Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Walking the Wegmans with Onechan

No, this is not a post about taking my 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter to the grocery store. Sorry to disappoint you.

What this is about is the road trip a jet-lagged onechan and I took to the Rochester area to spend Saturday and Sunday at the Wegmans LPGA tournament at Locust Hills Golf Club. We got to hook up with my mom and dad for a little while, follow Mika Miyazato and then Ai Miyazato, play in the Sports Zone, meet Meredith Duncan, face off in Wii golf, and avoid every single drop of rain that fell on Pittsford that weekend. What I didn't get to do was try out the LPGA's new blogger media-credentialing process (I missed the deadline the 1st half of our visit to the Full Metal Archivist's family in Japan), follow the range of players I wanted to, or hang with Momoko Ueda on the driving range (yes, she missed the cut but worked hard on her game all weekend).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start from the beginning, which is my crazy decision to take a pre-school girl who fell asleep from noon to 8 pm Friday and stayed up till 5:30 am on Saturday on a 2-hour drive to walk as many holes as we possibly could on a rain-delayed moving day. At least I had the sense not to try to take her 3-year-old sister, imoto, along with us. She had been enough of a handful when she was 2 that I couldn't envision taking a more mobile, articulate, independent (to put it nicely), louder, faster, and sleepier (last night was the 1st dinner she had since returning to the States late last Thursday) girl to an LPGA event. Now, the Futures Tour event in Syracuse at the end of the month, that's another story. But I'll save her 2nd LPGA experience for next year. Assuming there is a next year. (Check Dave Hackenberg's excellent piece on this week's event for context on the LPGA's shrinking schedule.) Anyway, my worries about onechan proved to be unfounded. She entertained me on the drive up telling stories about Foxy, a character she just made up. Apparently he gets into a lot of trouble and is often sad or lonely, but onechan told the stories in a gleeful voice and loved to come up with abrupt endings that she found hilarious. Uncle Bill Benzon and Grandpa Bob should be proud!

Speaking of Grandpa Bob, I had to question his judgment for suggesting that we meet at the pro shop rather than at the 17th green, right near where the shuttle buses let you off, not to mention the Sports Zone and the food dome. Sure, thanks to our oversleeping we missed all the early morning groups finishing their 2nd rounds, but onechan had to handle a long walk across the street and up the 10th fairway to see him and Grandma Joy for the 1st time since well before we had left for Japan in late May. As it turned out, though, both the walk itself and the search for my folks (we circled the pro shop twice before we found them) were totally awesome. Onechan was carrying a fairly large plastic baby doll, which she had dolled up for the event by drawing in blue ink flowers in the little hair she had, earrings, nail polish, and lipstick, and as she was getting a lot of "Aww, cute" looks from fans, players, and caddies, I decided to make a bet with her that she would be the only kid with a doll or toy we'd see all day. Trying to find evidence to win our bet turned out to be a fun game for her. As for me, I was struck by how intimate a setting a golf course is for a sporting event. I was walking by pros whose faces looked familiar but whom I couldn't quite place ("Is that Mika Miyazato? Or maybe Ji Young Oh?"). Some players I definitely knew: Vicky Hurst, Jane Park--and of course Ai Miyazato, who just happened to be at the putting green when onechan and I made it to the pro shop area. As Ai-chan was leaving, I was able to say, "Kyoo gambare!" (Go for it today!) to her. I don't know if she remembered onechan or me from last year, but she looked down at the short American wearing a hat bought in Okinawa that said "Island Boy" in kanji and kneeling down by a young girl wearing a flower print dress we'd bought in Hawaii in the middle of my Fulbright year, smiled, and said "Thank you," very sweetly.

Not long after that, we ran into my mom and dad and they had plenty of stories for us. My mom, who is a champion talker, told me how they had run into Karrie Webb while the 3rd-round pairings were being organized, so of course she told her about how big a fan onechan is of her and how I had invented Carrie Mi, Karrie Yoo, and Keri Hu (still useful devices for teasing onechan and imoto out of a desire to be carried!). My dad was psyched that a lesson on the driving range had shortened my mom's Mi Hyun Kim/Sakura Yokomine-like backswing and flattened its plane so well that she was carrying her driver around 150 yards (sadly, the lesson didn't carry over to the course when they got back to Clinton). And we played the game of "Who is that...?" as we got our food, walked over to tables by the 10th tees, and perused the pairings sheet I had gotten from a volunteer as we had been looking for my folks. (He got me on Katherine Hull, and I mistook Na Yeon Choi for Eun-Hee Ji.) He told me how impressed he was by Vicky Hurst ("She could be a center for a women's basketball team") and how Cheyenne Woods's game was much better than he had expected. (Guess who they had followed on Friday!)

So, yeah, with players going off the 10th tee while we were eating--I got a good look at Aree Song's swing (not a lot of shoulder turn there), for instance--and the 1st tee right around the corner, my dad's idea of meeting at the pro shop to follow some early groups was a good one. And when I saw that Mika Miyazato was going off 2 groups ahead of Ai-chan--and that Na Yeon Choi was in the former group while Se Ri Pak was in the latter, not to mention that Amanda Blumenherst was in the threesome between them--I immediately pitched my idea that we follow Mika as long as onechan could handle it, then rest to wait for Ai-chan and follow her as long as possible before resting and watching the leading pairings play through. Best laid plans, of course: my parents were too tired from their Friday outing to make it past the 4th tee before they headed out for home, while the second onechan realized that the front 9 circled back to the clubhouse, she was more interested in getting to the Sports Zone across the street than making it to the 8th green to hang out for 45 minutes. And of course I kept us as far away from the greens as possible, not trusting onechan not to blurt out whatever thought happened to come into her mind at any moment. So I didn't get to see Mika actually make a downhill curling 15-footer for birdie on the uphill par-4 2nd, or, for that matter, Ai-chan's short birdie putt on the short par-4 4th hole fail to drop.

