This year’s LPGA Safeway Classic event has already come and gone. I feel like I’m leaving a summer camp crush, filled with heartbreak, knowing full well that I will never see them again. Of course, I don’t know that feeling, because I never went to summer camp until a boy’s basketball camp during high school and that was about as bad as it sounds and smelled worse. Also, I should be able to see the LPGA come through town again next year, so scratch all of that. Maybe my problem right now is that I don’t know what to feel. The previous two visits have left me foaming at the mouth excited and re-energized despite my manic need to be out on the course watching every moment I can take in for 10 to 12 hours each day that they’re here. That excitement was there this year, though hampered some by a lack of energy which I have blamed on my health. My doctor has not found a physical cause for my fatigue and lack of energy after numerous tests (back story can be found here) and now I’m starting to wonder if her initial thought of depression might actually be the problem. The only thing is that when she asked me that question on a sunny Thursday morning over a month ago now, I didn’t sense the least bit of unhappiness coarsing through me. As this mysterious setback has progressed, my resolve has continued to weaken and some serious sadness has taken a hold of me. But I digress. This year’s LPGA event had an added element, when they asked me to write a fan diary of each day’s events. This was an amazing honor that didn’t seem possible until this past weekend when it all actually happened! I wrote frantically every night after hours and hours of roasting in the sun all day to get the story sent in and sometime the next morning, amazingly the story and pictures I sent in were up there (and can be read here). It was additionally surreal to see the picture I took of “Snacks” (fellow caddy during the Pro-Am last Thursday) and South Korean LPGA player Jee Young Lee standing in front of the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile next to the first tee box at Pumpkin Ridge’s Ghost Creek golf course flash across the top of the LPGA homepage as a featured story. It was hard – much harder than I thought it would be. When I so enthusiastically agreed to write for this event, I thought it would be easy. How many times have I talked people’s ear off about the previous experiences? This was not the case. My crazy stories of experiences are mostly made up of inside jokes mixed with a mild psychosis that doesn’t translate well to anything, but especially a real website where some people actually go for information. So, I found myself reporting. I have often found sports reporters to be a hateful bunch. Who wouldn’t be when charged with writing about the same thing over and over each day? It never felt right, when I hit send each evening. I find that there are no words that I can conjure up that actually represent what I go through out there.
This year’s journey has me questioning what it is that draws me to the event with such drive. I think it’s because I feel like I belong there. I have always had a passion for golf, if not the game. I remember as a little kid, before I had any inclination of golf, being overly curious about golf courses that would pass by the car window as we drove wherever we were going. There have been two times during my adult life where I’ve entered an arena where I felt completely at home: walking into a real professional recording studio and every time I’ve walked onto the golf course to watch the LPGA. These are two places where I feel I truly belong. It makes me wonder about how my decisions have led me astray from these things. How do I consistently find myself doing things that I don’t really want to do all day every day. This is not unique, I know – this is something most of us go through – but at this time it is all so fresh and I am not quite ready to do what we all always find a way to do, and swallow it down and push on through the daily grind until the disappointment fades away. I still don’t know exactly what it is that makes me so crazy. I have mentioned before how welcoming this tournament is. It’s remarkable to me to enter the course and immediately be surrounded by the players that I see on TV most weeks – walking to and fro. They all are always willing to stop and say hello to anyone that approaches, and they always seem genuinely glad to do so – almost as if they are surprised! Much of what I have written about previously has been my efforts to cheer on specific golfers as I trail them over entire rounds of 18 holes. I like to completely immerse myself into what they’re doing. They are not necessarily in the hunt for the tournament and sometimes may be really struggling, but the effort and the emotion that I see and feel sucks me in and I truly do live and die inside with each and every shot. This last Saturday, I followed my new girl Jee Young Lee from the Pro-AM, who I was honored to see play up close, a tour rookie, who I had not previously heard of, Dori Carter and a fading LPGA star Jennifer Rosales. Besides the father of Jee Young and the mom and dad of Dori’s, I was the only one watching these three players in the gallery. As we came down the final fairway of the day, I introduced myself and let them know that I was writing the fan diary for the LPGA website. I asked them if I could take some pictures. When their kids – these young women - had finished and signed their scorecards with the officials, they signed a few autographs and then went to their parents. It was there that they thanked me for following and for the support. They thanked me! It amazed me. Dori and Jee Young both seemed surprised and happy that I had been there, and despite struggling through a really difficult day of golf for both of them and trying to earn a living, they were smiling and obliging as I had them pose for my silly pictures. Unfortunately, I was not able to track down Jennifer Rosales during all the commotion, which is too bad, because I remember rooting her on to a couple of victories several years ago, while watching the LPGA tape delayed on ESPN. At any rate, the parents asked me to email them the pictures I took so they could share them with their family. They were all so warm and kind that I felt like I was at a family summer barbeque.
The final round on Sunday is always difficult for me. It is the last day and I go in knowing that I don’t want it to end. I do not want to say goodbye, but I do want to reach a conclusion. It is the nature of competition. There’s not a lot of satisfaction without an ending, though golf is different. The real competition in golf is between the player and the course, or really the player and themselves. Sometimes just making the cut and actually earning a few thousand dollars in the case of an LPGA tournament is a victory. While sometimes getting that first top 20 or top 10 is a huge victory. The storylines are varied and deep and never simple. Once again, I followed around my new favorite Korean Jee Young Lee on Sunday, along with the ravishing and model tall German Sandra Gal. Jee Young had vaulted herself into contention during the first round with an impressive 5 under round, but played one over par the second day, so she needed to make a big move to be able to earn a victory (she started the day 7 strokes behind the leader). I wanted to will her to that victory. I know it doesn’t work, but I was going to try and root her cool flat orange golf ball into the hole with every possible shot. Overall, she played pretty damn good, but ended the tournament where she was after the first day at five under par, which was good enough for a tie for twelfth place. When she finished, my companion Christine followed me around behind the grandstands, where I shook hands and offered continued support to Jee Young’s father, where he thanked me profusely again for my support. What I really wanted was a chance to get a picture of me with her after the round, since I had taken so many of her with other people. But as we circled around where the players exit the big stage of the 18th hole and where there are generally autograph seekers and such, I saw Jee Young and her caddy alone with their heads down walking directly to the driving range to practice – with her father trotting over the join them. It was that moment where I kind of lost it. I think I confused Christine as I kept walking back and forth and leading us nowhere with lots of golfers and action still to be witnessed. But it was that moment when I knew that this was it. The tournament and the writing gig that I had been building up with anticipation for nearly an entire year was ending and I didn’t want it to. This place is where I belonged! In that moment, I didn’t want to go back to my stressful job. I didn’t want to go see all of my doctors anymore. I didn’t want to go back to my apartment and be alone. I wanted to race down the hill and embrace Jee Young and console her and hopefully console myself in the process. Being at that tournament and around those players lifted me to another plane where my illnesses and limitations no longer were a part of my life. My constant daily headaches were barely noticeable, my energy level maintained enough to get me around those damn hills each and every day without fail, and I was filled with feeling and passion and confidence that often drift away from me during regular days.
I realize that this sadness will fade away over time, at least until next August, like apparently those old childhood summer camp crushes do, and I will re-immerse myself into the real world. Though, if the LPGA decides that they need someone to fill the position “Ambassador of Awesomeness,” I would definitely like to offer my services.