The Presidents Cup
We happened to arrive in Melbourne at the same time as The Presidents Cup. Coincidence? Well, we will let you decide, but we did not let this chance pass us by and quickly bought a day ticket.
We decided to attend the Wednesday practice day. Why only a practice round? That is a great question, especially in hindsight. We visited the Ryder Cup in 2018 held at Le Golf National in Paris, France, and the crowds were enormous. So big in fact that we found it difficult to see any actual golf. With a similar format of only 4 or 5 groups per day, we thought that the crowd sizes at the Presidents Cup could be similar.
The other deciding factor was cost. Wanting to save our budget to play golf in Australia, practice round tickets were a fraction of the price. We went to the 146th Open Championship held at Royal Birkdale and included a practice round. Attending the practice round turned out to be one of our highlights. The players were relaxed, and the crowds were more manageable.
The morning was cool, and we were wearing jackets when we got on the train. The Presidents Cup was being played at the historic Royal Melbourne Golf Club, and even though December is summer in Australia, the day started cool, cloudy, and overcast.
We arrived a little later than we had hoped. But entering the historic grounds at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club was like a lifelong dream come true! A true Alister MacKenzie masterpiece, a top 10 in the world, and our first time ever on a Melbourne Sandbelt golf course. It is easy to say that our feelings of excitement were overwhelming.
Our first peek of the golf course was stunning! The fairways were a lush, brilliant green color, and cut to absolute precision. The thin rough was long and wispy, and the dry color provided a sharp contrast to the fairways they bordered. White sand that sparked when the sun came out later in the day lined the bunkers. And the edges! Seriously, those edges looked like they were cut with a knife directly from Kamata Hakensha’s knife shop in Tokyo. By hand! And to borrow a line from Jack Kerouac, the bunkers themselves were raked as smooth as second base at Yankee Stadium!
The golf course looked incredible! It was beautiful, dry, and extremely fast.
We walked through the Fan Village, took a selfie with the trophy, and made our way to the first tee.
The First Tee
The opening hole at the Presidents Cup was a dogleg left, slightly uphill 373-yard par 4. By the time we arrived, the US Team had already teed off, and the International Team was set to tee off in about 20 minutes. One of the first groups on the tee that morning was the pairing of Abraham Ancer from Mexico, and Byeong-Hun An from South Korea.
We met some golf fans on the first tee that had traveled from Mexico City and were emphatically cheering for Ancer. With a nice draw off the tee, his drive placed him perfectly in the middle of the fairway. That buttery smooth swing led him to play very well in the Cup. It was not until he faced Tiger Woods on Sunday that he lost his only point of the Cup.
It was like seeing the future of golf as we watched the young International Team high fiving each other as they began their day. Standing just a few yards above Captain Ernie Els, we watched young South Korean Im Sung-jae, and Li Haotong from China tee off. We joined in with the cheering of local countrymen Marc Leishman and the young up and comer Cameron Smith. And, it was our first time ever seeing the 2010 Open Champion, South African Louis Oosthuizen.
After watching the International Team tee-off on one, we decided to walk ahead to see some shots from the US Team. After checking the golf course map, we decided to head to the 455-yard par 4 seventh. We found that if we stood on the right side of the dogleg left that we would also be strategically close to the dogleg left 439-yard par 4 ninth.
First through was Tony Finau and Justin Thomas, both splitting the middle of the fairway. Next were Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau, who missed it a little right but offered us a better view. Ten minutes later we heard the first “fore” coming from the seventh tee. A split second later a loud thud was soon followed by scrambling fans. Before things quieted down, another “fore” was yelled from the tee!
The closest to us was Patrick Cantlay. We made our way just behind the ball so we could have a direct view of him to the green. We could see that he had a decent lie in the dry rough. When he hit down on it, dust flew everywhere. But from where we stood, it looked like his shot finished long of the green.
