Late afternoon, during the first round of the Cambia Portland Classic, I found myself completely out of gas. I was worried, because this was just the first of four long days (Besides the two days of Pro-Am caddying I managed to get through). Even the golfer I had decided to cheer on, Amy Yang, her first trip to Portland, seemed to be lacking focus. All round, she couldn’t make a damn putt. On the beautiful 13th hole – par 3 over water – she hit a shot that reminded me of how I play, when I’ve completely given up and am about to give my golf ball to Ken to throw down the fairway in lieu of actually swinging a club anymore. Meanwhile, I was thirsty, hot, and sore. My feet were covered in blisters and I was worried that my normal fiery run of inspiration from the annual LPGA visit was going to be cut short. I sent text messages out pleading for someone to drive out onto the course, drag my lifeless body into their car and dump me in the parking field near my car. No one was willing me help. As Amy (ranked 11th best in the world!) missed putt after putt and proceeded to build a score of three over par, I had to crawl my way on my hands and knees towards the 17th hole where the beer tent generally resides to at least enjoy a cold one before expiring – only to find that it was gone! As panic set in, I began to wonder if this was how it would all end. Not from a botched surgery, or from all the strong medications I take or from cancer or a failed transplanted kidney, but from sheer exhaustion out on a golf course watching the LPGA. If that were to be the case, then I would be more than okay with that. It’s not very often that I feel like I make a decision throughout a day, where I can say: “This is exactly what I want to be doing,” but when I am out in the sunshine, on a beautiful golf course, watching talented professional golfers, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing.
Every year when I go through this, I ponder why I do the things I do. I think about why I like the things I like. I begin to question everything. What is it about attending this golfing event that is so much of a thrill for me? I never feel like I really find any answers, except my extreme dislike of my current employment becomes more focused and intense, and that I do not do enough of the things that bring me happiness (I’m sure most can relate). Even though I get so much out of this event, I am fully aware that a huge percentage of people out there do not understand. Every time I find myself informing people about the event and my excitement for it, I can see the mystified or the completely disinterested expressions sweep across their faces. At best, I’ll get a sympathetic pat on the back as they try to understand the ramblings of someone on the verge of a mental breakdown (which is not far off the mark). Yet, every time I am involved with this LPGA event, I meet fellow volunteers who have been at it for years, expressing the same kind of excitement (many of whom are not golfers), as well as meeting new volunteers with huge smiles on their faces, who find out how great this event is. During the tournament, I overhear comments from first-timers like “This is way better than I thought it would be” over and over again.
I do love golf and have since I was a little kid. I used to be a dedicated seasonal player. Going out a couple of times a week from around May till October. I have always watched golf on TV, which I realize to most people is akin to watching paint dry, but it’s the internal drama that I thrive on. Golf is so individual and so mental, that is much different than most competitive activities. I understand this as a hacker, who has had many dark moments cracking up from the internal pressure of trying to be good at the game and not pulling it off even for a moment. I’ve been attending the Portland LPGA event now for seven years and I have barely put together 27 holes of playing golf in the last 4 and none in over two years. Instead I’ve been living golf vicariously through these up close stretches of seeing how talented people manage. It’s not just the competitive story-line of trying to win the tournament, but it’s the stories of each player trying to achieve different levels of success. A young player trying to earn their first check as a pro, or an older player still trying to eke out a living as long as they can, it can even be as simple as trying to be better than the day prior.
For me, the joy of watching these women play golf is that I can see their amazing skills up close, but also that I can see how they cope. You get to know them through their body language, their reactions, and what they do during the moments while they are waiting for their playing partner to hit a shot. Golf is so humanizing. The game is played so much inside the head. This year I chose Amy Yang to support, because over the last few years, I have seen her play really well on TV in major tournaments like the US Open, but she has never pulled through with a win. I’m one of those people who often feels sympathy for those who fall just short. I seem to have an appreciation of the underdog. It’s clearly present with the music I love. I have always been more inclined to sit at the empty or near empty table in the lunchroom, than to sit with the popular crowd. Of course, there are stages of this, so I try to fill out my golf spectating by seeking out lesser known players to follow, players who could break out at any moment, and of course, the players at the top of the tourney competing for the big prize. One of the things I love about golf is that any of these levels of players can win any week. Anyway, back on track, Amy, for reasons likely only apparent to me, reminds me of my cousin Laura. It’s something that I see in the expressions and mannerisms they share. I made the decision to root for Yang, because I need a main rooting interest to maximize my own experience out there. With golf it’s unique in that you want everyone to do well - just your favorite a little better. I don’t dislike players, as with other sports where, for example, I can hate the Seattle Sounders with an intense passion – so much so, that I get more satisfaction from seeing them lose than to see the Portland Timbers win. And as usual, she won me over, like these players generally do.
For this year’s tournament, Stacy Lewis, a multiple winning (but not for a few years), perennially Top 10 player won. It was a great story, because she has had a long run of Top 10 finishes and runner-ups, but has not closed the deal since 2014 (she placed second in 2016’s Portland Classic). And before the tournament began, she pledged that any money she earned, this Houston native would donate directly to Hurricane Harvey relief. Sadly, for me, Amy Yang struggled both in the first round and the final round. However, the ride she went on was dramatic as can be. She began the second round tied for 122nd and four shots over the weekend cut line (after two rounds the field gets “cut” approximately in half – the players who do not make the cut, do not earn money) and with 5 holes to play was still two shots above the cut line. I began mumbling goals to myself for her to reach (“She’s gotta get at least 3 birdies over the last 4 holes) and that’s exactly what she did! The slumped shoulders and forlorn looks to the sky after yet another just-missed putt from Thursday were now bright smiles and energized fist bumps with her caddy. Then on Saturday, after a slow start, Amy made a clutch long putt for par on the 4th hole after driving behind the big pesky tree down the left side of the fairway. Then she birdied 5, eagled 7, and nearly aced the par 3 eighth hole (made birdie). She then made birdie on the 10th hole. So in 24 hours she went from tied for 122nd to a tie for 10th! I was practically floating on air. The fireworks stopped from then on as she played one over par the rest of the way.
The final round, unfortunately, was bleak from the get go. She bogeyed the first hole from the middle of the fairway and from then on struggled with every facet of her game, especially her chipping. She just couldn’t put anything positive together. The smiles and purposeful stride from the day before, became stern expressions. Amy began walking far apart from her caddy muttering to herself with a stern lecture. Pure frustration had set in. And I was with her in spirit the entire way, but there’s nothing I could do. Sometimes I joke that my presence curses the players I encounter and in times like these, it begins to feel real. Despite myself, I let her go after 13 holes in favor of that final group with the crowds and popular kids. I still feel guilty and sad about that decision, but I can’t wait to be out there to make up for it next year.