I got to Locust Hill yesterday a little before 4 pm and after checking out the driving range and practice putting green and checking in at the media center, it wasn't until about 4:45 that I was able to catch up with Mika Miyazato's pro-am group as they closed out the front 9. As I was making my way to the 6th fairway, where I figured Mikan's fivesome woyld be, I got to see just how much more comfortable Mi Hyun Kim looked on the golf course than last year (in a word: very!), just how funny Laura Diaz is (see previous parenthetical comment), just how intimidating the new look of the 18th hole is (ditto), just how much of a star Patty Sheehan is in Rochester (ditto), just how great Natalie Gulbis looks in person (ditto), just how long Brittany Lincicome and A.J. Eathorne are off the tee as lefties (ditto), just how tough even simple little run-shots and lag putts are on the very firm and fast greens (ditto), and just how laid-back Ya Ni Tseng is during pro-ams (ditto). I'll do separate posts on what I noticed about Mikan and the 6th through 9th holes (which I had never actually walked in their entirety), what I heard from Ya Ni Tseng and Suzann Pettersen about how they're preparing for competition this week, and what I'm wondering about heading into the start of the tournament tomorrow--not to mention my usual tournament preview/predictions/pairing post--but I want to close out this one with a few observations and anecdotes.
Access, Access, Access
I know everyone who attends a professional golf tournament comes away impressed by how in the thick of things the spectators are. A brief sampling of idle thoughts as I was wandering the grounds yesterday should show I'm no different: "Oh, that was Michelle Wie." "Is that Lexi Thompson finishing up there on 18? Yep." "There's Amy Yang again." Today I hung out on the driving range until the rain drove me to the media tent and I saw Morgan Pressel, Juli Inkster, Pat Hurst, and Belen Mozo, among others. The only comparable experience to attending an LPGA event I've ever really had is attending academic conferences as a grad student and realizing the scholars whose work I'd been admiring and wrestling with for years were actual people.
Kids, Kids, Kids
The cuteness factor at LPGA events is not to be dismissed. Maybe it was because I was a little anxious about leaving onechan and imoto with my mom and dad (I know, I know, for all of 24 hours!), but I couldn't help but notice every little girl's autograph-hunting tactics and every baby or toddler I passed. I'm not saying it was a large number, as it was late in the afternoon on Tuesday, but they certainly made up a decent proportion of the spectators. It was fun trotting out my rusty Japanese for the befuddlement and amusement of a 3-year-old boy (who 1st held up 5 fingers, then 4, as he replied "san sai" to my "nan sai desuka?"--yeah, he's 3) and his older sisters (the eldest of whom must have been about 10 and at times was busting out an impressive downswing with a stick on a tree trunk to the right of the par-3 7th hole's green).
But the funniest thing I saw came after Mikan had finished her round, while she was being interviewed behind the 9th green by a contingent from the Japanese media. All of a sudden, I heard a toddler softly calling out, "Mami, mami!" and quickly saw that he was being wheeled toward us in a stroller from about 50 yards away. It was pretty clear the reporters knew whose kid he was, as they easily communicated to his caregiver that Mikan wasn't the woman he was looking for, who was likely finishing up the back pretty soon. It wasn't until about an hour later that I figured out who the toddler was when I saw him reunited with his mom: Mi Hyun Kim's son Ye Sung! When I first heard and saw him, I had in passing thought, "wouldn't it be cool if he was..." but quickly dismissed the possibility. Turns out my guess had been right! I'm hoping I get a chance this morning to follow up on last year's interview with her about returning to the tour as a new mom. But I can report her son is looking very healthy. And much bigger than the year-and-ahalf-plus he is!
Practice, Practice, Practice
I hung out at the putting green for more than an hour after Mikan had finished her round, just observing how she and the other players there approached preparing for greens that to me looked like they were significantly quicker than last year (approaching scary fast). I caught the tail end of Ya Ni Tseng and Kyeong Bae's practice sessions, witnessed how veterans like Leta Lindley and Pat Hurst shot the breeze and tuned their strokes (including a lesson for Hurst from none other than Rosie Jones!), and got a sense of how much Cristie Kerr is juggling (she left a couple bottles of wine for Ya Ni, practiced uphill 3-foot sliders and delicate downhill 10-footers, talked to a club rep, and left for a wine tasting she would be hosting, all in the space of less than a half-hour) these days. I was ready to call it quits around 7:30 pm when Mikan finally took off (after being on the course for what must have been 8 to 10 hours!), but as I was passing the driving range on the way to the media lot, I noticed the only player still there was Suzann Pettersen. She was working on 3/4 wedges with a coach and her caddie, discussing something very technical about her grip (super-strong, with her right palm practically underneath the club face, so to speak) and wrist-hinging at the top of her backswing and through her downswing that I was too far away to overhear the details of. My impression at a distance as she grinded away at these barely visible changes was that I was witnessing a true virtuoso honing her craft. The bugs were out in force by the time she had had enough and it was after 8 pm, but she was gracious enough to walk and talk with me as we took the tunnel underneath Jefferson road and headed uphill towards the player parking lot by the clubhouse. More on that conversation later, but what I took away from watching these pros work on their 80 yards and in games for hours is how much focused work it takes to shave thousandths or even hundredths of a stroke off your putts per green in regulation rate and putting average or inches or even feet off your average distance from the pin on approach shots.
Speaking of which, the rain is slowing down, so I'm going to lug the laptop around the back 9 to see how the overnight storm's downpour has been absorbed by the course. Be back soon!
[Update 1 (8:48 am): Well, that was quick. I took one look at the weather map and decided that discretion is the better form of valor, at least for the next hour.]