On championship day at the U.S. Open, every spectator’s favorite number is 18.
A seat in the 6,000-plus-seat grandstand at Chambers Bay’s finishing hole was the hottest ticket in town Sunday.
“This thing’s been full for 21/2 hours, and these people are not leaving,” volunteer Richard Robelotto told a group of spectators about 2:30 p.m., just about the time the four men at the top of the leaderboard were preparing to tee off for their final rounds.
Just down the way, John Kenney and a group of buddies from Vancouver, British Columbia, were in line, hoping to squeeze inside with the rest of the throngs of people.
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They planned to ride out the rest of the day if they made it in, even if that meant a five-hour stay in the hot sun.
“We think it’s going to come down to the 18th hole,” Kenney said. “We’re willing to put in our time.”
Canadians Garry King and Bernie Grebinski, of Saskatchewan, had seats earlier, left for a while but decided to come back.
They were at the head of the line about 2 p.m. and were planning not to leave again.
“It’s an interesting finishing hole,” King said. “When we were here earlier, we saw a couple of eagles.”
Dust churned up by thousands of feet shuffling along filled the air outside the mammoth bleacher complex, the biggest the USGA has ever had on a U.S. Open finishing hole.
The re-entry line — people were allowed to leave and reclaim their seats if they came back within 45 minutes — was full of folks clutching a beer in each hand and a sandwich tucked under their chins.
Volunteer Bob Akaki handed out re-entry tickets and answered questions from people seeking their first entry.
“You have to start the process down there,” Akaki told one insistent woman, pointing to a line snaking around the west end of the grandstand.
Some people got there early.
Hayward and Marylynn Hesslup were waiting at the rope line first thing Sunday morning when USGA officials started allowing people onto Chambers Bay for the final round of the U.S. Open.
The University Place couple made a beeline to the grandstand at No. 18, which on championship day is one of the most popular seats in the house.
“We got here a little after 7 (in the morning),” Hayward said about 10:15 a.m. “I thought it would be more crowded, but it’s starting to fill up now.”
Indeed, about half the grandstand seats were full, and that was at least a couple of hours before even the first golfers out of the clubhouse would hit their approach shots to the 18th.
The Hesslups said they planned to spend five or six hours there before returning home to watch the end of the championship on TV.
Hayward said they were spending the time “people watching” and catching snatches of play on No. 1 and No. 9.
“You can see some things from here,” said Hayward, who had binoculars along.
As for bathroom breaks: “We’re taking turns,” Marylynn said.
Hawaii resident and former pro golfer Haruki Hirai sat not far away, bundled in a fleece jacket against the morning chill.
Hirai said he planned to split time between the 18th grandstand and the driving range on Sunday.
He dismissed criticisms of the Chambers Bay course, which has been getting little love from many players and golf commentators this week.
Everyone’s playing on the same course with the same goal, Hirai said, to get that little white ball from the tee to the cup.
“That part of the game never changes,” he said. “And this is the U.S. Open, and these are the best players in the world.”
That’s why everyone was queuing up at 18 on Sunday. They wanted to see the best of the best finish.