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Ikey's Visit with Albert at 2002 US Open

Heavy lids here in Richmond as I lay some thoughts out for your consideration. Three hours of zzz in the last 36 but WOW! What a terrific weekend!

I gunned it out of Big R late on Friday afternoon. I thought I had things wired so I could leave by 2PM. Patients often have other ideas, however. 2PM quickly evolved to 4 PM. The traffic thickened once I hit The Island. I finally made it to Al's at 12:30, early Saturday morning. Our hero was a-walkin' the dog when I glided into the Danza Compound at Hampton Bays. I met Albert's eternally patient wife, Florence, his son, Albert (aka Albie) and the infamous FootLocker Don, Anthony Mancusi, Albert's God son. Al made sure there were plenty of ice cubes to sacrifice to Dewars' while we watched Open highlights from Friday and wondered aloud why the bleep Chris Berman didn't get a haircut.

Saturday was gray but no rain, unlike Friday's deluge. We dumped the car at Jones Beach and took the USGA shuttle to Bethpage State Park, about 20 minutes away. Door-to-door service. Very nice and no waiting whatsoever. The grounds at The Black were still very muddy from earlier rains. Nevertheless this was the US OPEN! The place was teeming with people, some buzzing all about, others staking out pieces of turf to wait for their favorites as well as the stars. We started out at the 18th green watching amateur Kevin Warrick hack his way to a quintuple bogey 9 (I checked, Al; I thought it was higher!) after he failed to get out of the DEEP rough around the dunes fronting the green. His playing partner, Frank Lickliter, slid one by and took bogey. A Lumpy Herron sighting was made en route to 17. If ever a guy was appropriately nicknamed...

We caught Kevin Sutherland and Brad Faxon playing the 207 yard par 3 17th and watched them make a couple of smooth pars. Great hole. No place to bail out. You have to stiff it 200+ or you're in the weeds (overgrown fescue, I believe) or on the beach. Scott Hoch aced it in the final round. From there, we cut across the 16th fairway and watched The Great White Shark, Greg Norman, drop a nice iron shot onto the green where he would eventually make par. By this time, Al was getting thirsty and we made our way to the Trophy Club adjoining the 15th fairway for some refreshments, but not before our Babs scared the shit out of some chiquita taking a picture of two guys with the 15th green in the background. Just as she was getting ready to click the shutter, the voice of God emerged from Al's mouth "No pictures on the golf course!", a well-known factoid. She clearly experienced a little chest pain and I'm sure a touch of stress incontinence at the momentary thought of being thumbed from the Open. Great moment.

After a $4.25 kosher tube steak and a frosty Heineken (in the festive "keg" can), Al and I gave our Trophy Club Tix to Albie and Anthony and parked ourselves in the bleachers at the #1 handicap hole on the course, the 459 yard, par 4 15th. The stroke average after two rounds was 4.67. We watched 8 pairings come through and only one--ONE--golfer made birdie: Ernie Els. And that was only the 2nd birdie of the day. It was a hole that Tiger would birdie several hours later to help salvage his uncharacteristically pedestrian 3rd Round. Among those playing before our vantage point: David Toms, Jesper Parnevik, Nick Price, Harrison Frazier, Tom Lehman (REALLY nice pants), Robert Karlsson from Sweden, Craig Stadler, Paul Lawrie, Nick Faldo and Jeff Sluman. It was great to see Faldo playing well again. He was -4 when he came to the 15th, made bogey and then went out and regained the stroke with a birdie at 17. Overall, Faldo would hang 6 birdies on the board and a pair of bogeys for a 66 on Saturday. Phil Mickelson was even more electrifying with seven birdies on Saturday but he coupled that with four bogeys for a 67. Didn't get to see him take a swing Saturday.

We continued to backtrack until we caught up with the leaders on #9, a 418 yard par 4. Tiger appeared to be all business while Padraig Harrington clearly appeared to be digging the exposure on the big stage: big goofy grin on his face when he strolled from the green to the next tee box while Robo-Golfer had the game face riveted to his skull. Quite a contrast. We wound our way over to number11, another par 4, this one a bit longer at 435 yards. Both golfers managed to make ground chuck out of the hole and they walked off with bogeys. By this time, it was after 6PM. We watched them tee off on 12 and made the determination that we weren't going to be able to get much closer to the action. We decided to head in but not before we boldly stood on the edge of the 5th green, walked down the 5th fairway and stood on the tee box. Same for #4. Outstanding!

