If you’ve ever been to a professional sporting event, you know the feeling of that electric air. That first time you walk through the gate to your seat and see the field, court, or rink, chills shoot down your spine. Usually, some pump-up jam is blaring and the smell of popcorn and fried food try calling you away from your spot, but you won’t budge until your bladder is about to explode.
Somewhere down below your seat, greatness can happen at any moment. You are about to witness the physical epitome of man battle before your very eyes.
For golf, flowing polos and funny-looking pants donned Joes you’d have stretched to describe as athletes. Putting it on TV was just dad’s reason to nap on Sunday afternoon. While other sports ran on nitro, golf seemed wind-powered: gentle and steady.
Then through the wind roared a Tiger, and a new generation of golfers was inspired.
These kids hit balls and the gym. They picked up drivers and free weights. They stretched their goals and muscles. And now you can’t throw a rock at a PGA event without hitting a former two-sport athlete (but please don’t).
Times have changed and so has the game. The course is now a colosseum.
May was the unofficial golf month in Texas. Both the LPGA and PGA visit courses around town, and I was smart enough to get tickets to both the Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic and AT&T Byron Nelson.
In the past couple of years, I’ve attended both events several times, and the experiences have been unforgettable. Here’s what it’s like to see professionals up close and what you can learn by braving the crowds.
Day of the Event
When you get to the course, the first things you’ll notice are the sponsors. You might have bought a ticket, but those golfers have big money coming on Sunday. Your “buy one, get one” office deal isn’t going to cover their checks. Cruise right by these tents (thank you for your contribution) because the main event already started at 7am. Just be sure to grab a tee sheet and map!
Once you’re past the vendors, the world opens up as you start to see big patches of open green space. You’ve made it to the show.
You’ll notice right away the incredible condition of the course. If you’re anything like me, you probably play public courses most of your time. Although there are exceptions, the maintenance on tour-rated courses is nothing you’ve seen before.
I would describe the feeling as walking around on fresh, spongy carpet in a remodeled home. You know it’s going to get dirty eventually, but you don’t want to be the one responsible for that first spill. You eventually forget about the grass as the day progresses.
Maybe you follow a few golfers you kind of recognize for a couple holes before you start to feel hungry. You stop at a sponsored concessions stand (all proceeds go to a local charity/cause) and you turn around and surprise! It’s a different group playing the hole.
With all the talk about slow play, what you don’t realize is that once a player hits, they go. Even worse for you following is they don’t have to navigate past portable toilets, TV towers, more vendors, and thousands of other people. By the time you catch up, they’ve already hit their next shot and are on the move again.
After a while you get tired of keeping up, you find a little shade with a view of a green, and watch several groups pass by as you rehydrate. Then you see a swarm of fans gather at the tee box. People seem to be coming out of the woodwork at this point, and you are pretty certain there weren’t that many people here earlier in the day.
It’s some superstar, maybe the home-crowd favorite or multi-major winner (or both). They look somewhat like the version you’ve seen on TV, but somehow they’re different. They are just another person. Sometimes they even get too close to the crowd and you lose them entirely.
By the time you get back to your car to head home, you finally understand why they say “these guys (and gals) are good.” The day went fast, but there is plenty to learn.
They’re Just Like You and Me!
Spoiler alert: professional golfers make mistakes.
It’s been talked about before here, but pros don’t hit every fairway, every green, or birdie every hole. They make mistakes, albeit a lot fewer than you see in your weekend foursome.
When you watch the broadcast, you mainly get to see the above average play that’s worthy of airtime. Most of the game is routine and struggle. And with the struggle comes the swearing, at a frequency that might surprise you. Expressions made more expressive when you understand the magnitude of their paychecks being impacted by the potential of missing a cut or putt.
On rare occasions, you might even get to see a club thrown.
Of course, those mistakes don’t last as long as we’re used to.
They Are Nothing Like You and Me
Bogey avoidance is the name of the game. It is truly incredible how these players can get up and down from about anywhere.
Everything is thought out. A great part about walking with a small group is being able to overhear conversations with caddies. Players are picking lines, landing spots, potential misses, carry distances, shot shapes, and changing conditions. Once all the info is entered into the shot computer, the routine starts.
Pros are incredibly consistent in pre-shot routine - removing unnecessary variables and setting their sights on the target, relieving tension with a waggle and letting it rip.
And the sound. Oh, the sound! It is as pure as pure can be. Even their mishits sound amazing.
Drives from players like Dustin Johnson have to be heard in person to be believed. It’s a flinch-worthy report from a weapon sending little white spheres over 300 yards in the air.
Then the general flight of the ball seems so much more exaggerated. Balls seem to fly higher, further, and stop on a dime. When Arnold Palmer was describing finding art in the “flight of a good drive,” it wasn’t until I saw it done by professionals that I truly understand.
Tips for Your Experience
To get the most out of your experience at a pro event, here are some little tips to help.
First, be aware of your surroundings. That includes paying attention to marshalls, being aware of incoming shots, and even when you might be positioned in a player’s eyeline.
Place yourself where you are not a distraction, if you can. Regardless if you can or not, be still and quiet during the swing.
Next, dress for the occasion. Golf attire is a pretty safe go-to, but leave the golf shoes at home. Even caddies wear walking shoes so you don’t need the cleats (fashionable spikeless being the exception).
It kills me to see people out there in sandals, loafers, or high-heeled shoes. For some, it’s more of a social event than a sporting event. Since you’re reading this blog I will assume you are there to see the course and players.
Dressing for the event includes bringing a jacket and umbrella if it might rain or a hat and sunscreen if you find yourself out on a sunny day.
Finally, some dos and don’ts.
- Go to the practice areas. It’s really cool to see warm-ups, coaches, and training aids.
- Go during the weekday. Crowds are much smaller, and you will feel more involved.
- Bring cash, sunglasses, and check what bags are allowed.
- Follow one group to see the whole course, especially if it’s a new venue.
- Follow fewer headline names when you can. They need support and might even strike up conversations with you.
- Shout. Cheer, yes; “MASHED POTATOES”, no.
- Smoke. Especially around large groups or children.
- Ignore signs/marshalls.
- Drink too much (except water).
- Try to strike up conversations with players.
- Use your cell phone too much. No phone calls, and limit pictures to when you’re away from players.
The experience is unbelievable, and you should have fun! Just remember to be courteous to players, volunteers, and other spectators trying to enjoy their time, too.