On Tuesday, I took a drive from Ann Arbor to Grand Blanc to watch the practice rounds at the Buick Open and take some photos of the course. (You can see the course photos here and more of the players here. I don’t have as many of th eplayers because I am not a celebrity stalker and was concentrating on getting good photos of the course.)
There are two things to know about Grand Blanc. The first is that—in spite of the impression given by television coverage—it’s not a suburb of Detroit. Or even an exurb. It’s a good hour’s drive at full speed on a major highway. If anything, it’s a suburb of Flint.
The second thing to know is that it’s pronounced Gran Blank. Not Grahn. Gran—as in your Granny. I thought it strange, too, until Mrs. GolfBlogger, a native Michigander, pointed out that Detroit is not pronounced D’twa, as the French would do.
The tournament was still very much in set-up mode on Tuesday. Television work crews were laying down cable and setting up vantage points. Pavillions were largely empty. There were large signs proclaiming pavilions with “giveaways,” but no one was home. Only a couple of the food concessions were in operation.
But that was all okay, because the place was largely devoid of spectators. In fact, I am absolutely certain that there were more workers and pros than patrons.
There were a couple of pros that had a small following. As perhaps the most prominent player there (and odds on favorite to win), Jim Furyk had a crowd of about six or seven walking the sidelines with him. Corey Pavin also had half a dozen. No one else seemed to draw a crowd.. For the most part, the patrons had staked themselves out in chair in shady positions and were watching the players go by. I didn’t see John Daly, but imagine that he had a group following him.
I walked with Furyk for a couple of holes, but left him behind as he started playing “fetch.”. Furyk dropped a bunch of balls into a greenside bunker and proceeded to hit them out, while caddy Fluff Cowan fetched.
Interestingly, Furyk was the only pro in more than five hours of wandering that I saw practicing out of course bunkers. I did, however, see several standing in bunkers. They would walk down the fairway, take a turn into a bunker and stand in a couple of different places, digging in their feet … but not taking a shot.
I would be taking a lot of practice bunker shots.
But maybe they didn’t need it. For the most part, they just played the balls where they lay—and where they lay was in the middle of the fairway or on the green. They sometimes dropped a couple of balls from the fairway there, but there was none of the scoping out of various angles and lies that I’d imagined.
It was amazing just how far and accurately they hit the ball. I saw only a couple of shots go awry, and those was only a couple of yards off. If the players performed in competition like they did in practice, the winning score would be thirty under. The fact that the scores don’t reach such absurd lows, I think, speaks to two things: the way swings fail under the pressure of competition and the critical element of putting.
And I’m sure that’s why the one place where the pros were practicing on the course was on the greens. On virtually every one, I saw pros dropping balls from several different locations. The caddies also got into the act. One was checking the stimp from various locations. Another had a digital green reader and was checking angles and making notations in his yardage book.
Most of the practice seemed to take place on the range, where they were pounding ball after ball, on the practice green, and on several practice bunkers on the perimeter of the course.
The practice green was evidently the social center for the pros and equipment representatives. The perimeter of the practice green was filled with bags of putters and equipment representatives. On the green, players practiced, and chatted with each other and the reps. It was also amazing to see the number of different putting practice gadgets in operation.
It was also interesting just how noisy it was there. I would have thought that the pros would want it quiet, just as they did when playing.
The range was also swarming with equipment reps and bags of goodies, but there, the players did less talking to each other. They seemed intent on working out their swings. What talking they did do was with the reps, who were willing and able to make any adjustments to the clubs that the players wanted.
Behind some of the corporate tents to the left of the range was a short game practice area. Here, several pros were evidently working with their gurus on pitches and chips to the green.
But it wasn’t all work for the pros. As I was walking down the eighteenth, I saw a pro—no one could identify him—with a backpack and a fishing pole. He had finished his practice round and was taking a break casting into one of the ponds. On his first try, he caught an eight incher.