Covering the U.S. Open (and Tiger)
By Jeff Haynes
The U.S. Open is always one of the toughest events of the year to work. As photographers working a golf tournament we have to deal with more challenges during a week of golf than we might during the whole rest of the year. Weather, Tiger, blisters, Tiger, hills, Tiger, tight leader boards, Tiger, long days, Tiger, a sore body, Tiger, fog, Tiger, marshalls, Tiger and 155 other golfers not named Tiger.
Working with three outstanding Reuters’ photographers – Robert Galbraith, covering what he figures is around his 80th Major Golf Tournament dating back to the 1982 U.S. Open where Watson and Nicklaus battled at Pebble Beach, Matt Sullivan and Danny Moloshok – made this a very enjoyable week. Each day these guys came up with amazing photographs telling the story of the day.
During the week leading up to the actual tournament our days start with 4:55 am wake-up calls, bus rides to the course and greeting Tiger Woods. Tiger is always the first golfer off in the morning on either the 1st or 9th tee before 7 am as we take pictures of his practice round and then try to find interesting and meaningful pictures of other golfers in the news. Casey Martin made news early on in the week, with him qualifying for a U.S. Open and being able to use a golf cart to help him around the course, because of a rare blood disorder he has had since birth. He sued and won a law suit more the 8 years ago granting him the right to use a golf cart during his round. Defending champion Rory McIlroy came in with high hopes of defending his title along with the number 1 ranked player in the world, Luke Donald. These three players would need to be photographed along the way, along with many other well deserving golfers, and the beautiful course itself.
The toughest day in golf for everyone working the tournament is Thursday of the U.S. Open. It is one brutal day of work from start to finish. From the first tee time of 7am to following the last golfers off the course at 7 pm. If you can survive Thursday at a major you can probably survive just about anything. Not only the photographers have to deal with the obstacles it takes to make an outstanding picture but there are those behind us too. We photographers relied on the picture editing skills of Joe Skipper and Mike Fiala to look through thousands of images a day to choose the top 300 or so. These were then all processed by Beck Diefenbach and posted to the Reuters newswire as fast as possible to meet all of our clients’ needs.
The USGA decided to make this Thursday even more challenging with one “super pairing” of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson, all of whom would draw huge crowds by themselves, but all three together made working more difficult. Moving amongst the throngs of people wanting to watch these three hit the golf ball made for huge challenges. Just getting into a position to see the three golfers made this as difficult as it gets, let alone making storytelling, meaningful pictures. As soon as we were done covering that “super pairing”, the USGA paired the number one, two and three; Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, and Lee Westwood, all together – giving us those same challenges. Everyone was tired but all made it to see the sun rise the next day and do it all over again on Friday.
On Saturday a new challenge arose, Tiger Woods was in the final group. All four of us had worked other tournaments with Tiger so we knew the challenge ahead. Every stroke of his needed to be covered, from the tee shots, to his fairway approaches, to his final putt on the 18th hole, along with all the other stories happening around the course during that day.
Sunday finally came and with it brought the worst, but still not as bad as it could have been, weather of the week. The famous fog of San Francisco showed up with the cool breezy mist coming off the ocean that changes everything for the golfer but not much for us photographers; the same hills we had walked up and down for the last six days, the same question about the gear we carried around, and the same comments about blocking someone’s view before there was anything to see but a blank fairway or an empty green. We just hoped and prayed it would be the last day.
As eventual winner Webb Simpson said “he never prayed so much on the golf course”, but should remember he had just as many photographers praying for him, or any other golfer, just to win on Sunday. None of us want to have to come back on Monday to cover an 18 hole playoff. So I guess you can say all of our prayers were answered with a one shot victory by Simpson and no 18 hole playoff for the photographers.
All I can say is the course beat up a lot of golfers with high scores and I know it took its toll on our group of photographers as well. But as you can see in our photographs the course also gave up some outstanding pictures along the way. We all walked away from a week of grueling work hoping for the chance to do it all again next year in 2013 at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania.
One other related note about our coverage this year. It was a year ago this week we suddenly lost our good friend and award winning Reuters’ photographer Shaun Best the day before he was supposed to work last year’s U.S. Open in Washington D.C. We miss you Shaun.