Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wegmans LPGA Saturday: The Constructivist Family Goes to Pittsford

Nice to see Seon Hwa Lee making an early move in the third round of the Wegmans LPGA. In a little over an hour, the Full Metal Archivist, onechan, imoto, and I will be leaving UB for Monroe Community College and the shuttle bus to Locust Hill (after a brief stop at Wegmans for lunch and tickets). If I had planned ahead with my uncle sooner, we could have used the 2 free tickets he gave away, but at least he and his daughter will be there, too. We'll probably get to the course too late to see Lee finish, but you never know.... The key thing is, we'll be there in time to catch the end of Ai-chan's round.

[Update 1 (11:21 am): Well, Maria Hjorth finally figured out how to finish a round at Locust Hill--her 66 shows that there are low scores to be had today. And how about that Hee-Won Han finally going low?

[Update 2 (11:38 am): Look who's making a move now--none other than 8A herself! And Mighty Mouse is off to an even hotter start, thanks to an eagle on #1! BTW, nice multimedia course guide from the Democrat and Chronicle. More after we get back from Pittsford!]

[Update 3 (6/22/08, 9:32 am): First, congratulations to Tiffany Joh for winning the Women's Amateur Public Links for the 2nd time in 3 years! Next, the golf at the Wegmans, which of course you mostly miss when you're at the course unless you're parked in front of a scoreboard. But first, shopping! We didn't have the opportunity to do more than buy tickets, diapers, and wipes at the Wegmans in north Buffalo before we had to hit the road, so the cupboards are rather bare this morning!]

[Update 4 (6/23/08, 1:54 am): OK, shopping done, friends entertained, and girls to bed. Back to golf. Still catching up on the webcasts and stories I missed since we left for Locust Hill yesterday afternoon. Hound Dog's highlights and recap are, as always, the place to start. Ben Dobbins does a better job with his moving day AP story, but he's no Sal Maiorana. Also making excellent contributions from the Democrat and Chronicle are Kevin Oklobzija on Eun-Hee Ji, Jim Mandelaro on Hee-Won Han, Jeff Diveronica on Ai Miyazato (although the pronunciation guide he offers to her name is f-ed up--it's mee-yah-zah-toe!), and Scott Pitoniak on Locust Hill's difficulty level.]

[Update 5 (2:14 am): OK, on to the course report. The day was perfect when we left Dunkirk for Buffalo at 8 am and was still fine when we left Buffalo for Pittsford at 1 pm. Although we caught up to a few drizzles as we approached exit 46, there was no rain when we boarded the shuttle bus, so it was a huge surprise to us as we arrived in the entry area/sponsors' tent to see spectators pouring back into it. It didn't take us long to realize, though, that there was a weather delay--the thunder we heard when we made our way outside the tent against the crowd current was another subtle hint. We hung out in the tunnel that connects the 17th green area with the 18th tee area for awhile, and then bounced back and forth between the sponsors' tent (which was shut down during the rain delay--we didn't get to eat that Turkey Hill ice cream until our 3rd try!) and the sports area (tried to give onechan a putting lesson but they were enforcing the 4-putt limit rather rigidly). We got teased by the weather at what turned out to be the halfway point of the delay and were waiting by the 17th green walk-off area (which gave a great view of the pin and fairway) for Shi Hyun Ahn to chip from the greenside rough when the players were called off the course again. But even that experience was enlightening--we realized that imoto couldn't be counted on to remain quiet and that even 40 yards from the green was far too close, so our original plan of camping out there was out. We decided we'd wait for the Natalie Gulbis-Ya Ni Tseng pairing to come through 17 and then follow Ai-chan and Inbee up to the 18th tee, where we'd wait for my uncle and niece, who were following Morgan Pressel in the final group.

As it turned out, they had left the course just as we arrived, so that aspect of the plan went out the window, but we were able--barely--to stick to the rest of it. The thing was, onechan was having a ball at the sports area and didn't want to leave when play resumed. We had to hold her back from doing the maze-obstacle-course inflatable thingie while it was still a drowning hazard, so we actually were bouncing around in the only roofed inflatable structure when the players and caddies were being carted out to the course on the path running parallel to us about 30 yards away. The Full Metal Archivist called out "Ai-chan!" to Ya Ni Tseng before I could stop her, which was not only embarrassing but also made us gun-shy when Ai-chan really went by--but onechan's echo of her mom's call was piercing enough that Ai-chan looked back and waved from 100 yards away! And then, after deciding to avoid the main porta-potties (kusai, kusai!), we were off to the 17th walk-off area, with imoto still refusing to go down for her usual afternoon nap....]

