June 13, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Ryo Ishikawa (right) signs autographs for fans as he approaches the 7th hole during the practice round of the 112th U.S. Open golf tournament at The Olympic Club. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
The U.S. Open is special in its own right, in part because of its Father's Day weekend tradition.
SAN FRANCISCO -- My grandpa would've loved this.
As I walked around The Olympic Club, soaking in the U.S. Open scene, all I could think was that my grandpa would've loved this. Other than the hills, of course, which quickly turn lively walkers into zombies wandering the desert in search of water. Taking in a U.S. Open, the first tournament I've been to, much less covered, is a life experience beyond words.
I like to think the golf gene took hold in me a little late -- too late, perhaps. It came from my grandfather -- my father's father. He'd spend his free time on a golf course, temporarily moving to Arizona in the winter and playing as much golf as possible. I never saw the appeal, though I did sit down on Sundays to watch the end of major tournaments.
It wasn't until I was about 20 that I picked up a club for the first time -- skipping past high school evenings at a driving range and summers of golf. By the time I was hooked, my grandfather had already passed away. It was the first time I dealt with the death of a loved one, and I did so while hundreds of miles away at college, driving back to say goodbye, then again to attend the funeral.
In some ways, golf is how I maintain my connection to him. I learned using his clubs -- old Pings and real woods probably made before I was born. Though I've since upgraded, I still keep his 2-iron in my bag, as well as a sleeve of GE logo balls he had made. I probably never would've gotten into golf were it not for him, and I certainly wouldn't appreciate the U.S. Open as much as I do now.
Wandering around The Olympic Club, rubbing elbows with the world's best players, is more than a dream come true. The atmosphere -- the buzz in the crowd, the collection of golf nuts all in one place -- is heaven for a fan of the sport.
It's hard to describe the allure of golf. After all, it's just a bunch of guys hitting a little ball with a stick, and most of the drama takes place at a snail's pace on an undulating surface of grass mowed to fractions of an inch. In a world where action-packed sports take center-stage, golf still remains a "you either get it or you don't" sport.
That is, until majors roll around. And when it comes to majors, the first two of the year can draw in even the most casual of observers. There's the history and traditions of The Masters, and the allure of Augusta National. It's an iconic tournament that serves as a magnet for Sunday drama.
And that second major -- the U.S. Open -- isn't so bad itself. Where The Masters draws upon its tradition and a single course, the U.S. Open is special in its own right. Anyone can, theoretically, qualify -- something 14-year-old Andy Zhang found out this week. With a low handicap and a few rounds of strong play during the qualifying process, a local pro or an up-and-coming amateur can tee it up with the big boys at one of the best courses in America.
It's America's championship, meant to test players and push them to the brink of their abilities. The course setups are always brutal, walking the fine line between unplayable and not. The crowds are enormous and boisterous, soaking in four days of some of the best golf they'll ever see. And if we're lucky, Sunday will bring with it another drama-filled 18 that captivates the thousands in attendance and millions watching on television.
Over the first two days of my U.S. Open experience, I've had a front-row seat as the field goes through its final preparations before running the gauntlet that is "The Toughest Test In Golf." It's hard not to be awestruck, both by the course and the players putting in work on it.
I've been able to watch Tiger Woods go through his preparations, meticulously memorizing every hole while trying to solve the puzzle that is The Olympic Club. I've seen Casey Martin struggle to walk while chasing his dream, and can't help but silently root for him to succeed. And I've seen Andy Zhang, half my age, walk around the course with wide-eyes, stopping to admire pros he looks up to, just like I am.
At the same time, there's the fathers parading around the course with their children in tow. Old golf fans spending time with young ones. Fathers and sons watching in awe of the skill on display in front of them. And young kids reaching out for autographs from established pros and unknown amateurs alike.
It's a moment I wish I could share with my grandfather, the biggest golf fan I knew, and my father. The U.S. Open is, after all, a Father's Day tradition.
Savor the U.S. Open. Soak it all in, whether watching on television or walking the course in person. Enjoy the ups and downs, cheer for the underdogs who just barely made it through qualifying as much as you root for your favorite golfer.
And while you're at it, grab your father, park yourselves on the couch, and watch some golf.