Meet me in St Louis as big names spark big-game fever among fans

In a post­card from St Louis, Brian Keogh sees this sports-mad city em­brace Tiger and some Ir­ish ‘Beef’

Irish Independent - - Sport Golf -

IT brought back memories of the bad old days of the M50 toll booths – a 30-minute traf­fic snarl-up through a dizzy­ing maze of free­ways and over­passes to the banks of the Mis­sis­sippi. If I was look­ing for a stress-free start to my week at the US PGA, this was not it. Rush-hour on a hot and sticky Mon­day morn­ing is not the best time to see The Gate­way Arch – a 192-me­tre high stain­less steel mon­u­ment that dom­i­nates the sky­line of the mid­west city where the pioneers and would dock on their way west to seek their for­tune.

The tallest man-made mon­u­ment in the west­ern hemi­sphere, of­fi­cially ded­i­cated to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, it glinted in the misty morn­ing sun­shine in the cor­ner of my right eye as I bat­tled to get in lane, my vi­sion alerted by a dash­board alert telling me I had just 24 miles worth of fuel left af­ter the 300-mile drive (with an overnight in Lin­coln, Illi­nois) from Chicago to Mis­souri.

The Pony Ex­press, the Ore­gon Trail, the Santa Fé Trail and Cal­i­for­nia Trail all be­gan in Mis­souri, the point where the south meets the mid­west – a state that’s given the world the likes of Harry Tru­man, Mark Twain, Walt Dis­ney, Chuck Berry and, as Rory McIl­roy joked his first me­dia con­fer­ence, the rap­per Nelly.

“Mm­mmm you can find me in St Louie

Where the gun play ring all day (nanana) Some got jobs and some sell yea’

Oth­ers just smoke and f**k all day”

(‘St Louie’ by Nelly)

A huge sports town, St Louis hosted the 1904 Olympic Games and is home to the St Louis Car­di­nals base­ball team, win­ner of 11 World Se­ries.

It’s also got a strong Ir­ish her­itage with many im­mi­grants mov­ing to an area be­tween Mul­lan­phy and O’Fallon Streets down­town, known as the Kerry Patch, or to Dog­town, on the west side.

Bel­lerive Coun­try Club, sit­u­ated on the west side of the city, hosted the US Open in 1965 when Gary Player beat Kel Na­gle in a play-off, as well as the PGA Championship in 1992 when Nick Price claimed the first of his three Ma­jor wins.

While it hosted the US Se­nior Open in 2004, the BMW Championship in 2008 and the Se­nior PGA Championship in 2013, the venue did not get to host the

WGC-Amer­i­can Ex­press Championship in Septem­ber 2001 when the event was aban­doned af­ter the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the morn­ing of the Tues­day prac­tice rounds.

Tiger Woods will never for­get that day.

He re­called: “Yeah, 2001 was a very sur­real time, at least for me any­ways. I had done an Amer­i­can Ex­press clinic there, here in town, and I played a prac­tice round with Calc (Mark Calchavec­chia), and the tragedies that hap­pened tran­spired.

“We tried to play the next day. I be­lieve I was play­ing with Wiersy (Mike Weir). One of the towers had fallen on the Amer­i­can Ex­press build­ing and a lot of peo­ple lost their lives.

“The peo­ple at Amer­i­can Ex­press were strug­gling at the time, and I think Tim (Finchem) made the right move in can­celling the event.

“That was on the 11th, and I drove home on the 13th... 17 hours to get back home to Florida. It was a very sur­real time for my­self on that drive and a lot of re­flect­ing.”

St Louis waited 17 years for Woods to re­turn for the event they call ‘the Ma­jor with no ego’.

The blue col­lar, mid­west­ern city em­braced the event with a pas­sion pack­ing the venue from early on Mon­day to such lev­els that just mov­ing around the ar­eas near the club­house, the driv­ing range and the huge mer­chan­dise pavil­ion was a strug­gle.


With the tem­per­a­ture push­ing into the 90s fahren­heit with 83pc hu­mid­ity, it was no sur­prise when thun­der­storms forced the PGA of Amer­ica to evac­u­ate the course on Fri­day when thun­der rum­bled, and a thun­der­storm fur­ther soft­ened a long course al­ready hit by an inch and a half of rain last Tues­day.

That didn’t dis­suade the fans from mak­ing the pil­grim­age to see Woods in the flesh, lin­ing the fair­ways ten-deep or more to catch a glimpse of him tee it up along­side young guns McIl­roy and Justin Thomas.

The PGA of Amer­ica does not re­lease at­ten­dance fig­ures of the event, but it was ex­pected to smash the 200,000 bar­rier for the week.

“They have been un­be­liev­able,” Woods said, while former Mas­ter win­ner Charl Schwartzel sug­gested: “I don’t think I’ve seen so many peo­ple at a golf tour­na­ment. It’s been amaz­ing.”

Few were vet­eran golf watch­ers, but that didn’t curb their en­thu­si­asm.

“Let’s go, Beef,” they shouted as the bearded Shane Lowry raced into con­tention with rounds of 64 and 69 on Satur­day. “Get ’em Beef!”

Lowry still grinned, look­ing for all the world like one of those hardy pioneers who headed west from St Louis to forge a new fron­tier in Amer­ica.


Fans watch Tiger Woods play a shot on the 15th tee dur­ing Satur­day’s round of the PGA Championship

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