This week, the USGA hosted a media day at The Country Club ahead of the U.S. Open in June. It’s stupid that I was able to go, but luck can be a wonderful thing. If the U.S. Open was in any other part of the country, I would not have been there.
The day was wild. I arrived a nervous wreck and unsure who would be there. I had a wish list of people I hoped to meet, but then I also had to remember that, in this setting, we are all peers and I can’t come across as a fanboy or make it clear I know far too much about them and their content.
The Country Club has roughly 675 buildings and it always feels like there’s only one that non-members can enter and that building changes every day. I followed a stranger in a golf vest into a building and got lucky. At the top of the stairs was registration. My name was on the list. I grabbed a couple of sleeves of Callaway golf balls, a fact sheet, and a very cool ball marker. To my left was another line heading down a hallway. At the end of that line a man was holding a bottle of Dewars and having his picture taken. It was 9:15 in the morning and like any imposter, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I stood in line and hoped no one would notice me trying to cop a free bottle of scotch.
Dewars is a sponsor of the U.S. Open and every media member was given a 15 year bottle with a customized label on it. A guy printed out the label right there in the hallway, slapped it on my bottle and snapped a picture of me displaying my bottle like I did something special to earn it. I have no idea where the picture of me with my bottle went. I’m just glad I showered before heading over that morning.
Chris “Soly” Solomon was two people behind me in line. I had interviewed him in February for a podcast, so I took the opportunity to say hello and introduce myself. So I tucked the bottle of booze under my arm and tried to simultaneously hold the sleeves of golf balls and the fact sheet and seem cool enough to Soly to sweep me off my feet, offer me a job at No Laying Up, and ask if I wanted to be in his group that afternoon.
Instead, we talked for 30 seconds about the golf course and what it looked like, I might have said something stupid like, “I’m just living the dream,” and we went our separate ways.
I found a seat in the back of the room, unsure where everyone was getting coffee but too nervous to get up and wander around aimlessly or, God forbid, ask someone where I could locate the refreshments. I was close to cracking open the 15 year Dewar to ease the nerves.
After a bit of a wait for the press conference to start, I befriended some of the MassGolf folks who were sitting in my row.
The press conference/announcements lasted about 45 minutes. Nothing Earth-shattering was shared, the one disappointment was John Rahm was supposed to join us via video conference but his victory on Sunday in Mexico messed up his schedule (maybe he had too much Dewars in celebration? Or tequila?)
Once the press conference ended we were dismissed to lunch and then recess, which in this case was 18 holes on the U.S. Open routing.
This is where the story gets a bit more insane. After eating lunch, I wandered over and found my bag. The tag on my bag said, “Sean Melia. Hole 1A.”
This was a ridiculous perk. I was playing the course the way it was intended, it made absolutely zero sense.
Toss in the fact that I was initially slated to play with Brendan Walsh, the Head Pro; Stu Francis, the USGA President; and Lyman Bullard The Country Club’s President, it seemed like I was being confused with someone else.
When I asked Brendan if we were indeed paired together, he said they had moved some people around and he’d be playing in the 1B group. Turns out Mr. Francis slid back, too.
After hitting a few chips and pitch shots I waited for a spot on the driving range and found myself hitting balls next to Jason Gore. Who is the USGA’s player relations director and a professional golfer. So that was a cool range session…
Upon my return to my bag, I wandered past Soly and Tron of No Laying up talking with Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg. The only words I hear as I walk past are from Andy, he says, “... with Sean Melia?” He butchered my last name (it’s pronounced like the name “Amelia” but most folks turn the long “e” into a short “e”).
I’m not ashamed to say I pulled my phone out to text some fellow Fried Egg fans.
One text read:
I’m playing with Andy Johnson. Repeat I am playing with Andy Johnson.
Then a follow up:
We all milled around and Brendan Walsh gathered us all together before sending us out to our tees.
It turned out Andy was walking to the first tee and I just said out loud, “who else is 1A?”
Andy turned and said, “I am, I guess.”
He wasn’t stoked to be playing with Sean Melia… He had been separated from his colleague Brendan. The whole idea was they’d play together and likely generate some awesome content.
There are times in life when I would have said, “Oh, I’ll switch with Brendan.” But I had this wave of absolute selfishness wash over me that I didn’t even have that thought. It wasn’t even like it crossed my mind and I shoved it down. I was so focused on what I wanted that I didn’t offer.