Familiar Looking Head Cover
And then, a few minutes later, a lone golf cart came driving down the fairway. Heading from the green towards the tee, as it got closer, we thought we could see a familiar-looking headcover. We looked at each other with wide eyes and thought, could this be Tiger? Then the buggy stopped in the middle of the fairway, maybe 30 yards from us. There was no doubt, that this was Tiger’s golf bag! We were frenzied with the thought of seeing Captain Tiger Woods. But while his cart and his golf bag were right in front of us, he was nowhere to be seen.
Behind us, the US Team was now starting to come down the ninth fairway, and there was a fair amount of commotion going on. Could it be Captain Woods? Golf’s greatest players always seem to rise to meet the challenge on the most difficult of tests. The greater the challenge, the bigger the name. Think Hogan at Oakmont, Nicklaus at Augusta National, and Watson at Pebble Beach. The Royal Melbourne Golf Club is a fitting masterpiece, and so we were extremely excited to see Tiger Woods take on this challenge.
Captain Tiger Woods
We had seen Tiger play twice recently before. First at the 2018 Ryder Cup and next at the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open played at Torrey Pines. As we could see players walking down the fairway in the distance, and the crowd began to swell, we thought that this might be our opportunity!
And then we saw him. But he was not playing. Rather, he was in his capacity as Captain and was walking with Matt Kuchar down the fairway. As Kooch analyzed his approach shot, we could see Tiger talking with him about what we could only guess was the shot ahead.
We watched a couple more approach shots and then decided to make our way to the green. The wind picked up as we got into position to see the fairway shots land onto the green. The sound that the balls made landing on the green was a loud dark thud. We could literally hear how firm the greens were! We found out that the greens were a speedy 13 on the stimp meter, but also heard that some were 16!
Time to Get Close
After having something small to eat, we realized that we hadn’t seen much golf close up, so we decided to get well ahead of the groups. We walked down the fairway of the long dogleg left 474-yard par 4 sixteenth and made our way to the tee box. We were the first spectators to arrive and were rewarded with being able to stand anywhere we wanted!
The day had warmed, and we removed our jackets while we waited. First to arrive was the long-hitting, defending US Open Champion, Gary Woodland. As his was the first swing we saw on sixteen, we didn’t have a reference yet on how far his tee shot went. It was hit perfectly, drawing down the left-center cut of the fairway.
Joining him was another long hitter, and former US Open champion, Dustin Johnson. Our vantage point was perfect to witness his somewhat unorthodox swing. Walking with the group were vice-captains Zach Johnson and one of my childhood heroes Freddie Couples.
As great as our spot on sixteen was, we, unfortunately, did not see many players come through. Most players it seemed had only played 9 holes, or 12, before heading to the practice range. Some, like Tiger, didn’t even play.
Ending our Day
Slightly disappointed, we started our walk back to the practice area. On the way there, we watched DJ work on his putting stroke on the 436-yard par 4 seventeenth. We saw Xander Schauffele giving fist bumps to the kids. And by the time we reached the eighteenth hole, Rickie Fowler had just finished and was signing autographs.
We found our way to the practice range to see who was still around. On the far end of the range was the smooth swing of Adam Scott, his ninth appearance representing the International Team. More near to us was another Aussie, Cameron Smith. We watched him hit feathery irons and then he flew a couple of balls over the back fence with driver.
We watched the remainder of the tournament on television from our housesit. With all the high 5’s that we saw from the International Team and the shaking heads of the US Team, we weren’t surprised to see the International Team come out with a commanding lead over the first three days. However, the talent on the USA Team was strong, and we weren’t surprised to watch the incredible Sunday comeback! And, although we didn’t see it live, we watched with awe on Sunday as Tiger Woods brilliantly plotted his way around Royal Melbourne. Landing it short when the green called for it. Leaving his irons left when he needed to. And making pressure putt after pressure putt to bring home his third point of the Cup. After all, the greater the challenge, the bigger the name, right!
In hindsight, crowds or no crowds, we wished we would have gone during a tournament day. Regardless of how great it is to watch golf on television, being there and feeling the roar of the crowds is an experience that is unforgettable. We plan on returning to Melbourne after a few months of traveling around Australia and can only hope that we will have the opportunity to play the incredible Royal Melbourne!