[Update 6 (2:51 am): Got to 17 in time to watch Tseng's explosion from the right-side bunker and both her and Gulbis's putts. Best innocent question of the day came from the FMA after watching Gulbis strut her stuff on the green: "Does she have a back problem?" Later, she did admit that Gulbis was very sexy--and, yes, she is much hotter in person. I'm still appalled that she's one of onechan's 2 favorite players--she may be #1 now after we missed meeting Paula Creamer--after all the pro-Asian indoctrination I've been attempting over the past year. But I did my part by giving Tseng a quick, "Let's go, Ya Ni!" as she walked by us. I was surprised that she looked surprised that someone recognized her, but then I was the only person who said anything to the LPGA Championship winner....

After forcing onechan to go with us around the back of the 17th green rather than head toward the tunnel to follow Gulbis, we made a beeline for the 14th tee, but shifted course when we realized Ai-chan's group had already finished the hole. We got to the 15th green literally just in time to see Ai-chan's approach shot on the par 3 land and back up a foot to come to rest about 15 feet below the pin. By the time she and Inbee got to the green, I was entertaining imoto by lotioning (thanks for those free samples, Aveeno!) and sunblocking her up, but my heart was in my throat as Ai-chan was lining up her putt, b/c imoto could have said or done anything in that stretch. But she stayed quiet and Ai-chan canned it to (as I found out later) make up for her bogey on the previous hole and get back to -10 for the tournament and -2 on the day. I hid imoto behind the grandstand while Park was lining up her tricky downhill par save--and breathed a sigh of relief when she made it.

Then the FMA loaded onechan back on her back and we got as far up the 16th fairway as we could to get as far away from the tee as we could while the players were hitting their drives. We were actually in perfect position to see Ai-chan's drive leak right and get into some tree trouble on the very short par 4 and Inbee's get past the crest of the hill in perfect position to go at the front right pin from the middle of the fairway. Ai-chan had a swing and an angle, but it looked to me like she took a really tentative pass at a punch-fade attempt to thread the needle, avoid the bunkers, and find the front of the green and instead ended up in the rough, short-sided but not having to carry the bunker on the right. She made a fantastic pitch and solid pressure putt to remain at -10 after Inbee nailed her short birdie putt to get to -11.

By that point, we were racing to the top of the hill on the 17th fairway and actually outdistancing those among Ai-chan's Japanese media contingent who had made the same choice as we did, so got to see Park's drive go into jail in the left rough/trees and Miyazato's stay on the left side of the fairway about 10 yards behind Park's. Then it was off to the races again to get as close to the green as we could before the players hit their second shots on the short par 5. If this sounds a little challenging, it was: the players were walking very fast and taking very little time over their shots. They had to wait less than a minute several times for the Christina Kim-Cristie Kerr pairing ahead of them, but overall the pace of play was much faster than I expected. Our sweating paid off, though, as we made it to a rules official's cart about 75 yards short of the green and she entertained onechan and imoto by taking them for a spin while the players were sizing up their shots: Inbee had punched out from the trees to about 100 yards away but was on the right side of the fairway, trying to figure out how to get close to a back right pin on a very banked area of the green and near a greenside bunker; Ai-chan had layed up to about 50 yards shy of the green in the right-center of the fairway, in a kind of low-lying area amid some undulations--she didn't have the perfect angle in, but the bunker affected her approach a little less than Park's. Inbee made a smart play and tried to spin a wedge back off the backboard up in the middle back of the green and let the slope take it back down toward the pin, but it landed soft and stuck instead. It looked to me like Ai-chan chunked her pitch a little--it may have been a little soggier there than she expected, or she may have decelerated just the slightest bit--but in any case she gave herself what looked to be a mid-length uphill-sidehill birdie chance, while Inbee had a tricky downhill-sidehiller from a little further away. Unfortunately, tearing imoto away from the golf cart had the expected effects, so I had to race to the golf cart servicing area far to the right of the green with imoto telling me "no, daddy!" louder and louder with each step, so I didn't see the players 2-putt and had to catch up to the FMA and onechan, who waited for me near the walk-off area.

Didn't see much of the 18th, either, as I had to keep imoto far away from the tee (she was fascinated by the tv camera post near the 10th green) and stay near the pond-side generators powering the 18th-fairway Champions Pavillion area to mask any sounds imoto might make and let onechan burn off some steam from having to stay quiet for so long, but I could tell from the crowd reactions that someone made a bogey. The FMA came back down the hill (she had followed Ai-chan up it to the green) to report that it was Ai-chan.

So all in all a disappointing finish for Ai-chan, as she struggled to par 2 birdie holes after making her birdie on the 15th and then failed to save par on the uphill 18th (much less make her 3rd straight birdie on that tough hole). But a very solid bogey-free 69 for Inbee. And neither imoto nor onechan had turned my worst fears into realities.]

