last February on a Saturday morning I’d just finished working out when my phone rang. It was my pal Sally Jenkins. She was in town and she and Tony wanted to go to that day’s Maryland game to, “show Gary support.” No doubt the two of them walking in would mean the end of any further controversy involving Coach Gary Williams.
“Why don’t you go with us?” she said.
“I’m going to another game,” I said.
There was a pause. “Can we have your parking pass?”
The real reason for the call. “Sure you can,” I said. “But it isn’t on the loading dock (right next to the back door) where Tony likes to park. You’ll have to walk about 50 yards.” (Since I rarely go to Maryland games these days the only time I’d ask Gary for a spot on the loading dock would be if I HAD to go and it was snowing or freezing cold).
Sally called back soon after to say they didn’t need the pass. Tony had called Gary a few hours before tipoff and Gary had gotten him onto the loading dock.
Here in Akron, my friend Slugger White, who is a long-time rules official, handed me my parking lot at dinner last night. That meant I slept well. I wouldn’t have to go to a will call window and have someone look at me blankly, or try to talk my way through to get to the media center and be handed a pass. I just get in the car and go.
My favorite parking memory took place at the 2002 U.S. Open. That’s the one at Bethpage Black I wrote the book about called, “Open.” When David Fay, the executive director of the USGA agreed to give me access to his staff and meetings before and during the Open I told him I needed one more thing: clubhouse parking. I was going to be arriving before 6 a.m. each morning and not leaving until very late. I wasn’t going to mess with shuttles.
He agreed. And so, at the most secure event in sports history—it was 35 miles from ground zero nine months after 9-11—I made it through about eight check points each morning to the clubhouse lot. One morning as I pulled into a mostly empty lot, I saw a Buick pulling in a few spots down from where I was pulling in.
Tiger Woods, arriving early to practice. I gave him a casual wave as I got out of the car. I can only imagine what thoughts ran through his mind. I guarantee you they weren’t, ‘gee, I’m sure glad the USGA took care of John.”
Of course he couldn’t have been TOO upset. He won that week going away.