Four days in August

by Brian Clarey

On the first day of tournament play at the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club, you’re gonna want to get the lay of the land. You don’t even need to be here — not if you’re interested in the action on the course: 156 golfers, each trying to choke enough FedEx Cup points out of this grand old course to gain or maintain Top 125 status and make the playoffs, the Barclays in Edison, NJ the following week.

No, you would drive yourself nuts trying to pick a contender out of the field on the first day, especially if you’re a one-man sports department, which is exactly what you are. Even the old pros filing daily

game stories are keeping atop the scores via the big-screen in the media room or the PGA app on their phones. But you could file a perfectly serviceable game write-up from your desk or a bar, provided you had a reliable internet connection and access to the encyclopedic breakdown provided each day by the event’s media services staff.

Today you pick up your credentials and duck into the media room for a little lunch — skirt steak sandwiches with some potato salad — then you grab a couple bottles of water and walk the grounds to refamiliarize yourself with the course, the historic clubhouse and the sponsorship village that springs up around it every year. There are a few guys building an elaborate sandcastle near the pro shop that will evolve over the coming days. You watch some golf, see Carl Pettersson find a birdie on the 12 th hole to put him at -5 for the day. You remember Pettersson is a Whirlie, that he won this event in 2008 with astounding 72-hole score of -21, and that he in fact is a member of this very country club.

You note with some satisfaction that Pettersson finishes the day tied for third place. You get this information from your desk at the office.

On the Day 2 of the tournament, you’ve got to start looking for storylines. The leaderboard brims with big names — Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, even John Daly has made a decent showing — and up at the top are two relative unknowns.

You watch one of them, Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey at -7, hit for par on 17 and 18, and you know the nickname alone will catch the attention of every journo covering the event. A one-man sports department needs to think of these things. The Pettersson angle, too, will likely get some play. You don’t want to be handling anyone else’s sloppy seconds when your story comes out a few days after the tourney has ended, so you put your faith in tour veteran Ernie Els.

Last year coming into the event Els was No. 1 in FedEx points; this year he’s at 126, and if he wants to make the playoffs he’s got to make a showing here this week.

He’s old school at the first tee, in pleats and saddle shoes, his ankles bare, paired with the Spaniard Camilo Vilegas at -1 and the American Cameron Beckman who stands at 3.

You’re standing by the edge of the green when Els bogeys the first hole, and you’re starting to doubt your golf acumen, but then he hits a couple birds, on 3 and 6, and three more on the back 9, including a beautiful chip from off the green on the par 5 15 th that brings the ball just two inches from the cup for an easy bird.

The 15 th is an eagle hole; Fabian Gomez double-eagled it from 247 yards out on Day 1. But Els seems content with his workmanlike play today, coming in at four under, -9 for two days of play.

On Day 3 of the tournament, you say to yourself, “Screw it. I’m wearing shorts.” You’ve found your groove out on the course, carved a walking path between the fairways and found shady vantage points from which to see the greens as the action unfolds.

And you think you’ve got a handle on the players after the field has been cut down to 73. You know Pettersson finished even yesterday with bogeys on 1, 4 and 17, and you know the guy is capable of big things on this course. He’s already eagled on 5, so you follow him through the back nine.

You’re there when he drops a 19-foot putt on 13 for a birdie, and then blow a 23-foot eagle putt on 15. And you see him on 16 make a perfect parabola, dropping the ball within 4 feet of the cup and tapping it in to take the lead at -12.

And just when you’re starting to think you can make a living gambling on this sport, Webb Simpson comes out of a short rain delay and destroys the back 9, a 5-hole run between 13 and 17 to bring him to -15 and first place on the leaderboard. You walk the grounds with a guy dressed like course architect Donald Ross and wonder how you could have been so dense.

As you walk the grounds, you are struck by the enormity of the event, the hundreds of people who come together to bring this city four days of golf and sunshine, the meaning of this event not just for professional golf but for Greensboro itself. You’re glad to be a part of it.

On Day 4 of the tournament, your stint as the one-man sports department has resulted in sore legs, and a blister has raised on the pad of one of his middle toes. You limp to the practice range to pick a contender — Simpson is up by two strokes, and you’ve got no faith in second-place man Tommy Gainey. At this point, you figure, the only ones who can make a run at the Sam Snead Cup are Pettersson and possibly Els. You go with the local guy, and when Pettersson chips one in for birdie off the 1 st green you’re starting to think you might be watching history.

On 9 you see Pettersson’s partner, John Mallinger, make the best golf shot you’ve ever seen in your life — a chip from the left fairway, 65 yards out, that hits the back slope of the green and rolls into the cup… for par. Mallinger, who began the day at -12, melts down on the back 9, with four bogeys. Pettersson doesn’t do much better, adding just a single stroke to his score to finish at -13.

After he holes out, there’s still time to watch the inevitable champion Simpson hit birdies on 16 and 17, and then capture par on the 18 th to finish at -18. His wife is there waiting for him in the gallery, holding their infant. It’s hard not to feel good for the kid, a Wake Forest University alum and Raleigh resident on the eve of his first PGA Tour win. And on the shuttle back to the media parking lot, the one-man sports department is already calculating how Simpson will figure into the equation next year.