The First Tee Course Reporters

The First Tee Course Reporters had an opportunity to meet many interesting players and employees of the PGA TOUR, including Kevin Chappell.
August 24, 2011
PGA TOUR staff

Day 2 -- Working overtime by Max Lerner

On a day where the radar replaced the leaderboard as the center of attention in the opening event of the 2011 FedExCup, excitement still surrounded the grounds at Plainfield Country Club. Despite the rainy morning, Jason Larson, an operations coordinator for ShotLink, and the rest of the staff, were hard at work with the morning wave of players.

No spectator can possibly imagine the work that goes into putting on a tournament such as The Barclays. Walking scorers who utilizes a digital pad to keep score of each of the players in the group helps to control the real-time scoring on PGATOUR.COM. These walking volunteers also helps to provide the statistics of fairways and greens hit in regulation each round for every player.

Throughout the course, 36 lasers shoot every player's shots for the entire round and transmit the distances from the hole and the distance of the shot to both the website and the television broadcast. The staff behind ShotLink goes far beyond the 12 men present in the truck. In fact, throughout the week, there are 70 walking scorers, and up to 150 laser operators. This week, ShotLink is hard at work even when play stops by utilizing controls on a laptop to change the 17 scoreboards to display warnings about dangerous weather to spectators.

Work for this team goes beyond just the four tournament rounds and practice round days. Prior to the week of a tournament with a new venue such as Plainfield Country Club, a surveyor takes digital images of the dimensions of the fairways and rough in order to provide a picture of the hole for the online feature Shot Tracker. Another key feature provided is TrackMan, used to capture the ball and club head speeds of players such as Gary Woodland, whose shot travels approximately 200 miles per hour. With the afternoon wave not commencing until 2:45 pm and the latest group not beginning their round until 4:35 pm, it is evident that this week on the PGA TOUR, the players are not the only ones who will be working overtime.

Day 2 -- The show must go on, by Kevin Lagarenne

Dark clouds covered the sky as the first round of The Barclays began. But that did not stop the first half of the field from playing, nor did it stop anything else behind the scenes at this event. The fitness trailer and mobile gym were still open for players to visit. Inside was Jeff Hendra, an on-site physical therapist, who shared with us the details of his position as a traveling therapist on TOUR. The trucks are at every tournament, and show up two days before the event begins. The fitness trailer is for injuries and light workouts. Hendra says the most common injuries are lower back injuries, as well as neck and shoulder problems. The players whom he helps come in one to two hours prior to teeing off for a quick workout or even a light stretch. The fascinating thing about the truck for me was when Jeff explained how the equipment is stored away until the next tournament. They move the equipment to both sides of the bus and leave the center empty. Then by using hydraulics, the equipment is stored away to the bottom of the bus, and locked in place. This makes driving from tournament to tournament a breeze.

The weather delay horn went off at 10:30 a.m. today, and as the players went back to the clubhouse, a few fans continued to brave the elements, including me. As I heard the horn, I wondered why it blew. To me the weather was the same it was this morning; cloudy and overcast. It only took 10 minutes for me to realize why it blew. With no umbrella or rain jacket, I trekked from the television trailers back to the media center. For those of you coming back tomorrow, I have one bit of advice: Bring a pocket umbrella. If you do not have one, I would recommend going over to The Travelers Chipping Challenge, located in between holes 12 and 16. If you can chip a ball on The Travelers umbrella, you can get a free one, and be prepared in case Hurricane Irene hits this weekend.

Day 2 -- Off with a bang--of thunder, by Connor O'Brien

Competition began at The 2011 Barclays at 7:15 am this morning. The early wave could barely finish nine holes before thunderstorms caused the suspension of play. The players in today's afternoon wave will be forced to return to Plainfield Country Club in the morning to conclude the opening round. Then the PGA TOUR will fight to finish the tournament despite the predicted interference from Hurricane Irene. One man who doesn't need to worry about rain for the moment is Todd Rhinehart, the executive director of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, where a winner will be crowned in the season-long race for the FedExCup.

His tournament is a unique one, a 30-player, no-cut event at East Lake Country Club, better known as the home of one of the greatest amateur golfers of all time, Bobby Jones. The course is unique in that it ends on a par three. This means that the TOUR Championship, the FedExCup, and the more than $11 million that comes with winning the two events, can be won or lost with one swing. "They want us to play it the way he [Jones] played it... kind of carrying on the legacy of Bobby Jones," he said when asked about the finishing hole.

