As workers were installing the last pieces of a functional city within a meadow at Chambers Bay on Monday, a major task awaited the USGA in its preparation for the 115th U.S. Open:
Getting the players situated, which becomes something of a challenge when more than half the of the championship field isn’t assured of a spot in the championship field.
Of the 156 golfers who’ll compete next week, only 74 began this week knowing they are on their way to University Place. Ten sectional qualifying tournaments were scheduled Monday, increasing the field to 150, with six additional exemptions awarded Sunday night.
“For somebody who’s never been here and doesn’t know where to stay, our player services team has to make sure we have hotel rooms or private homes lined up,” said Danny Sink, the on-site championship coordinator for the USGA. “It’s a little bit of a challenge, but we do it every year and have a pretty good grasp on what last-minute requests will be made.”
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On the walls of a room roughly the size of a small camping trailer — “our nerve center” Sink called it – were blank placards awaiting results from such qualifying sites as The Bear’s Club (Jupiter, Florida), Old Oaks Country Club (Purchase, New York) and Tumble Creek in Cle Elum.
By Monday night, the placards would contain the names of those aspiring to follow in the footsteps of 2005 Open champion Michael Campbell and Lucas Glover, who won in 2009. Both survived qualifying rounds.
“It’s exciting because it’s unique,” said Sink. “I checked some scores this morning and noticed that Lee Janzen was leading one of the qualifiers. He’s somebody who’s been on the PGA Tour for 20 years. So you’re dealing with Tour pros who might have a management company helping them with their travel, but you’re also hearing from 15 year-olds and their moms — kids who’ve never been to a championship before.
“You’ve got to be flexible and understand there are a lot of moving parts: Seasoned veterans versus people who’ve never played a championship and are seeing their dreams come true.”
When the old pros and new kids converge during the first practice round next Monday, they’ll have access to a hospitality tent that resembles a sports bar.
“The players may drop in for a bite to eat,” Sink said of the hospitality tent, “but they’re here for work. It’s mostly for their families. We want to make it as easy as we can for the players, the caddies and their families.”
When the USGA awarded the Open to Chambers Bay, there was some consternation about the absence of a spacious clubhouse with a locker room. No worries. Major-tournament golfers shower and change clothes after a round at their lodging residence. Locker rooms essentially are a place for them to store valuables and get their golf shoes shined.
“Probably 75 percent of the players use a locker room,” said Sink, “and the majority of them don’t hang out in one. It’s not designed for that. It’s designed to store stuff. Chambers Bay is no different than Pebble Beach or Erin Hills in Wisconsin, where we’ll play the Open next year. At a lot of places, there’s not an established locker room big enough for 150 players.”
Because the temporary-facility drill is so commonplace, the USGA owns the lockers and ships them from site to site.
As for the remainder of Chambers Bay’s conversion from a public golf course to weeklong home of an internationally renowned event, there’s still some work to do. A grandstand adjacent to the practice range, for instance, has yet to be installed.
But between the ideal weather and a palpable sense of electricity in the air, all systems are go for the temporary-empire builders.
“It’s great to see this in fruition,” said Sink. “A few years out, you look at maps and envision it becoming real. Then everything finally goes up. It’s kind of like having a baby.”
As Sink talked, his cellphone chimed. He and his staff were facing a day busy enough to be called crazy, and yet he couldn’t help but smile.
Somewhere in this favored land, a teenager or two would learn their dreams had come true. It’s impossible to guarantee a favorable Chambers Bay experience, of course, but the USGA can guarantee this much:
There will be no last-minute travel issues for their mothers.