Getting a media credential to the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay sounds glamorous. Covering a huge international sporting event — a historic first for our region — is both an honor and a career highlight.
The work by journalists on the ground has been long, hot and challenging. At times, it’s seemed anything but glamorous. But it’s also been a labor of love by a crew doing its best to inform and entertain News Tribune readers.
Truly, our coverage journey began seven years ago when Chambers Bay landed the 2015 U.S. Open. We named Todd Milles our golf writer and sent him to every major golf tournament we could in the intervening years.
The coverage pace quickened this year as we launched a U.S. Open section on our website and a 115-day tournament countdown in the paper and online.
Managing editor Dale Phelps held weekly planning meetings. He drew on our experience covering back-to-back Super Bowls as he schemed on event coverage.
He planned a fan guide, a kickoff golf section last Sunday and seven daily U.S. Open sections we would fill with live coverage. He planned front-page stories focusing on aspects of the event most meaningful to hometown readers. And he plotted up-to-the-minute coverage online.
Last Sunday, we moved into the giant Media Center tent at Chambers Bay. As the hometown press, we garnered 28 of the 1,000-or so total credentials, plus 10 seats in the front row of the tent, four more in the photographers’ room next door and a trailer of our own out back.
Our sports editor, photo editor, digital editor and online producer worked from the trailer until as late as 10 p.m. every day last week. They could have been sitting in Puyallup for all they saw of live play, but they managed a satellite newsroom that could more nimbly deploy reporters and photographers.
Photographer Peter Haley edited together snips of video when he wasn’t shooting players at news conferences. Another four photographers roamed the course, with one each day allowed to follow players “inside the ropes.”
Every TNT sports reporter (except Seattle Mariners writer Bob Dutton) worked the event, writing about the players, the course and the play. Three filed live-breaking stories to the website; the other five wrote longer stories for the print deadline.
Sports writers seemed less star-struck then the rest covering the biggest names in golf. By week’s end, one quipped he simply was looking forward to using a real toilet instead of an on-course portable potty.
Seven news reporters covered the fan experience and the event’s effect on the South Sound.
Back in the newsroom, copy desk chief Liz Wishaw organized editing and page design efforts for nine special sections totaling 142 pages.
“Days are always long, and you kind of know that going into it,” she said Friday. “You develop a rhythm.
“Thursday was bigger and crazier. Phone calls and instant messages are flying back and forth between those at the trailer and myself. The leader board kept changing. And each day is going to be a little hairier at the end.”
Reporter Adam Lynn and photographer Lui Kit Wong had one of the more challenging assignments.
“Lui and I had a 2:30 a.m. wake-up Wednesday for the grounds crew story, which was weeks in the planning,” Lynn wrote. “Security is very tight, so we had to score a special parking permit for the maintenance lot to meet up with the USGA’s chief agronomist.
“U.S. Open media director Pete Kowalski slipped me one Tuesday and made me swear a blood oath that I’d return it to him as soon as we were finished. I swore.
“When Lui and I arrived at the maintenance lot checkpoint at 3:15 a.m., the state troopers wouldn’t let us pass. Turns out Kowalski had mistakenly given us an expired permit.
“We wheedled, whined, complained and cajoled to no avail. I thought about shedding tears, which wouldn’t have been hard at that point.
“Finally, a maintenance worker coming in behind us agreed to tell his boss about our plight, and he came down and vouched for us. The troopers relented and let us in.”
By week’s end, reporter Kari Plog was tired, but still smiling.
“You show up at or before dawn, and you blink, and it’s the end of the day,” she said. “You spend all day in the sun with one of the most gorgeous views around, and you get to meet a boatload of excited Pacific Northwesterners who are truly grateful for this first-time championship experience.
“Oh, and sometimes you get to see Tiger or Phil tee off. That’s cool, too,” said Plog, whose first job with the News Tribune was taking high school sports game summaries before taking over as the East Pierce County news reporter.
A generous boss would give our hardworking crew tomorrow off.
The problem is, we’ll still have a paper and a website to put out Monday. Plus, there’s always a chance today’s play will end in a tie and have us all back covering another round of golf tomorrow.