And then a murmur.
And then the roars.
I knew what that meant.
The crowd overlooking Bellerive had just watched him walk out of the locker room for the first time on Sunday.
Standing on the driving range of the 100th PGA Championship, I turned to face the entry tunnel, and I waited to see not only the face I would recognize, but the entire scene:
The most recognizable golfer in the world, striding out from the darkness of the tunnel and the last decade, wearing his signature Sunday red, and walking out to warm up in the already hot St. Louis sun not like a man who hasn’t won a major in a decade…but rather a legend who knew he still had it and could still win…even if all of the talk just four days earlier was how he was too tired to compete…too old…and that all of his glory was in the past.
As I watched him make his way past me and to his spot on the practice range, I saw the intensity in his face…and then looked up at the fans watching with hope on theirs.
Would today be the day we witness history?
Would St. Louis be the place where the event that the entire sports world has been waiting for takes place?
The final chapter of the Tiger Woods Story…the rise from early childhood to become the most dominating and impactful golfer in the game’s history…to the fall a decade earlier amidst the perfect storm of injury and scandal.
About an hour earlier, I was debating whether or not to even head to Bellerive, as I wanted to be able to watch the entire tournament and not just follow a group and maybe have a chance to see a few shots. Staying at home and watching on television would have provided that opportunity. But, I just had to be there for it.
The 100th PGA Championship.
A beautiful, textbook Sunday in August in my hometown.
Yeah. Air conditioning and the TV would have been easier.
But I wanted to be a part of it. See it. Feel it. That energy when the man in red is prowling fairways on a Sunday afternoon is something once-in-a-generation anytime. Like 23 in the NBA or 99 in the NHL.
But this was about a comeback.
And it was fitting it was in St. Louis.
Standing next to me on the driving range…just taking it all in like a fan…was one of the greatest players in Blues’ history, Al MacInnis.
I mean…an hour earlier, I was up in the air as to whether or not I should even head to Bellerive…and there I am on the practice range before the final round looking out at Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, and Tiger Woods…talking about it all with Al MacInnis.
Since I started “doing this stuff” for a living two decades ago, there have been moments where I can’t believe it’s my job to “do this stuff.”
When you first start out, you have a bunch of those moments.
But then you get kind of used to being around events, athletes, and getting to go to games.
Perhaps you become jaded…and the moments become few and far between.
But not this moment.
In this moment, I was taken back to the reason why I chose to do this stuff for a living: the love of the game.
Standing there talking golf…just me and MacInnis…the event as a whole, the anticipation of the next five hours, and watching these five superstars of the game absolutely ship golf balls into another atmosphere…and then watch them land off the base of the structures bordering Ladue Road…was about as good as it gets.
MacInnis would have my vote for President of St. Louis if there were such a thing. Few people possess the track record, the leadership, and the admiration from everyone close to him like the Hall of Famer does.
And that’s why these words carried more weight.
“You know…I’m so happy for St. Louis. This has been an incredible week. And we really needed a shot in the arm.”
And we do.
Like Tiger Woods, many people around the country feel like our best days are in the past.
Like Tiger Woods, young people may not have any idea of just how great we once were.
And like Tiger Woods, a lot of us still believe we’ve got some greatness in us…and we want to prove some people wrong.
As the sun sets on a PGA Championship that will be remembered for the resurgence of one of the greatest to ever play the game and perhaps the beginning of proper recognition for one of the young guns claiming his third major in less than 15 months, the most memorable shot for me won’t be Tiger’s near hole out on 15…or Brooks Koepka’s myriad of bombs crashing into the Bellerive fairways.
The shot I will always remember will be the one of the greatest to ever play the game walking away from the 18th green where he had just given a signature fist pump to close out his tournament…climbing the steps to make his way back to the clubhouse…and looking out on the sea of thousands and thousands of fans cheering him…waving, smiling, and giving a thumbs up.
The week started with national media saying this tournament was going to be a disaster because of the greens and the weather.
The week started off with Tiger bogeying his first hole and then hitting in the water on the second.
And the week started off with a rain delay that halted action in the second round leading to complaints that the players were going to come back out and eat the course alive.
Well, the week ended with a leaderboard that you couldn’t hand pick any better than what we had Sunday afternoon, praise coming in from every corner of the golf world for the atmosphere at Bellerive, and the notoriously crowd-averse Tiger Woods smiling going from the 6 green to the 7 tee box and giving high fives to signing off from the final major of the year by sending out the following tweet:
“I can’t thank the fans of St. Louis enough for packing the course all week and for their enthusiasm and support. It meant so much to me.”
Oftentimes, we’re pretty damn hard on ourselves here.
We may focus more on the bad than the good.
And when you’ve had a rough go of it lately, that’s understandable.
But, the entire sports world had its eyes on St. Louis Sunday afternoon…and the region delivered.
Whether it be the words of the Rachel Phelps of the NFL as he pours salt in the wounds as he slithers his way out of town or the label of the region being a dying city or simply just a baseball town, millions of people saw otherwise Sunday.
From the CBS broadcast to the players themselves, praise for not only the energy of the event but the conduct of the crowd came gushing forth.
We have flaws.
We have issues that are much more serious and deep-rooted than anything a golf tournament can fix.
But, there is a pride in this region that you won’t find many other places.
That’s why a golf writer critiquing the greens of a place 99% of us could never join felt like an attack on a family member.
But you know what?
Let’s get fired up.
Ryder Cup? Regular PGA Tour stop? Companies moving here instead of moving from here?
Why not us?
They wrote Tiger Woods off.
They were wrong.
They wrote this PGA Championship off.
They were wrong.
Let them write St. Louis off.
And let’s prove them wrong.
I’m so proud of my hometown for what took place this week…and I’m so thrilled for the thousands of families who got to experience such an incredible event together like I did with my parents and with my wife and my son.
This doesn’t have to be the end of events like this coming to our town.
If anything, the job that St. Louis did this week can show us all that the comeback is possible…and this can be the beginning.