Golf has taken me to many wonderful places and spending a week at Pebble Beach is always going to be hard to beat. Spectacular, jaw-dropping scenery and the opportunity to commentate from inside the ropes on every single round of Brooks Koepka, world No 1, as he attempted to become only the second person to win three consecutive US Open Championships, was a privileged and unforgettable experience. It’s not too difficult to roll out of bed in the morning when that is what constitutes your working day.
Those of you who are members of courses that have hosted, or are about to host, a major will have some appreciation of the staggering amount of infrastructure and resource required to stage such huge events. The overall broadcasting and media set-up alone requires the building of a mini, temporary city which becomes home to us for a week. This inaccessible, secret world, however, is unseen by the thousands of golf fans actually present at the tournament and by the millions of global television and radio listeners and watchers. I am still somewhat surprised at finding myself part of it all. Even after 22 years of involvement in broadcasting I sometimes feel it’s a little dream-like and I’ll wake up one day and discover I’m an accountant like Dad or my husband! Perish the thought!
At each event we have a nerve centre from which the whole broadcast is managed. Sometimes it’s secreted away in a portacabin in the TV compound, sometimes it’s a broadcast booth constructed out on the golf course, usually somewhere within sight of the 18th green.
Thankfully, that is not where I am closeted for the duration of the tournament. This is the domain of the producer, the host and the analyst. No, on arrival in the morning I beat a path from the media centre to the driving range and short game area, the office of the players for the first part of their day. Here it is possible to witness all manner of weird and wonderful things. All sorts of gizmos, gadgets, sticks, measuring devices and computers are pulled from the mysterious depths of huge golf bags, rather as a magician will pull a rabbit from a hat. This signals the start of the pre-round warm up, which varies considerably from player to player. Some are very mechanical, precise and measured in every action they take; others freewheel a little more – but they all have the same aim: to prepare the body and mind for the best golfing performance possible for the player on that particular day. It is a tense, watchful place.
After watching the players in my assigned group and formulating a few opinions on how they are swinging and moving it is time for me to move to the course and hope that my own preparations may lead to some insightful and entertaining commentary. This year I was assigned the Koepka group each of the four days – the first time ever, I believe, that I have shadowed one player for the entire week of a major. So, I suppose I’m a bit like a legalised stalker with the added bonus after each round of getting to interview Brooks and, within reason, ask him whatever I like.
On these weeks I certainly don’t have any problem keeping up my number of steps on the ole fitness tracker but at the day’s end the media centre is always a welcome sight. I feel a little like a ship safely making it back to harbour. Well, what a treat was in store on one of the days that I made it safely back to base! The USGA (United States Golf Association) had set up a display of some of the most priceless items in their museum, all relating to the history of their 119-year old national championship. The oldest item was a club made and used by Horace Rawlins during the inaugural US Open, which he won, in 1895. Rawlins, an assistant professional at Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club, remains the only US Open Champion to win on a course where he was employed as a professional. For me, however, the most eye-catching item was the 1-iron that Ben Hogan used on the 72nd hole at Merion in the 1950 edition of this championship. It’s the club featured in the iconic picture of Hogan playing into the final green and is familiar even to today’s players because it was used for years in the promotion of Hogan golf clubs.
Tucked away in another corner of the media centre were two large massage chairs – not the ones you sit astride while someone gets to work on massaging your back. No, these were two huge armchairs with all-enveloping folds for each of your four limbs and every part of it whirred and vibrated, the whole performance being operated by a hand-held device like a TV channel changer. “Just the ticket,” I thought at the end of one particularly gruelling day. Positive this would revive me I climbed onto the chair and set the massage button to medium. What a mistake! It was like being eaten by a giant, aggressive amoeba and three minutes was all I lasted before finding the relevant “abort” button on the remote. What a relief it was to be spat out of that chair!
I didn’t sit in it again.
And so, with glorious Pebble Beach now behind us, the major season is rattling on apace and we are already three quarters of the way through the 2019 edition. All that remains is the Open Championship to be held at the incomparable Royal Portrush. That will be another week to savour, in so many ways. Can’t wait.