When I got the assignment to cover the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, I knew it'd be a long week.
And it was all worth it: from the Monday morning I watched the first practice round in dreary conditions to the Sunday view I had from the low limb of a stubby pine tree — just right and short of the 18th fairway — for what is now Phil Mickelson's forgettable must-make chip to force a Monday playoff with Justin Rose.
Obviously, it didn't go in. But at the time, I think the 10,000 of us breathing down his neck from all sides — the fairway behind him, the massive grandstands, the majestic clubhouse, that stubby conifer — gave him at least a 50-50 chance. That's why everyone chanted, "Phil! Phil! Phil!" as he sized it up.
Here's a look at that wonderful trip down the 18th fairway with the final group on the Sunday of a U.S. Open still up for grabs. Let me start at the end, in that tree:
The limb of that tree, God bless it, could have snapped at any time. I imagined briefly that it would happen in Phil's backswing. But that didn't make me or the other five people standing on it get down.
That's your champion Justin Rose (in the front of the pack) as he walked over the ravine from the 18th tee box to the 18th fairway on Sunday.
The mad dash down the 18th fairway was all to see if Phil Mickelson could chip in. He could not. For a few moments as Mickelson made his way up the fairway, police and Open volunteers seemed to think the bulging crowds would hold their lines. We did not.
Thousands began to form a wall about 10 people deep all around where Phil Mickelson would chip. Merion's 18th fairway felt like the lawn at an outdoor rock concert — with denim and tee shirts replaced by khaki and collars.
I never could have known when the week started that I'd get a chance to see Mickelson try for a playoff on the 72nd hole. (The same can be said for my colleague Matt Mullin, who after entering the wrong gate Sunday, got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Merion's golf course yield its first hole-in-one at a U.S. Open. The video of Shawn Stefani's ace is still hard to believe.)
I did, however, expect a long commute from my house in Trenton, N.J. The one-hour, 45-minute trip twice a day was long. Despite the three trains it encompassed, SEPTA's system was smooth as can be. Here's some looks from along the way: from my walk to SEPTA's Trenton Regional Rail line, then the Market-Frankford elevated line and onto the Norristown High Speed line. Trenton to Ardmore without a car. A beautiful thing.
7:30 a.m., Monday morning, June 10: First day of the U.S. Open week, which is one of the few things worth leaving the house for prior to 7:30 a.m. — on Clay Street in the Mill Hill neighborhood. Trees do grow in Trenton. My house is on the left and I don't have control of those still-lit street lamps.
7:50 a.m.: Trenton Train Station at this hour can be a pleasant place — to get a coffee for the 48-minute ride to 30th Street Station.
8:55 a.m.: More than halfway there now once I've hit 30th Street Station ... only two more modes of the Philadelphia public transit to go!
9:05 a.m.: "West Philadelphia, born and raised..."
9:12 a.m.: If the television channel BET brought its well-known program "106th and Park" to Philly, would there be a better name for it than "52nd and Market"? I don't think so.
9:25 a.m.: I've arrived at the last port of call before Merion. At this point, even my weekly TransPass was like: "Dude, are we there yet?" The record-number of Titleist hats at 69th Station Station in Upper Darby made it evident we were near our final destination.
9:30 a.m.: I thought the only way to head west through the Main Line was the insufferable succession of traffic lights along Route 30. I was wrong. Why aren't there more light-rail lines like the Norristown High Speed line? Governments everywhere, please note.
9:40 a.m.: This stop: Merion Golf Club and the 113th U.S. Open.
9:45 a.m.: I made it. About two hours after leaving Clay Street, I'm now walking one of the top five or 10 best golf courses in America. Let's get this party started.
And then it was over. See you in 17 years (?), Merion.