something, some little bit of theater that the rangemasters will mention when
they get home late at night. Like the time the host of a junior clinic said
something that prompted a couple of hundred shrieking kids to race onto the
range and stuff their pockets with balls. Or the time a young man jumped the
police barrier, grabbed two bags of Tiger's Nikes and tried to escape. (He
didn't make it.) Or the time a caddie asked if he could take a few dozen balls
to pay for his week's bar tab.
simply a weird sight: Charles Howell hitting balls in his stocking feet.
("It's for balance.") Frank Lickliter practicing the caddie-to-player
ball toss. ("A little higher ... keep it behind me.") And sometimes
it's simply the sublime vision of a world-class golfer striking balls better
than anyone has a right to.
Then there are
the pro-am days, when hackers with creaky swings and nervous dispositions are
given half the range. The amateurs must stay on their side, but sometimes a pro
takes a duffer's space, causing the bankers and CEOs around him to gasp for
air. Even a Hall of Fame ballplayer like Cal Ripken Jr., who played in this
year's Wednesday pro-am, admitted that he was a nervous wreck on the range.
"My comfort zone is 50,000 screaming people in Yankee Stadium. This is a
different environment," he said. "I get excited. I wonder if people are
staring at me."
There was a big
leader board on the right side of the practice facility. I mostly ignored it. I
was more interested in Range World, the daily soap opera that aired from dawn
to dusk. Why was chain-smoking Tommy Armour III, a self-advertised playboy,
hitting balls at twilight on Tuesday and again at daybreak on Wednesday? What
torment caused David Branshaw to stand under his umbrella on the otherwise
deserted range during a Friday rain delay? Who was responsible for the
appearance of graffiti on the Titleists--phrases like GOIN' LONG, LITTLE
SENORITA AND NORTH AVENUE TRADE SCHOOL?
You want drama?
It's not on the par-3 17th, where water comes into play. It's on the range,
where John Rollins set a tournament record by hitting 18 bags of Srixons in a
single day. ("Did you see his divot pattern?" Baldwin asked with
bulging eyes. "As big as a bath mat!") Now it's Thursday, near sunset,
and Rollins is battling Marco Dawson for the honor of closing the range.
Rollins is hitting driver and hitting it well, but now he tees up his last
ball, takes a mighty swing ... and hits an ugly snap hook into the trees.
Without waiting for instructions, his caddie runs to the tent for another
handful of balls. He knows his man can't walk off the range on a bad shot.
Sunset is a
potent symbol, and with a few exceptions-- Singh comes to mind, as does Tom
Kite--it is the struggling golfer who beats balls until dark. I stood behind
Ian Leggatt, a former Tour winner plagued by injuries, as he hit balls one
evening. His caddie, Andrew Pfaannkuche, said, "We haven't been the last
ones on the range since...." He feigned difficulty in remembering.
"Since Houston!" Two weeks.
"I live on
the range when I'm not playing well," said Leggatt, leaning on his club.
"I won't leave without resolving a problem or situation, and I'm not a guy
who can hit 40 or 50 balls and feel as if I've accomplished something."
A tour range
almost always goes out with a whimper. Rarely do you have a "leader in the
clubhouse"--who, obviously, is not in the clubhouse, but out on the range,
nervously hitting balls in front of a network camera while somebody tries to
par the 18th to force a playoff. That happened at the 2004 Wachovia. Joey
Sindelar was the pro who got to spend an extra 20 minutes with Baldwin and
Lawton, and their relaxed demeanors must have comforted him because Sindelar
beat Arron Oberholser on the second extra hole.
My week on the
range ended with no such drama. Storms interrupted the final round, but by
midafternoon on May 7 all the golfers were on the course and the range crew had
cleared everything off the tee. At the finish the only golfers in contention,
Jim Furyk and Trevor Immelman, were in the final group. One by one, the
assistants said their goodbyes and drifted off, either to watch the final holes
or to find a place to curl up and sleep. I would describe the mood in the tent
as loose, maybe even loopy. (Baldwin and Lawton kept quoting lines from Raising
Arizona, to the point that I'll never again view Nicolas Cage's armed diaper
heist without thinking of the range at Quail Hollow.) Finally, a soggy cheer
reached us from the course. A voice on the walkie-talkie crackled, "He made
it. Furyk won."
Baldwin stood up.
"Like I told you before, it's not rocket science, but I think the players
and caddies appreciate it when you do it well."