Tom O’Toole Jr. cut to the chase.
“With deep gratitude and excitement,” the USGA president told a crowd of several hundred Sunday afternoon, “we’re pleased to kick off this championship week at Chambers Bay.”
O’Toole’s words drew polite applause, similar to the sound a gallery offers upon a player’s introduction at the No. 1 tee. Animated fans will show up later in the week to provide whistles and roars for birdie putts and groan over those that are missed.
The mood Sunday was restrained — the calm before the storm, as it were. Five days before Chambers Bay will be home to the biggest sporting event in the history of Pierce County, its military roots were recognized during a Flag Day ceremony that also coincided with the U.S. Army’s 240th birthday.
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The I Corps band from Joint Base Lewis-McChord performed before and after the color guard presented the flag during a ritual of silent dignity. Old Glory was elevated to the top of the flag pole and as it flapped in the breeze, against the cloudless sky, the effect was as stirring as it was stunning.
Elsewhere, workers still were applying last-minute touch ups. Literally, as in a coat of white paint for the hand railings along the stairs outside the media center.
Early-arrival competitors got some warm-up rounds in and had access to the range and putting green, but their practice was closed to the public. That didn’t prevent 20-minute long waits for shuttle buses transporting customers to the merchandise tent in the “Spectator Square” district of the park’s central meadow.
A prediction: The 115th U.S. Open will be, oh, about five times more secure than the 114 Opens that preceded it.
Bags larger than 6 inches by 6 inches are prohibited, a measure that forced some fans with purses and handbags Sunday to return to their cars.
“If you came here with a pocket knife, either take it back to your vehicle or it will not be your pocket knife anymore,” informed a security-service employee, apparently more experienced at working as a dive-bar bouncer than at the check-in gate for a golf tournament.
Seriously? A heads-up warning to keep those knives in the car?
Then again, I haven’t attended a major championship since the 2013 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club outside San Francisco. Perhaps there’s been a subtle shift in the traditional golf-fan demographic, from financial analysts and sales reps to outlaw bikers.
Because I had a print out of a temporary press credential enabling me to pick up an actual press credential, I was allowed to carry in a bag quite larger than 6 inches by 6 inches. It contained a laptop, a windbreaker and a newspaper sports section.
“You need to make sure this bag doesn’t have too much in it,” an inspector told me. “We’ve got a zero tolerance policy on contraband items this week.”
Windbreakers as contraband items, that’s a new one. But I get it: Zero tolerance. Fortunately, I doubt I’ll be needing a windbreaker at Chambers Bay, where it appears the weather will be more telegenic than it was for the only other USGA event held on the course, the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
Rain wasn’t a factor, but I recall overcast conditions during the final round that suggested rain could be a factor. And while some inclement weather wouldn’t trouble USGA executive director Mike Davis — he believes an Open champion ought to be a man for all seasons — perfect weather gives the Puget Sound a crystal-blue glow.
“The one thing we can’t control is Mother Nature,” Pierce County executive Pat McCarthy said Sunday. “I saw forecasts where the weather might be a little iffy in the middle of the week. But if you talk to Make Davis, he’ll tell you, ‘I want a little bit of everything.’
“But for me, because the course is so big and robust, “ McCarthy continued, “I’d prefer it to be sunny and beautiful. People get to see the Sound and the mountains. There’s nothing like the Pacific Northwest when the weather is beautiful.”
For USGA president O’Toole, who is from St. Louis — where the weather is comfortable for six minutes in the spring and eight minutes in the fall — Chambers Bay must look like a piece of blue heaven.
“I can remember standing up there at the U.S. Amateur and visualizing this infrastructure being put in,” he said, referring to the central meadow as seen from the permanent clubhouse. “I thought to myself, this is going to be pretty special. And to come back to this place not for a U.S. Amateur but for the first U.S. Open in the Northwest, this is a great story.”
A magical week awaits. When University Place resident Michael Putnam puts the first tee shot in play at 7 a.m. Thursday, the paint will be dry, the shuttle service will be efficient, the sun will be in cloud burn-out mode and spectators will be forewarned.
Keep those knives in the car.