On a list of life’s simple pleasures, there aren’t many I rank higher than the specific feeling of peering out the window of an airplane, scanning for golf courses.
A mediocre course gains immediate credibility with the benefit of an overhead view. A fancy country club is reduced to its basics; no matter the initiation fee, from above it’s still grass and bunkers and cart paths, a quadrangle of green acreage. Spotting a course that you know well is best of all; there’s familiarity but mystique, too. You suddenly understand it differently when you see the holes laid out, maze-like, from an entirely different dimension. Perspective.
I boarded my plane in Seattle just before 8 a.m. It was 38 degrees and grey, though the rain held off for our departure. The sun rises reluctantly this time of year in this part of the country — 7:52 this morning, my weather app admitted sheepishly — so I peered out the window for signs of first light. There wasn’t much sun to speak of, but as we took off I spotted one golf course, then another, then a comfortable sight: Rainier Golf Club, where my friend Pat plays, a short, tight devilish test with massive pines and slopey greens.
From 14A, I couldn’t feel the chill of the December dawn. I couldn’t see just how narrow that first fairway looks from the tee. It looked simple from here. Full of possibility. The illusion of golf. It made me want to grab a club.
By the time we began our descent into Orlando, the sun was setting into a cloudy horizon. The curse of west-to-east travel, I guess. Where does the day go?
Orlando does not inspire from the sky. If there’s Disney magic in this town, it gets lost in translation from one or three or five thousand feet up. Instead you put away your large electronic devices, return your seat to its upright position, turn to the window and are struck with the distinct impression that Orlando must be the world’s leader in man-made lakes. Planned developments wound through waterways out my window, each house occupying the same footprint as its neighbor. If Orlando was a golf course, there would be water hazards everywhere. Penalty areas, I guess we’re calling those now. A less vivid description.
Why this diary? Because I’ve come from Seattle to Orlando to watch a family golf competition. A terrific family golf competition, to be clear. But at the Masters, the competition rules all. The path to victory is the story. At the PNC Championship, victory is an afterthought, so an analysis of Team Singh’s scramble strategy might not satisfy your expectations.
Perhaps the biggest question of why I’m here is, in fact, this one: why am I here? What am I hoping to see? What do I actually expect to see?
I mulled it over as I waited for my rental car. Nine quick questions wandered across my mind, questions to which I’d like answers.
First, three Tiger Woods questions with concrete answers:
How’s his swing speed?
How’s his gait?
How’s his short game?
Next, three Tiger Woods questions without concrete answers:
How is he feeling?
What is he thinking?
Then three more, non-Woods division:
What does a Team Thomas title defense look like?
Will Nelly Korda and her dad get in the mix?
Who’s having the most actual fun?
Then there’s the 10th question, perhaps the most intriguing but also the most fraught: What’s it’s like to be around Tiger and Charlie? Tiger Woods the father-slash-golfer is the show this week, after all. Still, that doesn’t mean we need to get all weird about it. No need to judge his parenting skills based on his reaction to missed putts nor declare 12-year-old Charlie heir to his father’s professional golf throne. Let’s just play it a tiny bit cool, eh? (Narrator: As he would soon find out, nobody was going to “play it cool.”)
I got a silver Toyota Corolla, a few years old, the kind where you still have to put the key in the ignition. I appreciate the practicality of rental cars. They’re clean and most have a reasonable amount of trunk space and they’re very effective at A to B transportation.
My trek to the hotel was complicated when I was reminded of Orlando’s most impressive characteristic: it’s the largest city in the world with exactly zero cell service. All good; I detoured through a Chik-fil-a, enjoyed a chicken sandwich in the parking lot and eventually turned, victorious, into the correct lodging.
My transformation to Florida Man had begun.
Check back for more tomorrow.