Rhinehart says that the 30-player field at his event can be an advantage. Unlike full field events, which have up to 12 hours of play on Thursday and Friday before the field is cut, the TOUR Championship only has about six hours of play per day. Therefore, tee times can be moved up or back in the event that bad weather is forecasted, something that kept last year's event on schedule.

Noticeably absent from the Playoffs this year are Lee Westwood, U.S. Open Champion Rory McIIroy, and Tiger Woods. Westwood and McIlroy are not TOUR members this year, and Woods did not qualify for the Playoffs. He noted that, "Our ticket sales are still up!"

"You'll never replace the four majors," Rhinehart said about the FedExCup. However, it's still a huge event. "This is our Super Bowl. The season culminates in Atlanta. It feels like a major."

Back at a rain-soaked Plainfield Country Club, the TOUR Championship seems like a long way away. But not for Todd Rhinehart, who is already preparing for his Super Bowl.

Day 2 -- Working on their fitness, by Casey Durant

Today was somewhat rainy, but proved to be another fully enjoyable day at The Barclays. We began our day with a visit to the Physio fitness trailers. There, we met with Jeff Hendra, physical therapist. There were two trailers on-site, one acting as a physical therapy clinic, and the other housing a mobile gym. The toes of shoes peeked out from surrounding compartments in the trailer. Hendra explained that these were tennis shoes in all sizes for players to use in their exercises. He continued that approximately 30 to 40% of players usually come into the trailers about two hours before their tee times to stretch and prepare their muscles for the round ahead. He listed a variety of injuries that were commonly treated in the trailers. These included lower back problems. He gestured to a complicated-looking machine on the side of the room and explained that it was used to stretch out one's back. Other common injuries include neck and shoulder problems, as well as issues with the wrist, hand, and elbow. The fitness trailers and their staffs play a very important role in PGA TOUR events, and it was very interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look.

One of my favorite parts of the day was speaking with Doug Ferguson, a sports writer for the Associated Press. He talked about his experiences covering various golf tournaments, and all the interesting places that he was able to go, including inside the ropes with players like Tiger Woods. He talked about all the places he has traveled, including Hawaii, Ireland, Spain, China, Chicago and California. I'm jealous! I think I would love a job that involves so many new and exciting experiences. However, Ferguson, Hendra, and Todd Rhinehart, executive director of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, commented on the difficulties of having a job that requires so much time away from home. "It takes a toll on your life, traveling so much," said Rhinehart. Hendra commented of his colleagues, "I'm with them more than my family!" So I guess that would be a downside of this life, but all of these jobs still sound like a ton of fun.

I've had a great time these past two days at The Barclays. I've had the chance to talk to some really interesting people and watch some incredible golf. I would like to thank The First Tee and the PGA TOUR for providing me with this opportunity.

Day 2 -- Rules of the road, by Alexis Harris

Thousands of people spend weeks on end away from home to contribute to the PGA TOUR, in front of the camera, as well as behind the scenes. ShotLink alone requires more than 600 people to operate. After learning about the dynamics of how ShotLink operates and the time it requires, Jason Larson, ShotLink operations coordinator, still says, "It's a blast; it's a fun job, it's golf!"

The amazing thing I learned this week about the TOUR is how much time away these dedicated people spend from their families. A PGA TOUR employee can spend between 20 to 28 weeks away from home, and as much as four weeks at a time. Considering four out of the five people we spoke to had families, the sacrifice seems to be big to work TOUR events, although they all express how much they love their jobs and being part of this team. I respect their ability to be so dedicated to supporting the greatly talented players of the TOUR. I personally couldn't imagine how it feels to be so far away from the people I hold dear for so long. I am grateful to the PGA TOUR and The First Tee for this opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at a tournament and all of the wonderful staff people who go along with it!

