by Nick Fattori
Most college students get summer jobs, but rarely do they include interacting with the world’s greatest golfers. However, I was given this opportunity last June when Merion Golf Course, located just minutes from Villanova’s campus, hosted the 2013 U.S. Open.
As part of my duties at Merion for the last three plus years, I probably washed and distributed a million golf balls to the members and endured countless peltings in the picker, while cleaning up the driving range, but in the end it was absolutely worth it.
In the months leading up to the Open, everyone I knew was scrambling to get tickets, finding places to stay nearby and learning basic info on the course and players. I was now the “Dude” and proud of it.
By June 10th, the first day of the tournament, I was beyond excited. It was better than my birthday and Christmas combined. Unfortunately, when my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. and I heard rain pounding on my window, I wanted to cry.
For weeks critics questioned whether Merion would offer much of a challenge to world’s greatest golfers in perfect weather, let alone in such wet and soggy conditions. By the end of that memorable week, however, Merion’s outstanding grounds crew made those critics eat their words.
Within two minutes of walking through the gates that first morning, I crossed paths with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and exchanged a friendly greeting with both. The week could have ended right then and there for me and it still would have been amazing.
In fact, to this day, I still can’t believe I got paid that week basically to wash, sort and distribute golf balls to the world’s greatest golfers.
As I walked onto the range to begin my shift, I encountered even more of today’s top golfers: Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald, Angel Cabrera, Brandt Snedeker and finally my favorite golfer, Bubba Watson.
It was like being in an awesome dream. For the next two days, when I wasn’t on the clock, I spent every waking moment watching and observing the pros.
On Wednesday, I decided to take the shuttle over to the East course for the first time. As I began to leave the range, I suddenly encountered a thousand people storming towards me.
Little did I know that Tiger and his niece were walking right in my direction. The next thing I knew my cell phone started to blow up. All my friends had just seen Tiger and me alone on TV.
On Thursday, the tournament officially began. I had the morning off, and walked the course with some friends, following the pros. Everything was perfect…until the rain hit again.
The low scores kept starting piling up—and so did the mud. Twenty-five thousand spectators were up to their ankles in it, but seemed to still love every bit of the tournament.
I was concerned that the downpour would dramatically slow the greens. I literally prayed for bogeys on every hole. No score was too high for me.
Fortunately by Friday, the scores began to rise as the course dried out. The entire Merion staff had worked tirelessly to get the course back in shape after its drenching.
After the second round carried over to Saturday morning, the third round finally commenced only a few hours later. Things settled down on the range, with the field cut in half.
I decided I wanted to see some of the leading groups tee off. Using my credentials, I got past security and entered the VIP section. I suddenly found myself chatting with the players’ families and guests, the executive members of Merion and random persons of interest, such as Michael Phelps, Scott Van Pelt and Lindsey Vonn.
Even though I had been watching the pros practicing all week, the action suddenly became totally dramatic. I had the most remarkable view, only 15 feet from the first tee box and pin on 18.
When Sunday rolled around, the entire world was now watching. I couldn’t believe the week was coming to a close, but I was ecstatic at the fact Phil Mickelson was in the driver’s seat to win.
During my morning shift at the range, I was lucky enough to have a ten minute conversation with ESPN reporter, Tom Renaldi. It was an honor just to talk to a respected journalist like him. He actually praised my prediction of Steve Stricker possibly winning the tournament, even though ultimately it did not turn out that way due to a terrible final round.
After our shift, my coworker Max and I headed over to the East course one last time to observe the final round in the VIP section.
As soon as the last golfer of the day went off—Hunter Mahan—it was a crazy 20-foot dash over to the rail on the 18th green.
After standing there for almost six hours, watching each golfer walk right by us to meet his wife or girlfriend, it was finally time for the last grouping.
Mickelson walked up 18 needing a birdie to force a playoff.
I have attended many Eagles, Phillies, Flyers games and even a Serie A soccer match in Rome, but the sounds and sights from those remarkable contests cannot begin to compare with what occurred as Mickelson got within 100 yards of the green.
The fans on the fairway made a mad dash to surround the green and nab the best view possible.
The crowd went nuts. Their roar was deafening.
Then, the largest and loudest rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” spontaneously broke out, honoring the day’s birthday boy, Phil. It was nothing less than surreal.
Unfortunately, he failed to birdie the last hole and Justin Rose went on to win. Rose was the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open in 43 years.
And so ended the most unbelievable week of my life to date. The people and events, however, will remain cherished memories forever. A lot of misinformed critics doubted Merion before the Open and some were even brash enough to speculate if the Open will ever return here again.
But after experiencing the professionalism and dedication of the entire Merion organization first hand, I don’t worry if Merion will ever host the U.S. Open again; I’m just looking forward to when it does again.
And hopefully I’ll be able to be there, front and center, like I was before; however, nothing will ever compare to what I experienced during that unbelievable week in June 2013.