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For A BuriedLie, I played in the Shoprite LPGA Classic pro-am in Atlantic City on June 26 and 27, 2001. The teams were paired with a different pro each day-I just hoped my players would speak English well enough to talk about their lives on the Tour.
Fairway to Heaven takes place at a fictional tournament (Pine Straw Three-Tour Challenge) at the very real Pinehurst NC. Below are photos of the town, the Village Chapel, the Holly Inn, and the Pinehurst police department, all action-packed locations from the book. You can also click here for information and photos from the golf course, the spa, and more.
In Book Five of the series (tentatively called Final Fore), Cassie will be playing for the first time in the US Women's Open golf tournament. In July, 2004, the Open was played at the Orchards golf course, which belongs to Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Here are my notes and photos!
US OPEN DIARY:
June 28, 2004. The big week is finally here. I'm lucky enough to bunk down in a dormitory at Mount Holyoke college, so guess what, that's where Cassie will be staying too! South Hadley is a beautiful town in the Pioneer Valley; I guess you could say the college is the main event here. Hard to picture all those golf fans squeezed in this small area. I check in for my media credentials, and I'm a little bit nervous. I'll be writing an article on the mental pressures of playing in an Open to earn my keep as a writer for the New Haven Register.
With my badge in place, I wander around five or six holes watching some of the players in their practice rounds. No one's really playing to keep score-they're taking a look at the golf course, trying out the rough and putting from all different angles. You'll see quite a few of them with their bright green yardage books, studying the lay of the land. The only complaint I overhear is about the small size of the practice green-only five holes cut into it and players jammed in with their caddies. It's surrounded by a waist-high fence, which does give a little bit of a caged-in look. Judging from the difficulty chipping out, the primary rough looks plenty thick. There're lots of tall, naturalized grasses too-the kind of setting that looks beautiful until your ball gets lost in it and you have nothing to do but hack it out. Speaking of hacking, there's none of that here. These women have amazing swings-rhythmic and powerful. Damn, it looks easy.
At six o'clock, I head back down I-91 to Fran Johnson's Golf and Tennis shop in West Springfield, MA. Owner Cindy Johnson has lined up a group of pros to sign autographs and have their pictures taken with fans and the place is mobbed. I have my picture taken with Laura Davies and a couple of other tour players-who cares if I'm the only adult behaving like a star-struck fan!
June 29, 2004. Day two. There was a big storm overnight, but by morning it's cleared away making room for another perfect day in South Hadley. I spend a couple of hours following sets of golfers on their practice rounds-this time on the back nine. The course looks good and so far, I've heard nothing but admiration from golfers and fans alike. The greens are fast and have undulations a player might have nightmares about. One fan asks why I'm taking notes and looks at me like I'm a nutcase when I tell him I'm writing a mystery set at the Orchards! I follow Michelle Wie's group for a while-she's the 14 year-old amateur sensation who sent shock waves through the golf world this year. She's tall and lanky and deadly serious. Golf guru David Leadbetter is walking with her group and consults with her caddie/father whenever Michelle putts. Later on during a press interview, I see more of the 14 year old she is. Someone asks her about losing the mid-amateur last weekend and whether that had been the only time she cried in public. She explains that she wanted that win so badly, it made her terribly sad to lose. But, she adds, she believes that losing teaches you more than winning. If you only win, you think you're so good and don't have to work on anything. She gives a short answer to the reporter who asks about the controversy regarding the USGA awarding her a special exemption. Michelle replies that had she been professional she would have been #28 on the money list and therefore eligible for an exemption automatically. The USGA representative moves the conversation past the question of whether the controversy has added pressure to her performance. Hard to see how it could not
Earlier in the day, I attended interviews with Annika Sorenstam and another amateur sensation Paula Creamer You simply cannot believe that this poised and confident young woman is only 17. Both she and Michelle are pressed about whether they intend to turn pro rather than go on to college. Paula quite firmly explains that she hasn't made up her mind yet and won't be giving any further hints. Annika is the consummate media professional. At the ripe old age of 34, she's fielding questions about how long she intends to play professional golf. As long as I have the motivation to get out there and practice and play, she answers. During tournament weeks, her routine consists entirely of working out, practicing, playing, eating, and sleeping. She's complimented for her polite demeanor and she explains that Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg was her idol growing up-she admired his behavior on the court.
Interesting note about the amateurs and their caddies. Paula has just recently replaced her father with her boyfriend. She steadfastly refuses to make a comparison between the two. (Smart!) Michelle has just put her father back on the bag. In spite of what they don't say, you can see how complicated a father/caddie relationship would be. Hmmm something to think about for Cassie.
I also visit the USGA merchandise tent and the kids' tent. They have putting greens set up and all kinds of free stuff for kids. Rebecca Lobo (you remember her, the 1995 Uconn Huskies basketball star) is giving a clinic on the driving range. I don't check to see whether it's golf or basketball! Then back to wander through the South Hadley Village commons-it's what they call town. Joan Grenier runs the Odyssey Bookstore, a wonderful independent store that started out as a couple of shelves of books in her father's pharmacy. Stop by and tell her I sent you!
June 30, 2004. Day three. Today I'm determined to get an individual interview on the subject of the pressure of playing in the Open for the article I'm writing for the New Haven Register. I start out by following the practice round of Karrie Webb, Kelly Robbins, and a young blond girl I don't recognize. I see her wave at two women in the gallery and I move up to chat with them. She is Brittany Lincicome, an 18 year-old amateur who is turning pro this fall. In some ways she's the direct opposite of Michelle Wie-no golf academy background, no sports psychiatrist, no fancy teaching pros. She's home-schooled and takes a couple lessons from a local pro-one little old man, is how her mother describes him. Brittany's having a ball, too-you can tell just from watching. This leads to a lively discussion about what's the best way to handle junior golfers and whether talent will find it's way out even if you don't spend a lot on fancy consultants.
