Monday, April 6, 2009

Ping/ASU Invitational (NCAA Women's Golf) - April 5, 2009

Today was a scheduled off-day. Yep, no sports were on tap in Phoenix. I felt lost, empty, betrayed by the sporting gods. Well, at least I could watch the MLB Season opener on TV that night, I thought. But the idea of spending a day in my hotel room was not appealing.

Fortunately, a friend of mine came to the rescue. Yuri works at Arizona State University and told me that the final day of the Ping/ASU Invitational would be held today at Karsten Golf Course on the ASU campus. I've never seen a golf tournament live, and it turns out that the golf course is next door to In-N-Out!!!! Yes, my favourite burger place was a 2-minute drive from the golf course. So the sporting gods were merely teasing me, and I would get my fill of live sports (and a great burger) after all.

After enjoying a Double Double Animal Style, I made my way to the golf course, not knowing what to expect. Well, NCAA women's golf must be the least popular sport ever. Anybody can just walk onto the course and watch. No admission charge, no overpriced food, just sports - it was a refreshing change. The players carry their own bags and pull the flags for each other. I saw a few people watching but figure most people are associated with the event somehow.

I saw some players drive from the 1st tee, and followed them to the green to watch them finish the hole. I realized that in the heat, it would not be smart to walk around the whole course, so I turned around, intending to watch each group finish at the 18th hole. On the way back, I saw the next threesome teeing up at the first, so I moved out of the way, as I was directly between them and the fairway. One of them hit her tee shot and I noticed her staring in my direction, which unnerved me slightly. Fortunately, the ball landed beyond me, but given I was well off the fairway, it was not a shot she would have been happy with. I realize now that most of these ladies are not bound for the pro circuit, but it surprised me that anybody can just walk around the course regardless of the players - you are really responsible for your own safety here.

I scurried back to the 18th green to watch a group finishing up. But once they holed out, they made their way to the first tee. With 30 groups of 3 participating, the groups were staggered with half starting from the 1st hole, the other half starting from the 10th. I ended up watching the last few of these latter groups which featured golfers from Cal, Vanderbilt, and Stanford. Pictured here is Vandy's Megan Grehan (ranked 65th in the country), holing out on the 18th for a bogey. Once the 30th group finished, there was nobody following them. At the time, I thought things were over, so I left. But it was just that the next group of golfers had yet to make their way over to the 18th hole; they were likely about an hour away.

Although I spent just an hour here, it was a fantastic experience. The weather was perfect, and it was cool to see approach shots from the other side of the green. I'm also fascinated with the logistics of such an event. At the 18th hole, they had an official waiting and each player would have to report her scores for the last 3 holes. The official would radio the scores to the central scorekeeper. I was able to figure out who some of the players were this way, as well as noticing that some of them had their names on their golf bags. But I wish I had done some research beforehand to know who the golfers were and where they stood. There was no updated leaderboard or program, so I just couldn't get the info I need to really appreciate the event.

Diane Kwon of California chips onto the green

Finally, the one golfer that I did notice was Cal sophmore Pia Halbig, ranked 24th in the nation. I only saw her take a few shots, but she seemed more in control than the other golfers saw. I'll keep my eyes open to see if she ever turns pro - it would be an interesting story for me to tell if she does!

Finally, a little trivia. ASU was the collegiate home of Phil Mickleson, who won the men's equivalent of this tournament back in 1991-92.



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