By Jeff DeVeronica - Rochester D&C
For three days, they've hit multiple tee shots, practiced extra wedges around the greens in that gnarly rough and stroked putt after putt on the greens. But on Thursday morning it finally gets real at Oak Hill Country Club.
It's game on at the 95th PGA Championship.
At precisely 7:10 a.m., the first tee shot will be struck, the year's final major championship will be underway and the big, bright spotlight of the golf world will be on Rochester. Ninety-nine out of the top 100 players in the world will try to grind through four rounds. Millions of viewers are expected to watch on television this week, and about 30,000 fans will line the fairways and crowd around the greens, leaning and stretching for the best angle of the action at venerable Oak Hill Country Club, where golfers first started taking chunks of grass out of the land in Pittsford 87 years ago.
Fans will root for Tiger and Phil and Rory - superstars identifiable by just one name. But if history stays as true as a drive down the center of the fairway, it's more likely a golfer who has never won a major championship will be holding the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening. The last 20 majors (since the 2008 PGA) have been won by 18 different players.
The only players to win multiple majors in that stretch were Mickelson and McIlroy (twice each). Then again, Woods, Mickelson and McIlroy are ranked 1-2-3 in the world for a reason. Whoever wins, they will have earned it.
"When (Lee) Trevino won here (in 1968) with four straight rounds under 70, first time it had ever been done in a U.S. Open, that was remarkable," said golf legend Tom Watson, who'll tee it up Thursday and compete at Oak Hill at the age of 63.
"This course is a tough golf course. I've heard Mickelson say it. I've heard Woods say it."
Will the weather continue to be as spectacular? It can't stay like this even if it is August, right? This is upstate New York. The forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of showers Thursday morning, but we know how that goes in the Rochester area. With apologies to the state Lottery marketing folks, "Hey, you never know."
"It's incredible to see how many people are out there, Monday, Tuesday and today," McIlroy, the 24-year-old star from Northern Ireland, said of the huge crowds on practice days. "They really seem to love their golf here, and Oak Hill is such an historical and traditional venue ... so many great players have played here."
Although shuttling in fans for free on buses from parking lots at Monroe Community College in Brighton and Rochester Tech Park in Gates has endured a few bumps in the road the problems are expected to be smoothed out and Oak Hill already has been "the place to be" in Rochester this week.
Watch golf. Watch people. Plunk down some dough for PGA hats and shirts or go to enjoy some food and drinks. Rick Nashburn, 56, plans to be in front of his TV this weekend watching because it's easier to see and follow all the action from his living room than in person. But he wanted to be at the course on a practice day.
"You can get closer to the players. They're more congenial (during practice). You see them interact with each other more," the resident of Honeoye Falls said as he sipped a beer.
Rochester's a pretty conservative town, but the long lines at the Taste of New York concession stand just after midday Wednesday suggested that fans budgeted smartly or didn't care about splurging. Some price sampling: 16-ounce can of Genesee beer, $7.50; Zwiegle's hot dog, $5.50; Gianelli sausage patty sandwich, $9.50. The popular beef on 'weck was $8 and sold out before 1:30 p.m., said Bruce Martin of Rush. The 66-year-old Rush resident and Fairport's Bob Hartnet, 59, were there enjoying a bite and beer.
Hartnet planned to be back on the weekend to watch, staking out an area where he can bounce between a few holes near each. Following Tiger? "I'm not that tall," he joked, alluding to the massive galleries that will watch Woods.
C.J. German of Honeoye Falls had never been to Oak Hill until Monday. But the 19-year-old was awestruck by the enormity of the tournament. "This is a great. This is an experience of a lifetime," he said.
He was wearing his white PGA hat filled with more than a dozen autographs from players like reigning Masters champion Adam Scott, former major winners Ernie Els and Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker. "I haven't got Tiger and Phil yet," he said.
His pal, Xavier Goodrum, 20, seemed just as impressesd. "I was like, 'Wow, all this for small Rochester, New York. This and the Bills Camp. I love all this national attention on us."
Indeed, the spectacle of PGA - from seven years of planning to this - is something to see.
"We were saying when we got here that it's like going to Disney World," said Christine Manna, 38, a fan from Clarkson who was at Oak Hill with friends Lisa Bovenzi, 48, and Billy Farrell, 43, of Hilton and Mike Baker, 43, of Hamlin.
"You go through the gates, you look at all this and you're hoping to meet someone famous. I guess like meeting Mickey Mouse. I can't believe how nice all the volunteers are, too. They were like, 'Hi, welcome to the PGA Championship.' "
Check out the special PGA Section of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle for more information about the course, the players, and updates all week.