[Update 7 (3:08 am): We hung out at the putting green for a little while and our patience paid off. We watched Ai-chan go around the clock, putting 4-to-6 10-to-12-footers from just about every hour's position to the same hole. What a slow, rhythmic stroke she has! She must have made about half of them and hit an edge at least 90% of the time, and her speed was almost always perfect. When I asked the FMA later what stood out to her about Ai-chan, what she focused on after her leanness and fitness was her rhythm. She was surprised to hear that Ai-chan had been talking about just that in her interviews the 1st 2 rounds. What I realized was that her emphasis even extended to the way she walked on the course, not just her rhythm on her full swings, pitches, and putts. She has a very long stride for such a short person, sets a brisk but effortless-looking pace, and kept to it on every hole. Even though she was struggling a bit while we watched her, she projects a lot of confidence and determination on the course.

Meanwhile, onechan and imoto were entertaining themselves on the hill between the putting green and the traditional calligraphy-quality hand-written scoreboard that you see at all the smaller tournaments, from USGA and state events on down. Imoto tried to go over, through, and around the little white picket fence (plastic) surrounding the scoreboard, so we must have been quite a sight, with me addressing the girls in Japanese when I wasn't watching Ai-chan putt and the FMA and I chasing imoto when she threatened to go around the back of the scoreboard area. At least we were to one American and one Japanese photographer, who couldn't get enough of the girls (although it would have been nice to ask us permission before taking pictures). We certainly got Morgan Pressel's attention--after she told Ai-chan a funny story on the putting green and before she started her own post-round routine, she called onechan over and gave her a golf ball. Turns out she had autographed it for her! So of course as Ai-chan was leaving I had to approach her with nothing but a program for her to sign, and she graciously did, even addressing it to onechan in hiragana. I remember asking onegai shimas (please) but can't for the life of me remember if I thanked her (I assume the arigatou gozaimasu would be so ingrained in me even after almost 10 months away from Fukuoka that I wouldn't necessarily recall saying it, but I could have been so star-struck and embarrassed at the possibility that the girls being there had disturbed Ai-chan's concentration that I might have forgotten to thank her).

So after that, dinner at the Alter Ego family home was a great way to relax--their 2-year-old girl and ours had a ball, so much so that imoto was asleep before we made it (after many wrong turns on my part) back to the Thruway, and onechan fell asleep a half-hour later after we had made it through the 2nd of 3 thunderstorms I had to deal with on the road back to Dunkirk.]

[Update 9 (3:47 am): All in all, the experience was a great one. Not as fun for me personally as seeing the PGA at Oak Hill had been, and I definitely had the feeling of a missed opportunity to see all of Ai-chan's final 5 holes, as the crowds had thinned out quite bit due to the rain delay, but as a first try for taking the girls to a tournament, this was about as much as we realistically could have done, particularly given that the nap-less imoto was a little crankier and whinier than usual. Maybe next year we could plan it a bit better, take advantage of my uncle's access to free tickets, and meet the grandparents out there, so that the FMA, onechan, and I can roam the course a bit more or at least have more back-up when it comes to entertaining imoto. But she'll be a lot easier to reason with by then, too, so it may not be as stomach-churning an experience as it was for me this year.

While I missed and the instant ability to track anything anytime, the scoreboards were well placed and other spectators were happy to share what they had seen, so you could definitely get your bearings quickly. Still, having some laptops set up for the truly web-obsessed could have been a good way to promote a bit more and give spectators a chance to read profiles of players they were not that familar with. (Rochester is a real golf town, but the people I talked to were not all that knowledgeable about the younger players on tour.) Also, there was nowhere I could see that people could go to watch the webcasts that were being and had been filmed on-site. Susan Hunt and Dennis Williams did a particularly good job Saturday, but you had to be off-site to appreciate it.

Those quibbles aside, this is a really well-run event. Even in the midst of a long rain delay, the volunteers were super-cool and the officials were firm but kind. I'm sure onechan will remember the ride in the cart with the rules official longer than getting that ball from Morgan Pressel and the bouncy inflatable thing longer than any shot of Ai-chan's. And the FMA came away from this a huge Ai-chan fan and much more appreciative of the athleticism and approachability of the LPGA players we saw. Plus she may try imitating Natalie Gulbis's posture for a few minutes a day. ;) ]


Hound Dog said...

I didn't get to fully concentrate on this epic tale until Monday night after work, but boy was it worth the wait! I thought my musings from Charleston were good but your detail blows my efforts to kingdom come. From the child juggling to the player observations to the evaluation of the entire on-course experience, that is one entertaining piece. Thanks for taking the time to share it.

Maybe I need to take a night course in creative writing. Or I should just commit your works at MH to memory.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks much! When there's less to see, it's easier to describe, plus you can't beat kids for drama. Thanks for the link and plug!