More Odds & Ends from the Open

By: Jeff Shelley

As noted in yesterday's installment, hosting the U.S. Open is like building an instant city, with all the infrastructural elements needed for a municipality of 42,500 - the number of tickets purchased for each day of this championship. That number doesn't include the thousands of volunteers, officials, corporate schmoozers and media, of which I'm one of the lucky several hundred. Here are some more observations of this annual ritual:

A Very Valuable Logo

Since the tournament is the USGA's largest and most profitable, it's not surprising that the sale of merchandise is a big money-maker, and an important component of the organization's annual budget.

The 39,000-square-foot tent housing the U.S. Open-logo merchandise is the most hustling, bustling area on all of Torrey Pines' expansive grounds. Inside is a whirl of activity that's set up for volume sales. Hordes of shoppers enter through one end of the huge white structure and emerge out the other toting bags filled with hats, shirts, long-sleeved tops, ball markers, stuffed animals and other goodies. Staff on the floors of the various manufacturers eagerly enables thousands of product sales each day. (One helpful lady even tried on the pullover I was considering for my wife when I had doubts about its fit.)

The shopping center takes 10 weeks to prepare for the masses. The USGA sells over a hundred thousand hats along with thousands of logoed visors, shirts, lanyards, golf towels and shot glasses. It seems like everyone who attends the U.S. Open will return home with at least one item -whether for men, women or children - with the championship's Torrey Pines-themed graphic. The cashier banks are alive with the ringing of registers. Don't tell me the American economy stinks.

Home on the Range

One of the coolest things about having a media badge at the U.S. Open is access to the players' locker room, the practice green, fenced-off interview areas and driving range. When I stride over the rope to enter the range two of the major protagonists in this year's drama - Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson - are warming up for their second round, in which they are paired - along with Adam Scott - once again. This is the marquee matchup - the players ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world, respectively - playing together over the first 36 holes. Tiger works on the teeing area's far left, with Phil in the middle and Scott way over on the right. Tiger, along with caddie Steve Williams and swing coach Hank Haney, have, by far, the most media - still and TV cameras, reporters and hangers-on - around him. I enjoy a ringside seat as the trio prepares for their second 18 holes.

Also on the range are the fun-loving Jerry Kelly, who, when the camera for the widescreen TV alongside the practice area is on him, does a couple of comical antics that tickles the crowd; Pat Perez; Todd Hamilton; Stuart Appleby; France's Thomas Levet; three-time major winner Vijay Singh; 2005 U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell; Nationwide Tour player Chris Kirk; Sweden's Niclas Fasth; and Rod Pampling. Toward the end of my stay on the range, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez meanders in, cigar smoke wafting behind him.

Like the first day, Mickelson doesn't have a driver in his bag, instead banging out precise fairway woods both off a tee and the turf. Not to be outdone, Tiger also works hard on his 3- and 5-woods.

The sound of a golf ball being struck by all of the above players is something to behold. The crisp, pure report of a hard and round, often-elusive object being violently hit by a flat-faced, metallic surface is quite unlike the "thwack" most of us hackers produce. This clarity of contact is compelling and sweet. No wonder the USGA creates "monsters" with inches-deep fairway-side rough and glassy globes for greens to keep these guys honest. They're that good and that talented.

Other notes from the range: Woody Austin, aka "Aquaman," strolls in wearing his familiar gaudy outfit. This one's red, bright red, with matching hat and shoes. He grabs a couple of clubs out of his oversized bag and starts swinging them in a purposeful back-and-forth motion, just like the rest of us before we tee off.

As Tiger exits the driving range to big applause - which he doesn't acknowledge, I need to move back to make way for the cameras and scurrying supporters. Even on the driving range, Tiger walking by is like a royal procession making a grand exit from Buckingham Palace. I notice he has a slight limp and not his normally athletic, powerful stride, the recent knee surgery still a factor.

When Mickelson departs, an even bigger roar emanates from the stands behind the practice tees. It's obvious the native San Diegan is the crowd favorite. Unlike the stoic Woods, Phil gives a hearty wave and smiles to the adoring throng.

Within two minutes, those same stands filled with eager but respectful observers are half empty.