DAY 1 -- Taking an exclusive tour, by Kevin Lagarenne

The PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup have officially begun at Plainfield Country Club. While most spectators were on the course, I was able to walk around to the more exclusive areas. To start the day off I went to the TaylorMade demo truck. I talked with Wade Liles, who drives the truck from tournament to tournament. He explained the brainstorming and process of making new clubs. For those of you with new white Burner and R11 woods, it turns out that the white color isn't all for show. Liles explained that black drivers give off a reflection that can bother the players, but the white color of the woods reduces glare and helps players align the ball properly. The entire truck is full of personalized equipment for the players, including hats, balls, gloves, and clubs.

As everyone else watched players hit on the practice facility from behind the ropes, I was able to get inside and talk with Philip Marburger, who is a senior manager of player relations. Philip helps with questions and concerns from players when any policies are handed down, and is a PGA TOUR liaison to the players. While telling us about his job, he actually got PGA TOUR player Kevin Chappell to come and talk with us. A rookie who spent a year and a half on the Nationwide Tour, Chappell is one of the 123 competitors playing for the first win of the Playoffs. It was great that he could take a few minutes way from practicing to spend time talking with us about golf.

As if the Pro-Am tournament wasn't fun enough to watch, today there was a Military Appreciation Ceremony. The Coast Guard Silent Drill Team did an amazing job, but the highlight of that event was Dana Bowman, a member of the Special Forces and a double amputee, who jumped out of a plane from almost 4,000 feet above sea level. He gently floated down in his parachute, landing right on target. As he landed, a wave of applause grew into cheers. This was all part of Birdies for the Brave, a military outreach initiative proudly supported by the PGA TOUR and 14 TOUR players. They are dedicated to supporting our men and women of the Armed Forces and their families. This was an unexpected surprise to find at a PGA TOUR event.

DAY 1 -- Final-day preparations, by Max Lerner

As the first round of the first 2011 PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup event approaches, players begin preparing for what promises to be an exciting race to the fifth edition of the FedExCup. Plainfield Country Club is making its debut on the PGA TOUR this year, and the Wednesday Pro-Am allowed many of the players to get in their last practice before tournament play commences Thursday morning. Most cannot begin to imagine the preparations undertaken by a wide array of people on any given week on the PGA TOUR. While players tinker with their swings on the driving range, the work being put in by those behind the scenes could end up making all the difference come Sunday afternoon.

When we visited the TaylorMade demo truck, PGA TOUR technicians Wade Liles and Henry Luna were busy at work trying to give their players an advantage this week. Within the truck, which is stocked with more than 1,000 shafts and numerous clubheads, clubs can be assembled within five minutes. One such advantage, the new Tour 360 All Terrain Versatility golf shoe featuring spike pods, could prove to help players in not losing their footing -- especially with weather this week potentially threatening the completion of play on schedule.

While many of the players were completely immersed in preparations for the tournament under beautiful sunny skies, Telvent Meteorologist Stewart Williams was on alert in his office, monitoring the latest trends of Hurricane Irene. Williams is more than used to dealing with strange weather on the PGA TOUR. This year alone, the TOUR has dealt with snow, high winds, and now potentially a hurricane. The number one threat to a golf tournament is lightning, and as part of his job, Stewart will alert the PGA TOUR Rules Officials in time to evacuate the golf course 30 minutes prior to the completion of play. Without lightning in the area, most tournaments are able to continue by using high spots on the greens for hole locations during rain and moving tees forward or back depending on wind conditions.

As the first round of The Barclays nears closer, it is clear that the venerable Donald Ross classic design at Plainfield will be an exciting challenge for the players. Plainfield Country Club has certainly earned Phil Mickelson's praises. Mickelson said "I can't think of a better spot to play." From the first tee on Thursday morning to the drivable 18th hole on Sunday, one thing is certain this week at The Barclays: the tournament will be an exciting way to begin the Playoffs for the 2011 FedExCup.

DAY 1 -- All a part of the team, by Alexis Harris

From the grungy smell of new clubs to the bustle of the press, we've seen almost everything there is to see at The Barclays today. The beautiful weather was a perfect condition for our busy day. Although we interviewed several different people with a large variety of personalities, they all had one very important characteristic: They all felt they were part of a team. Each person we spoke with talked about being a part of the team, which really gives you an idea of how uniquely humble the PGA TOUR is. Everyone we met gave off a sort of "hospitality" that really welcomes you to the event.