We were joined for dinner by Al's folks, Bob and Elena, and Al's sis, Carol, and her husband, John. Their little girl, Marie (is that right, Albert?), completed the group. We had a wonderful meal at Assaro's although the 10:15PM entree forced us to sit up until 2:30AM to digest our meals. Cigars, liqueurs and a wide range of conversations have a wonderful way of helping one pass the time.

My Sunday story picks up with Al's earlier e-mail: Mass then out to Southampton for some estate peaking. I was reading an article on Elena Ford, HF II's granddaughter, who was raised on Southampton in one of those sprawling, hedged compounds. Stunning wealth, to be sure. I said my goodbye's to the Danza's at noontime and headed back to Bethpage for some of the final round. I finally got to the course around 2PM and started the trek to the 5th hole, a tough 451 yard par 4 that was the 5th most difficult after 3 rounds (4.46). It was a classic risk and reward hole: a huge sand trap stretched irregularly in front of the landing area. Play it safe and you had a much longer 2nd shot onto a very small, elevated green. Those who risked the most were rewarded with a good angle into the green and a chance for birdie. If you hit it into the rough on the left, you had to punch out and hit the green on your 3rd shot, an almost guaranteed bogey. I'm sure Davis Love III would have loved a bogey on that hole. He was +4 for the Open and even for the day when he 4-putted for a triple bogey 7. Ugly stuff.

Others coming through included KJ Choi, Dudley Hart, Charles Howell, III (REALLY talented kid, from what I could see), Mark O'Meara, Scott McCarron, Tom Byrum, Justin Leonard, Billy Mayfair, Robert Allenby, Faldo and Harrington. Jeff Maggert and Phil were in the 2nd to last group of the day. Mickelson got out of the box early with a birdie at one and had the crowd solidly in his corner. Maggert also started out E for the tournament but double bogeyed the 3rd hole but bounced back with a birdie at 4. Both put their shots on the green at #5, theoretically with an opportunity for birdie. The greens were like lightening and tough to get a good read. Both players wound up even for the day after number 5: Maggert finessed a birdie putt into the hole while Mickelson broke the hearts of his minions with a 3 putt adventure. Next came the dream pairing: Robo-Golfer vs. Commander Grip 'n' Re-Grip. Woods made it a point not to even LOOK at Garcia while he went through all of his pre-shot procrastinations. They both wound up parring the 5th, my signal to start heading for the gates. I cut back to the 2nd nine and caught one of the more glamorous pairings of the day, Jesper and Ernie. They both played like dogs with Swedish Boy barking the loudest with a stylish 80. Els was downright "Best in Show" with his 74.

I took one last look over my shoulder at the course before hopping on the shuttle and the sky looked like the bleeping apocalypse was unfolding. After a 49 minute rain delay, Mickelson jazzed everyone with a birdie at 13 to climb within two of Tiger but as Al said, Tiger would not be denied. I heard the finish on the radio after spending 2 hours to get from Jones Beach to the Jersey Turnpike, a grand total of 50 miles. Once I got out on the highway and got my motor runnin', I sailed back to the Capital of the Confederacy and was in the sack by 2:30AM.

Things that stood out: 1. Al's family, especially Florence and Albie. Strong ties. Great to see. 2. Don Mancusi. A thoroughly delightful young man who worships Al ( I said he was delightful, not a genius) and was a lot of fun to hang with at the Tournament. 3. Sergio. Whining SOB. Flips the bird to the gallery on Friday. Cries about the rain. And the biggest mystery of all: Martina Hingis is his main squeeze. So: How is it that two incredibly gifted, immature, whiny, too-rich-too-soon brats find each other? I don't know the answer but they clearly deserve each other. 4. The Black. A stunning golf course. An absolute must for every golfer on this list sometime in their life. A group outing, Albert, when we hit 55? 5. Out-of-town writers. I thought the crowds were fine. Yeah, okay, some dick head might have been inappropriate now and then but it was not a common problem. Hey! It was NY! Bleep 'em (especially Garcia)! 6. Shawn Estes/the Mets/Clemens-Piazza/etc. Please. Enough already.

Great weekend, gentlemen. And there's MUCH more to come in the next couple of years. Shinnecock hosts the Open in 2004, Baltasrol has the PGA in 2005 and Winged Foot has the Open in 2006. Surely we can make one of those, can't we?

Tiger. He da man. Again. Happy Birthday, Phil. TE