April 4th, 2011
2011 Shell Houston Open: A Photo Essay
As I sat watching the final round of the Shell Houston Open from the comfort of my living room everything looked so easy. The shots that these professionals made. The gallery’s cautious applause. The commentators that know every dip, turn and slope of the course. All of it appears to be effortless, but I remember Saturday’s third round when I got a chance to walk Redstone Golf Club’s Tournament Course and pretend to be media covering the Shell Houston Open.
Saturday brought on that hazy mugginess that has so defined the lack of seasons in Houston, the kind of sky that always threatens rain, but sends you away with a burnt nose instead. Beneath the gray blanket, the competitors teed off after a short delay. I hit the course just a few strides before fan favorite, Phil Mickelson took the box on the first hole.
Sitting at four under par and the reigning champion, Anthony Kim, going into the third round with lead, Phil was going to need a mammoth day to get back into contention. If you were to take his first shot of any indication of the rest of the round, you would have packed it in and called it a day. Leftie had to play his second out of the left fairway bunker.
We all know at this point that Phil ended up shooting a 63 on Saturday and a 65 on Sunday to claim the championship. That’s not new, nor is it news. We all know that this was his (and others in the field) tune-up for the Masters next week in which he’ll be defending his green jacket for the third time. What I didn’t know was the fervor that Houston crowds had for Mickelson.
The gallery following Lefty was easily 50% of the entire crowd on Saturday. Good for him. Phil is easily one of the most likeable men in the PGA. Bad for me. I needed to find my way into the good graces of the Houston internet scene by coming up with some kind of story.
I wasn’t sure if a “hit by errant drive” story would do the trick, but I stayed as close as I possibly could to the ropes on the off chance. Later, I would miss my opportunity when Anthony Kim found himself far left of the fairway approaching the 15th green – a shot that he would save mightily.
I finally ran into the group including Fred Couples. The elder statesman of the University of Houston’s golf team, Couples has been on the PGA tour since 1980. That was well before I would eventually call Houston my alma mater, but still Cougars need to stay together. With Jim Nantz, Couples’ teammate at UH, taking up other duties in Houston at the Final Four, I felt it mine to lend him a helpful (Cougar) paw.
[Above: Not Fred Couples - Bradley Keegan]
But then Fred had to go and do this [pictured above]. I’m no expert golfer, but I know enough to see a broken swing when I see one. Don’t take your hands off the club, buddy. You see that promotional board behind you? That’s how you finish. So I finished my first half of the afternoon and retired to find lunch, a couple bottles of water and a new story.
By the time I got back out on the course, Mickelson Mania was in full swing. His fans had gained in force. His rise up the leader board was well underway. It was harder for me to escape the frenzy, but at this point, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to. Even though Phil has been one of the top 20 golfers in the world for practically his whole career, he carries an aloof underdog air. It’s addicting.
So, I gave in and allowed myself to be assimilated into the massive gallery following the eventual Shell Houston Open champion. I settled into the SHO 16 skybox for a while, just to get a taste of the good life… it tasted a lot like Kettle One, actually (which is one of those “I guess you had to be there” jokes if you refuse to read into context clues).
There is something satisfying about being a fan of a winner. So as I sat there thinking about how easy the golfers were making the course look and how much fun the gallery seemed to be having even though they were walking all those miles to witness something fantastic, I was happy that I got a chance to be at least a small part of it all.
Bonus note: This Kentucky fan, presumably J.B. Holmes, would not only finish tied for 42nd, but his Wildcat brethren would also fall to Connecticut later on Saturday night. Not a good day for the bluegrassers.