When I realize the group is finishing up on the ninth hole, I decide I'm going to boldly follow Karrie Webb until I get the quote I need. She is mobbed by autograph hounds. She's walking, she's signing, she's pushing forward through the fans until everything's signed and only I am left dogging her. I get my quote. The whole experience doesn't look like much fun from her perspective here's a picture of Laura Diaz signing a fan's program.
I also get the chance to chat briefly with reigning champion Hilary Lunke, as somehow I misread the schedule and missed her press conference. She tells me that the secret to handling the US Open pressure is to pretend it's just another day of golf. Watch the birds, look at the trees, talk to herself, have fun with the other players. It worked for her once
The course looks like it's really in wonderful shape. No one's complaining. The USGA officials admit they made a mistake at the men's tournament allowing the greens to dry out to almost unplayable. That won't happen here. I chat with Laurie Priest, director of athletics at Mt. Holyoke. She is just thrilled with the whole event-it's so fitting to have such an amazing display of talented women at this women's college, on this golf course built by one man so his daughter could play any time she wanted.
July 1, 2004. Day four. First day of the open is finally here. I arrive at the course around 8:30 on another gorgeous day. What to do? No longer needing quotes, I decide I'll follow one group all the way around. 18 year old amateur Brittany Lincicome is teeing off, along with Futures tour player Allison Hanna and Ji Yeon Lee. I have the chance to chat with Brittany and Allison's mothers and family friends on the way around. Allison, from Portland, Oregon, was first alternate for last year's Open-she would have played in front of her home town crowd at Pumpkin Ridge, but no players dropped out. Brittany has just finished high school and plans to turn pro in the fall, hoping to make it through Q-school and onto the tour. Ji Leon Lee is a 23 year old non-exempt player from Korea. She's five feet tall and hits the ball similarly to the others-which bursts my illusion that my lack of promise in the game has to do with being height-challenged. By the time we reach the 15th hole, Brittany is three under par, a very good score for any player, never mind an amateur in her first ever Open. Then she punches a seven iron out from under a tree, which rolls in for eagle. Despite a golfing adventure involving the concession stand on the 18th hole, she scrambles to save par and hold her first round score at five under. Of course, she's mobbed by the media-this is not the amateur they expected to take the lead. I return to the media tent and the skies open with a vicious thunderstorm. I'm lucky to be there-the players were whisked off the course, of course, but the twenty thousand spectators are left to fend for themselves. I hear later that quite a few jammed into the merchandise tent and that business there was brisk! Inside, I introduce myself to LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw, and wait out the storm to head home.
July 2, 2004. Day five. There's been another thunderstorm in the early morning so the paths around the course are rutted and muddy or covered with slippery grass. The course itself is holding up well-the players appreciate the softer greens. A number of the players have had to play between one and nine holes left over from yesterday's rain delay. My husband's keeping me company today, so we start out by watching a variety of groups pass through, in order to get a look at some of the big names-Sorenstam, Webb, Kerr, Neumann, Rosales. Then we follow Kate Golden's group-she was one of my pro partners at the ShopRite classic when I was researching A Buried Lie. Here comes a highlight of the tournament: I call out good wishes to Kate and she says "hey, we were just talking about you!" Then she goes across the green to consult with Donna Andrews, to whom I'd recently sent a copy. I wave and Donna yells out "I loved your book!" Wow. People in the crowd ask me later "what book?" Now that was fun. I introduce myself to Donna after the round-she's thoroughly gracious. I also talk with Kate who says the course is getting universally good reviews. She's happier with her play today than with yesterday's four over par. Then we go to watch yesterday's foursome in their second round. The Korean golfer has dropped the man who was caddying for her (I assumed he was her father), and now has her mother on the bag. She's even smaller than her daughter and covered against the sun from head to toe including two large blue leather golf gloves. Brittany can't maintain the kind of round she had yesterday, and cards a disappointing 77. Boy, you can't imagine the kind of pressure that exists mentally in the US Open!
July 3, 2004. Day six. The field is cut down to 66 and has a new feel. More serious and quieter, and the women play in twosomes. Two friends have come up to watch the tournament from Madison, CT and comment on the slow play from several Korean players-sometimes there are two open holes between groups. That would pull you out of your concentration! The course looks easy enough-just hit the ball straight and keep it below the hole. (That's a joke.) I leave a little early as I've overdone it in the sun and overbooked myself at a booksigning and a radio show on the way home. It's back to Fran Johnson's for a reception for members of the Executive Women's Golf Association-an amazingly vibrant organization. And I chat with Tom Addis and Charlie Jones on their show "Golfing Around the World." When pressed, I pick Annika as the Open winner
July 4, 2004. Day seven. This time I'm watching from the comfort of my living room. It's an interesting race. The lead held first by a young (25 year old) Philippine woman with a wild fashion flair. Behind her are Meg Mallon, an experienced, steady 41 year old player, Annika, and Kelly Robbins. It's a perfect, hot day and a crowd of 25,0000. The leader starts to make a few mistakes-pushes a couple of putts and leaves a few drives in the rough. The announcers talk about how she's held the lead for 54 holes and that's a long time to hold up under pressure. Meanwhile Mallon starts sinking birdie putts, and suddenly there's no catching her. Annika birdies the last two holes-you can't say she lost the tournament, instead she was beaten by a steady player with a really hot putter.
The Mt. Holyoke Orchards Open has been a huge success. I'm just glad I don't have to stay behind to clean up the championship mess
I've got my own problems-writing the book!