We started our day with Wade Liles, a TaylorMade technician for the PGA TOUR. Mr. Liles welcomed us into his truck to really give us a feel for what he does. Seeing the intimidating machinery was unexpected on a mobile vehicle. However, after Wade informed us that it only took him five minutes to make a club, I understood the need for "heavy machinery." They way he spoke about his job, I knew how passionate he was about it. Just the way his eyes lit up when he showed us the drawers upon drawers of driver heads and shafts proved his love for the game of golf. He started his work in 1987 gripping around 200 clubs a day. In 2003 he joined forces with iron technician Henry Luna, becoming an unstoppable team. He feels like he has now risen to the top of his career. "We are constantly revolutionizing golf," Henry Luna said.

Before I knew it, it was time to run off to the practice facility, where we had a surprise brief conversation with PGA TOUR player Kevin Chappell. Chappell was hitting balls when we ran into him. He seemed very relaxed, but I could sense the nerves racing through his body. Chappell spent a year on the Nationwide Tour before coming to the PGA TOUR. He seemed very down-to-earth and normal. He wasn't trying to hide that fact that even though competing was his favorite part, the PGA TOUR was still intimidating, overwhelming and exciting. Chappell just seemed very honest in my eyes, and I have acquired a new level of respect for him.

The unexpected activities at The Barclays just kept popping up throughout our day. The most surprising, as well as my favorite event for the day, was watching double amputee Dana Bowman skydive from a plane 4,000 feet in the air. Bowman, a retired member of the U. S. Army's elite parachute team, landed directly on target during the Birdies for the Brave Military Appreciation Ceremony with a flag attached to his parachute. He is a real inspiration for all people, proving what it means to not let anything hold you back from your dreams.

DAY 1 -- From Philip to Phil, by Casey Durant

My first day as a Junior Course Reporter at The Barclays today was filled with activity as I met tons of people with intriguing jobs related to the PGA TOUR. One of my favorite stops was at the practice facility, where we spoke with Philip Marburger, senior manager, player relations. His job is to act as a liaison between the players and the PGA TOUR officials. He communicates players' questions and concerns to headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He also answers any questions players have about changes in policies. His job sounds like a lot of fun! He gets to travel all around the world, including China, Maui, New Orleans and Madrid. He also gets to directly communicate with the players on a regular basis. He assists with the Sponsor Value Program as well, which among other things helps to organize opportunities for the players to work with local charities and other organizations. Just yesterday through this program, some young people from The First Tee had the opportunity to walk three holes of the course, inside the ropes, with the players, asking them any questions they wanted.

We also met with Stewart Williams, a Telvent meteorologist who was on staff today to keep an eye on the weather, especially Hurricane Irene -- which is predicted to roll in on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. Williams' job is to alert officials of severe weather conditions in the area so that they may make the decision of whether or not to suspend play. When asked why he became a meteorologist, Williams talked about times when, as a child, the weather report would predict snow, and yet it would not snow. "I wanted to figure out why it didn't snow," he said. He also commented that each day is different on the job. "It's like reading a different book every day." Williams' job seems very important, as ensuring the safety of the players must be a priority. He also said that he really enjoys his job. "Weather is fun!" he exclaimed.

We ended the day by attending Phil Mickelson's press conference. It was awesome to get to see such a great player up close, and to be able to see in person the type of thing that I've watched on TV time and time again. Today was full of excitement and great experiences. I can't wait for tomorrow.

DAY 1 -- TaylorMade tech prowess, by Connor O'Brien

Walk into the TaylorMade equipment van on any given day and you'll probably see Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Sean O'Hair, Darren Clarke, and many more top players on the PGA TOUR. They're there to make sure that every piece of equipment in their bag is just right. And if there's something not quite perfect in their bag, there's a dedicated professional to get it just right. In five minutes.

Welcome to the world of TaylorMade PGA TOUR Technicians Wade Liles and Henry Luna. They spend Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at PGA TOUR events, then drive their truck to the next stop. At The Barclays this week, they're decked out in orange shirts for the launch of Adidas' new golf shoe, the Tour 360 ATV, proving that, as Liles says, "We [TaylorMade] are constantly revolutionizing golf." (ATV stands for All Terrain Versatility.)

You'll also find drawers full of heads, shafts, and grips. Liles, the metalwood expert in the van, describes it as a "candy store" of the latest and greatest in golf equipment -- and some that hasn't even been released.

