My first memory
of Winged Foot? Poison ivy, dense underbrush and, suddenly, sunlight and
thousands of people. It was June 16, 1974, a week after my college graduation,
and I was living on Long Island. A buddy and I wanted to attend the final round
of the U.S. Open, but we didn't have tickets. Our solution? Sneak in.
Ignoring the NO
PARKING signs, we left my 1971 Mustang by the side of Mamaroneck Road and
ducked into the woods. We emerged on the left side of the 15th hole and blended
in with the crowd. At first we jumped from hole to hole. Then we spent a long
time perched behind the 6th green, rapt as the pros tried to negotiate the
tricky pitch to that diabolical back-right pin position.
Like many in the
crowd, we began to follow Hale Irwin on the back nine. And when he launched
that picture-perfect two-iron onto the 18th green, we were standing as close to
him as the marshals would allow. From the fairway, we watched Irwin two-putt to
secure the first of his three U.S. Open titles.
It was a golden
afternoon and a grand introduction to major championship golf. A bargain, too,
or so we thought until we returned to Mamaroneck Road to discover that the
Mustang was nowhere to be found. So we hoofed it to the impound yard and pooled
our resources to get the car out of hock, the luster of the day dimmed only
My next exposure
to Winged Foot came two or three years later. I had a friend who was an
assistant pro on Long Island. In those days Winged Foot allowed assistant pros
from neighboring courses to play on certain Mondays, when the club was closed.
My pal asked if he could bring someone along. Sure, he was told, as long as
he's a pro. If my modest bag and unpolished swing weren't proof enough that I
was an impostor, my own personal Massacre at Winged Foot--a front-nine 50--made
the truth abundantly clear. But our caddie never said a word, and I like to
think that the 39 I shot on the back nine restored a small measure of
In June the U.S.
Open will be back at Winged Foot, and so will I, but this time as a member, not
as a kid hacking through the bushes or a 14-handicapper masquerading as a pro.
(I didn't mention these visits when I was applying.) Armed with my $375
member's ticket package, I can roam the now familiar grounds for three practice
rounds and all four rounds of the tournament. And I can repair to the member
hospitality area in the clubhouse to enjoy a beverage with my fellow Winged
Yes, times have
changed, although one thing has not. I plan to drive that very same '71 Mustang
to Mamaroneck. This time, I'll park legally.