(NOTE: If I had offered to swap places with Brendan I would have played with... Soly, Tron, and Colby from No Laying Up. The day, as it turns out, would have been ridiculous either way.)
Our group ended up being Andy, Lyman Bullard, and Ron Green. It was an incredible round, Andy is a basketball nut, so we didn’t have to just stick to talking about golf. Andy played with old clubs and it’s clear he’s an excellent player, even though he doesn’t get to play all that much anymore.
On the first tee, I struggled to make a good swing. I was reeling from the entire experience to that point and basically looked like a 25 handicap for the first three holes. That included a bladed wedge on the first over the green, which provided me with the privileged opportunity to take relief from the stands behind the green. I managed to settle down and play alright.
Having played the main course in August, I was shocked at how different the conditions were just 7 months later. The fairways were firmer and it was uncomfortable hitting off them at first. They were almost sandy and maybe over seeded? This is not my expertise.
The greens gave off that wonderful thud when the ball hit them and most shots barely left ball marks. You had to really search for any to fix. So it was the opposite of a day at Granite Links in that sense, and every other sense, too, I guess.
The rough is dense and lush already. In a perfect world, the weather will be dry so the course can firm up. The rough won’t need much rain in the next seven weeks because they’ll just let it grow.
I’m interested to see what the rough looks like on the 10th hole (Himalayas) along the top of the rock outcropping. It’s more of a heathery fescue type of grass. If it’s long and wispy it could punish players that challenge that corner and try to shorten hole. The third hole could have the same look. I remember caddying in the MassAM and one of the guys in our group hit it about three feet off the fairway to the left on the third hole. We lost both balls and he made two triple bogeys.
As a group we played the fifth hole in 2-under par. Players will eat-up that short par 4 over the course of the week. The bunkers surrounding the green are deep, and the rough will be nasty. But even from the bunkers, players will make par after driving it up by the green. There doesn’t seem to be any real danger on that hole. I could see the winner playing that hole 3-under par for the week.
The bunkers overall will be a penalty for players. They are deep and some of the them are huge. I ended up in the front greenside bunker on 15. With the pin in the back right corner, it was about a 40 yard bunker shot.
In the lead up to the event, the line will be that the greens are small, and they certainly are. But there is some variation. The opening holes have small greens until players reach the par 3 sixth hole. It might be my favorite hole on the course, it is an incredible greensight. Andy Johnson said it would be the one green in the world you’d want in your back yard. Berhard Langer said it was “backwards” as it slopes back to front and with a swale in the middle.
On that particular hole, the pin was on the front, left section of the green. My three playing partners all hit it sensibly to the right section of the green. I took a seven iron right over the flag and into death valley on the left. I was about eight feet below the green and managed to get up and down. We joked that someone had to hit it over there to see what it was like. I was glad to be the guinea pig. I chopped it up to ten feet and made the putt.
After seeing the main course in August and the championship routing in May, the three Primrose holes add a lot of bite. The ninth hole could force players to lay back a bit with the pond on the right side of the fairway. I’d love to see the fairway grass run right into the water to really force the issue. The fairway narrows at the pond.
The 13th hole is the oddest of the bunch, a “franken-hole” if you will. It is made up of two holes. The tee box and fairway belong to the first hole but the green is from a different hole. It lengthens the hole by about 40 yards and brings a stream into play that protects the front of the green.
The hole is a dogleg left and I think it will play very differently in June once the trees grow in. They protect the left side of the hole off the tee. My caddie told me to hug the left side, I hit three wood and fanned it a little bit and ended up in the right rough. We’ll see a lot of guys on that side of the hole, and there’s a copse of trees on the right that will make the approach shot tough with the water in front of the green.
The 14th hole is an “adult hole.” 630 yards. Uphill. Blind. It’s kind of a shame it’s not in a great spot on the property to watch pros go for it in two. There’s a tree on the left side about 250 yards from the tee that many players will take on to shorten the hole.
The day ended with a rainy drive home and a phone call with a buddy to process the day, which was a fun exercise.
I can’t wait for Boston to be the center of the golfing universe for a week in June. Who knows, maybe during the same week it will be the center of the NBA universe, too… (knocking on all the wood…).