And next to these drawers, you'll find a bag full of equipment for the pros. Matt Kuchar's new set of fairway woods can be found in this bag. So can backup putters for Fred Couples, Spencer Levin, and world No. 4 Martin Kaymer. None of these putters can be found at your local golf shop, and you won't be able to find them in the future, either. Perhaps the most stupefying is Kaymer's putter, a custom- made white blade dubbed the "IN 12 Tour Preferred" that is milled from one piece of metal. This backup putter cost a jaw-dropping $4,000 to make.

As Liles explained the inner workings of the tour van, iron and wedge expert Henry Luna made a set of clubs for a charity event hosted by Ryan Palmer. As he moved through the task with startling efficiency, it became clear that, as the old PGA TOUR slogan says, these guys are good. And not just the players.

Blogger biographies
Casey Durant
Casey Durant has been part of The First Tee program for the last three years. She thoroughly enjoys working with the younger kids in the program. She is 15 years old, and a sophomore at Phillips Academy Andover, in Andover, Massachusetts. An honors student for each of the last four years, Casey was also the winner of the Long Island Spelling Bee in 2010, and represented Long Island at the National Bee in Washington, D.C. She plays the viola, is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and her other interests include Scrabble, math, acting, writing and hanging out watching movies. Casey has played on the high school varsity golf team since 7th grade at her former school, making the all-county team each year. An active player in the Metropolitan Golf Associations junior tournament program, Casey won numerous local tournaments and was the Metropolitan Golf Associations Player of the Year in 2010 for her division on Long Island. Casey aspires to continue playing golf in college.
Kevin Lagarenne
Kevin Lagarenne, a junior at South Brunswick High school, has been involved with the First Tee program for more than 8 years. He has participated at all levels of the program in The First Tee of Raritan Valley and has worked hard to follow the Nine Core Values both on and off the golf course. Currently, Kevin is in the Eagle program and assists with teaching the younger Par and Player kids within the Raritan Valley chapter. Aside from golf, Kevin is an honor roll student at his high school, and has played on the schools varsity golf team for two years. His other interests include listening to music and playing video games.
Max Lerner
I am entering my junior year at Ocean Township High School and have been involved with The First Tee of Monmouth and Ocean Counties since 2008. I am currently a member of the Eagle Program and recently finished tied for second in the 2011 Northeast Regional Challenge. Also, I have been involved with The First Tee in events to help gain funding. Additionally, I enjoy playing competitive junior golf in NJ PGA and NJSGA tournaments as well as playing high school varsity golf at Ocean Township. Off the course, I am an academic honors student and a member of SADD (Students against Destructive Decisions), DECA (Distributive Educational Clubs of America) and Italian Club.
Connor O'Brien
Connor OBrien has played golf since he was 18 months old and tournament golf since he was six. Connor has won six tournaments, including the 2008 twelve and under Metropolitan PGA Championship. He has been involved with the First Tee of Fairchild Wheeler for five years, playing on the interclub team for the past four years. OBrien is 14 years old, and will be a freshman at Brien McMahon High School this fall, and looks forward to contributing to the varsity golf team. He also plays soccer, paddle, football, basketball, and tennis. He plays violin and has written for his town/school newspaper for the past four years. Connor resides in Rowayton, Conn. with his parents and dog.
Alexis Harris
Alexis Harris is currently a member of The First Tee of Raritan Valley, N.J., and has been a member of The First Tee for 6 years. "The First Tee has always been a place of enjoyment for me. Its somewhere I can play the game that I love, with people I like. Its a place to make friends and to learn together at a sport that is very socially interactive. The First Tee is also a place of relaxation. The pressure of everyday is off and it allows me to improve at my game and interact with the people who I have formed strong relationships." Alexis is a rising sophomore honor student at Piscataway High School in Piscataway, NJ. She currently holds a 3.8 GPA and is the only female member of the varsity golf team. She enjoys working hard in her studies and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Through her hard work and dedication, she moved to the number one spot her freshman year on the varsity team this past 2011 season.

EDITOR's note: Five members of The First Tee -- Casey Durant, Kevin Lagarenne, Max Lerner, Connor O'Brien and Alexis Harris -- will be blogging this week from The Barclays. Below are their biographies.