Friday, May 21, 2010

A Day at Sybase Match Play-My First LPGA Event

They were this close. Probably accessible too if you approached them at the end of their match, but I wouldn’t have dared disturb anyone’s focus during play. I could have reached and touched Julie Inkster as she walked past me off the 12th green at the Sybase Match Play Championship yesterday. Morgan Pressel was talking with folks in front of the club house after round. She was ten feet away from me. Standing in line to get a five dollar hot dog, one of the volunteers proudly exclaimed that Ms. Pressel had signed his hat.

One thing that immediately struck me was that the women were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls on the fairway. One of the volunteers exclaimed (with some trepidation) that the fairways were still wet from the prior day’s rain. Didn’t look that bad to me, but hey, I wasn’t out there. Rules are rules and why not take whatever advantage comes your way.

I followed Morgan Pressel for a few holes when we first arrived as she hit the 10th hole. She was down 3 and steely faced, focused on her task at hand. She rallied got the job done in extra holes over Jimin Kang.

We stayed put on the 10th hole to wait for Juli Inkster. Juli is one of my all time favorite golfers. She is a fierce competitor and I love watching her play. She was pitted against Suzann Petterson. Petterson has had 4 top 3 finishes in 2010, so clearly she stands out as a golfer, but from what I witnessed on the golf course yesterday, she has a long way to go as a true competitor. After missing a putt on the 11th hole, she stormed off the green, walking up the hill towards the cart path while Juli was still putting out. In an “oops” moment – probably realizing the giant camera was watching - she paused half way up to turn around and see if Juli made the putt (she did not). Petterson’s prima donna persona didn’t win her a fan base yesterday. Would that it were the only incident – but she did the same thing a couple of holes later. Maybe a long conversation with Butch Harmon is in order before clubs start flying. In the end, Inkster made a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th to force extra holes, then finished off Pettersen with a 4-foot par putt on the par-3 third. I was rooting for Inkster before seeing Petterson’s antics, but that just sent my Inkster fandom into overdrive for the day.

I really wanted to see Christina Kim, since I follow her on Twitter, but by the time I caught up to her she arrived at the 16th green down 3 to Jee Young Lee. A missed putt sent her packing for the day.

I next caught up with Christie Kerr on the 10th tee. She was exciting to watch. Interestingly, she was followed by a police officer her entire round. She has a beautiful swing and can really hit a long ball. Putts well, very focused and takes her time over every shot. I followed her through the 14th hole, where she maintained her lead over Meaghan Francella. despite Meaghan’s spectacular chip in on 14. Kerr topped Meaghan Francella 4 and 3 to win the match.

While I was off following Christie Kerr, my friend, who had had enough walking, was parked at the 10th green and thrilled at seeing Michelle Wie sink a birdie putt to win the hole. Wie birdied 11th hole to birdie to regain her lead against Prammanasudh. Wie pulled off another birdie at 16, sinking a 30 foot putt on the par-3 hole, and went on to win the match with another birdie at 18. Tough stuff.

The spectators were mostly spectacular. Extremely polite, although there were a few talkers who needed extra shushing during putting. One thing about golfers is that when you’re with others who enjoy the sport, you can strike up a conversation with them even if you don’t know them. Love of the game, the players and the magic associated with success on that big green field is a common bond. Everyone was so friendly.

Standing at the 18th green, my friend and I chatted with a man who attended with his 12 year old daughter, who proudly boasted her 25 handicap. She got to take advantage of Michelob’s Front Row Experience – which offered 10 Minute Lessons with the Pros. She was beaming over the experience.

Walking up to the 16th green, I watched Nicole Castrale sink a putt that kept her alive for another hole (she lost on the next to Song-Hee Kim). It was there that I met a 14 handicapper fellow up from Virginia who had played the day before in the ProAm with Ms. Castrale. He regaled at the experience, the accessibility, and the warm heartedness of the LPGA players during the round.

It was a great day. My first day ever seeing the professionals play. I overheard one of the men commenting that if this were the PGA, you’d never get this close to the players. I feel lucky to have been there and to be that up close and personal to some of golf’s greats. Thanks Sybase Match Play folks for the ticket gift (Twitter win!). It was superb. I’d do it again if I didn’t have to work today.