To have any chance of seeing Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson at the U.S. Open this morning, Laura Goldner and her daughter Camila had to fight for a spot. They chose an area about 20 yards short of the putting green.
Both stand 5-foot-1 and managed to position themselves in the front row, in front of other taller spectators.
“We tried to get to the tee, but we couldn’t see anything,” said Laura Goldner, 47. “We’re so short.”
The Goldners, who traveled from Houston for the tournament, were among several thousand fans who rose as early as 3:45 a.m. local time to get to San Francisco’s Olympic Club for the opening round of golf’s second Grand Slam of the year.
With the grouping of Woods and Mickelson, two of the sport’s most popular players, and Watson, the reigning Masters Tournament winner, spectators were lined up down both sides of the fairway on the 449-yard ninth hole, where the group began play. A grandstand area behind the green was filled soon after the course opened at 6 a.m.
“Unfortunately, it’s so hard to see them,” Phil Shannon, 54, said in an interview near the tee box moments after the group started. “I’m trying to follow them for a little bit before it gets too crazy.”
Woods and Watson made par on the opening hole, while Mickelson took a bogey after losing his tee shot in the cypress trees to the right of the fairway.
Executive Director Mike Davis of the U.S. Golf Association, which stages the tournament, said it chose to put the players, especially Woods and Mickelson, together because the fans wanted to see it.
“Here you have two of the great players of our generation and they hardly ever play together in a major,” Davis said in an interview yesterday.
Large crowds were unavoidable, he said.
“Before we ever did it, we did all of our homework about parking, traffic, when to tee them off,” he said.
Shannon, a legal services business owner, said he rose at 4 a.m. to leave his house in San Jose, California, to catch a shuttle to the course from Candlestick Park, home of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers. He came by himself and stood in the front row to see the trio.
“You’ve got three incredible golfers who are at the tops of their games,” Shannon said. “It’s exciting to watch. It’s really cool.”
While Woods, a 14-time major tournament winner, has gone four years since winning his last major at the 2008 U.S. Open, the longest drought of his career, ticket buyers didn’t seem to care. His off-course marital scandal also wasn’t an issue.
“I’m a Tiger fan,” said Rich Reisinger, a 44-year-old operations manager who is attending his first U.S. Open. “I could care less what he does in his personal life. I don’t respect him for it, but I respect what he does on the golf course.”
For fans who didn’t catch the threesome today, the group will return for Round 2 tomorrow, beginning at 1:29 p.m. on the first hole.