But I did get to see her call her caddie over to swat a black fly that had been pestering her as she was setting up for her putt. And I did get to see every shot that Mika and Na Yeon played between the 1st and 4th tees, and every shot Ai-chan and Se Ri played from their approaches to the 3rd green to their tee shots on the par-3 7th. I can't go into the amount of detail that I did last year, but I do have some general impressions. Mika has a very powerful swing, particularly through the ball. Her tempo's a little quicker and less rhythmic than Ai-chan's, but overall she's a little more aggressive and athletic. I had heard from Q-School interviews that she's a short hitter, but I'd say her length is average, plus she has the capacity to hit it longer than usual when she wants to. I expected her to be well behind Choi and Reilley Rankin, but she was even with them more often than not (although probably b/c they were dialing it down to avoid the rough). As for Choi, she parred every hole we saw, but never gave herself great birdie chances. I came away confirmed in my thinking that both are going to be major talents on tour. But of course most of my attention was on Ai-chan, and I noticed that she had a little tendency to break her wrists early on her backswing, which may have contributed to her pull on the downhill 6th. Other than that, her game was as strong as I expected it to be. Even while struggling--she had to make 2 6-to-9-footers to save par and missed 2 birdie putts of about that length--and dealing with jet lag (I don't care how accustomed to international travel you are, you still feel it for 10-15 days after you settle into a new time zone), she was completely calm, self-contained, and focused. She didn't chat a lot with her caddie or other players, just followed her ball and hit her next shot without making a big fuss about it. Very similar demeanor to Se Ri Pak, now that I think of it, although Pak was definitely longer, of course.

But that's about all I have for observations on the players, as most of my attention was actually focused on keeping onechan happy and quiet. Whether it was playing rock-paper-scissors (in Japanese, of course) or having little races with her between shots and holes when other groups weren't nearby (I let her win all of the latter, but she beat me 7 games in a row in the former, and I was really trying!), assuring her we'd make it to the Sports Zone (eventually), carrying her on my back a few times (including all the way up the par-5 8th's fairway), or getting pro shop staff to open up an "out of order" real bathroom for her b/c once again she was afraid of the port-a-potties, this was a full-time job. It was a lot easier when my folks were still hanging with us. My mom took her to look for frogs by the creek and pond on #2 and gave her a pad of paper and markers (which she used to good effect, although, unfortunately, not to the intended purpose--to get autographs), while my dad asked her questions and told her about the players. I can't say that onechan was particularly into my explanation of what to do off the tee on a dogleg or why you're not allowed to put your club on the ground when it's not in a water hazard but is behind the red line surrounding it, or particularly happy not to be following Karrie Webb and Natalie Gulbis on the other side, but she never whined, she never talked loudly, she never moved (much) while a player was hitting, she loved it that Carri Wood was playing with Ai-chan and Pak, and she won our bet when she found a young Japanese family near the 7th green with twin 2-year-old boys who had a kuma (bear) stuffed animal with them on their stroller.

And the Sports Zone! When I asked her this morning what she remembered about the tournament, that's the first thing she mentioned. She went through the inflated maze/obstacle course that was too wet for her last year, climbed to the top of the 15-foot climbing wall that was too scary for her last year, and, on Sunday, actually practiced chipping outside and putting inside (including a lesson with Meredith Duncan, who's a real sweetheart). I won't get into how onechan chipped in for a birdie on the 2nd hole of the Wii golf they had set up inside or how I hit 3 sand shots into the water hazard and took a mercy 9 on that par-3, or all the fruit juices and ice cream flavors we tried out in the food dome, but I will brag a little about how many times onechan hit the target when practicing those pitch shots.

So even though I didn't get to follow Seon Hwa Lee or In-Kyung Kim on Saturday, hang at the putting green as players finished their rounds, take onechan to the driving range on Sunday, where Momoko Ueda was working hard with caddie, or follow Ai-chan for awhile in the final round (we went straight to the Sports Zone this time and the weather looked threatening by the time onechan was all exercised out), we had an absolutely fantastic time at the Wegmans. I got a great reminder that a classic course like Locust Hills, with its tight, tree-lined fairways, small, tiered greens, and elevation changes, could be a great challenge with just the light breezes that were turning approach shots into exercises in judgment, precision, and finesse. Sadly, these are qualities that seem to be lacking in LPGA HQ these days. With the Corning gone and the Wegmans seemingly in trouble, I'm wondering if there's a Route 390 curse or if Carolyn Bivens is taking the LPGA seriously off course. It's all well and good to move into bigger domestic and international markets, but why not hold 40+ tournaments a year and keep the mid-market, community-based events by offering a reduced fee structure for them?


Anonymous said...

TC - that is a fantastic story. I'm sure she'll remember that day for a very long time.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, I hope so!

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