HAVEN, Wis. - Growing up in Belleville, Ill., Derek Lamely had never seen anything like this.
"Where did I wind up?" Lamely asked as he walked onto the seventh green Tuesday during a PGA Championship practice round at Whistling Straits.
"Up here," shouted a fan in the gallery, who stood on a large, densely vegetated hill overlooking the putting surface. "But you just missed the heavy stuff."
"Oh, goody!" Lamely exclaimed as he found his ball buried in the deep rough facing the lakeside green.
"You've got a bit of a backstop for the shot," playing partner Bryce Molder shouted to Lamely.ste
"What backstop? The lake?" Lamely sounded unconvinced.
Wisconsin's most famous golf course is sending a message to the world's most famous golfers:
Bring it on.
"It's not so great down here," lamented Jason Bohn who found the bunker by the lake on the seventh just before Lamely's unfortunate shot.
Featuring holes with nicknames like "The Pinched Nerve," hosting a flock of Scottish blackface sheep that traverse terrain that has elevation variations of up to 80 feet, Whistling Straits, with its never-ending network of pot bunkers and wild, natural vegetation surrounding the fairways, is ready for the big boys.
Veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has finished in the top ten in every major, seemed unconcerned about the layout. He had a stogy in his mouth on the practice tee. It was a.m.
The 2009 British Open champion, Stewart Cink, talked about the challenging course during an interview with the UK's Sky News.
But a great number of the foreign media followed one golfer who was the only competitor I saw playing by himself today. And we're not talking about Tiger.
Ryo Ishikawa strolled solo up the seventh fairway. It was a royal stroll. The lake seemed to part before him. The guy's a rock star and he knows it. Ishikawa won a tour event in his native Japan when he was 15. He doesn't turn 19 until next month. This past May, he shot a 58 to win another Japanese tournament. He was the circuit's leading money winner last season.
A bevy of photographers, many of whom had almost as many cameras dangling around their necks as Ishikawa had clubs in his bag, battled for position to get shots of The Land of the Rising Sun's boy wonder.
Meanwhile, back at the Pro Golf Shop, a two-football-field-sized tent selling every type of souvenir imaginable, about 25 kids lined up about an hour before the scheduled autograph session for America's next big thing, Anthony Kim. The line was not as long for Susan Greene who was signing the kids' books she writes about golf, talking about the game and using the sport to teach life lessons. Some of her titles include "The ABC's of Golf," "Consider it Golf," and "Swing into Opposites."
But Greene's books were having a hard time competing with everything else being sold. "You'll buy one thing! Look around!" one exasperated man told his wide-eyed grandson.
"I don't know if I have $65.71 to spend," wondered a teenager who coveted a golf shirt that was clearly beyond his budget.
Shirts and hats beckoned shoppers from all corners. Many featured what's known in the trade as "cross-branding," featuring both the logos of the PGA at Whistling Straits and teams like the Packers, Badgers, Brewers and Cubs. Want an official PGA sharpie? It's yours for three bucks. Also on the shelves, a PGA hip flask. How much of the "heavy stuff" can you fit in there?
And only the most fashionable hackers will do corrective course landscaping this summer with the official Divot Tool Set, a steal at $19. The most ingenious item I saw was a rubber ball about the size of a volleyball that was dimpled like a golf ball with the PGA logo stamped on it.
"Perfect for Autographs," read the sign on the display table. And they were. Dozens of kids carried them around showing off the signatures of their favorite players (did they sign with an official PGA sharpie?)
A couple of Wisconsin golf fans sporting "Stricker's Soldiers" shirts walked past a guy who manned a booth selling "The Ultimate Bloody Mary" for 10 bucks. The booth was located right inside the front entrance so the bartender fielded endless questions like, "Which way to 18?" and "When does Tiger tee off?"
I never heard anyone ask what actually went into "The Ultimate Bloody Mary," or better yet, "Can you put one in my official PGA hip flask, to go?"
Before arriving in Wisconsin, Mark was a TV sports director at stations in Greensboro, the Quad Cities and Fort Smith, Arkansas. He got his first job at the ABC affiliate in Syracuse during his junior year at Syracuse University where he majored in TV and Radio at the Newhouse School.
Mark is an avid fan of all sports. He covered the Packers at Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans and has also reported on the Final Four, the Daytona 500, the Rose Bowl, the NLCS and the PGA and U.S. Open golf championships. He covered the GMO for 20 years. Mark played soccer in high school and is a passionate supporter of "The Beautiful Game." One of his greatest experiences was attending a UEFA Champions League game hosted by Real Madrid at Bernabeu Stadium.
Mark was born in Philadelphia but has happily made the transition from cheese steaks to cheese heads and is thrilled to now call Wisconsin home. He is currently president of Concannon Communications LLC and working on projects involving, writing, producing, voice-overs and public relations.