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TEE TIME: Notes from PGA Valhalla

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Tee Time

By Dennis George

Paying to volunteer not that bad a deal

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It takes a lot of volunteers to stage such a massive event as the PGA. People to work in the gift shops to take care of the customers wanting souvenirs. Marshals on every hole to keep patrons away from the players and manning the crosswalks. Scorekeepers to keep everyone up to date on the leaderboards.

And when you tell someone that you must pay to be a volunteer, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy.

Springfield native and former St. Joe Prep student Richard RoBards was one those people who forked over $190 for the privilege of working.

“It’s really not that bad of a deal,” he said. “I get two shirts and a pullover that I probably would have bought in the gift ship anyway. And they give us vouchers so that we can get bottles of water and meals. And if you look at the prices of stuff, that’s a good deal.”

RoBards said that it is a way to get close to the action to see the best golfers in the world.

Depending on the position, a volunteer will work four or more hours in a location but is free to watch golf the rest of the time. He gets a seven-day pass to the tournament. Hole marshals will work four of those shifts while RoBards will work four seven-hour shifts as an area captain.

“My job is to make sure that things go smoothly on the course,” he explained. “On Tuesday, I had to guard a beehive behind No. 4 green to make sure people wouldn’t get stung. Early in the morning, I take the hole captains out to their holes so that they can get set up.”

 

You never know whom you’ll run into with such huge crowds. Sitting in the media tent stuffing my face, I noticed an older gentleman at the next table. It was renowned Sports Illustrated golf writer John Garrity.

We talked about Valhalla, and why most national pundits rip the PGA for bringing three of their tournaments and the Ryder Cup to a course that is not held in high esteem by some.

“It’s not the golf course,” Garrity said. “It’s a great course. But because the PGA owns Valhalla, they get criticized because some look at it as their way of being able to make more money. It’s more of the process than the course.”

He added that some writers (himself not included) believe the majors should be played only at the iconic courses of years ago.

 

Tiger Woods might be the most popular golfer in the world, but Phil Mickelson might be the most loved.

After his practice round on Tuesday, he spent nearly an hour signing autographs from the bridge that spanned from the 18th green to the clubhouse. Fans were holding up hole flags, caps and oversized golf balls for the former PGA winner to sign. He was all smiles as he kept reaching down for more items to autograph. And everyone got a big laugh when Brandt Snedeker walked by Mickelson and handed him a cap to sign.

Tiger could take some lessons in PR.

 

It was pretty neat to watch so many of the pros take the time to sign autographs for the fans as they would leave a green and walk to the next tee box.

Most of them had their own permanent markers and would start signing as young and old golf fans held up various objects for a signature.

Several of them would go up one side of the ropes that made up the walkways and back down the other to make the fans happy.

However, I did notice the signatures of many of the players. They did not follow Arnold Palmer’s advice. And we all know he probably has signed more autographs than any other athlete.

He’s told many young players, “Take your time and write your name legibly where they can ready it.”

 

Some of the professionals do not stay in hotels while in town for the tournament. Many bring an entourage of family and friends to help pass the time.

The rumor floating around says Tiger Woods is paying from $25,000 to $40,000 to rent a house near Valhalla. I heard that there were three pages of requirements. The homeowner had to move his clothes out of the closets, the food out of the refrigerator, and install a window covering that would not allow fans to see inside. There was some discussion as to whether Tiger would insist on a certain type of bed.

 

Kentuckian Kenny Perry had setbacks in two majors that are the type normally reserved for Greg Norman.

He had a two-stroke lead when he stepped on the 18th tee in the 1996 PGA at Valhalla. It’s a par-5 hole that he says is a driver and a mid-iron to the green.

Not only did he bogey the hole in regulation that allowed Mark Brooks’ closing birdie to force a playoff, he did it again in sudden death.

“That’s a hole that I could have been putting for eagle and ended up with a 10-footer for par,” he said. “I struggled to make a par when I could have made birdie.”

Of course, Perry had one sleeve in a green jacket in 2009 before he stumbled with bogeys on the final two holes before losing to Angel Cabrera in a playoff.

He said those losses could have propelled him into the golf Hall of Fame.

“That would have given me 16 wins and two majors, and Freddy Couples got in the Hall of Fame with 15 wins and one major.”

The PGA extended to Perry a special invitation to this year’s tournament. And he said he appreciated the reception that he received from the fans. He signed a lot of autographs on Tuesday.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was my way of saying ‘thank you’ for 30 years of support. I was playing and the fans were hollering the little towns in Kentucky that they were from.”

 

When we last saw Padraig Harrington at Valhalla in 2008, he was the leader of the European Ryder Cup team.

He had won the Open Championship for the second straight year and also won the 2008 PGA.

What a difference a few years can make.

As the Irishman played his practice round on Tuesday, he was like an obscure club pro. There were very few people watching his group. Not the type of attention that a three-time major winner should receive.

Even John Daly received more love than Harrington.

 

Practice rounds for the professionals are just that.

They don’t go out and try to shoot a low score. Instead, they putt to various locations on the greens to get a feel for possible pin positions.

Caddies and coaches would put a tee in the ground (some used a white piece of material the size of a hole) and the golfer would move from spot to spot.

Many of them would take some swings from the rough around the green to test the Kentucky bluegrass.

 

Dennis George is a contributing writer for The Kentucky Standard and can be reached at dmg11854@gmail.com.