My Year in Golf, 2016: Kevin Casey
As 2016 winds down, members of the Golfweek staff reflect on their year in golf. Up next: Kevin Casey.
• • •
My first full year at Golfweek is in the books, and yeah, there were some memories.
I’m going to cut right to the chase, though. A certain week at Augusta National in April stood out as the clear winner for my 2016.
Yes, the Masters *cue flowery music with smooth Jim Nantz voiceover*. Every golf fan dreams about being on the grounds of Augusta and any who claim they don’t are liars. I started playing golf when I was 7 and have been yearning for that opportunity for 16 years – it’s certainly come up several times between myself and my dad, also an avid golfer.
I was hoping it would happen some day, but not at 23 years old, and I certainly didn’t think I would be covering the most anticipated golf tournament in the world by that age. And yet, it happened, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that.
If you want a little insight into what it’s like for a media member going to the Masters for the first time, you’ve obviously come to the right place. My first day at Augusta was the Sunday before the action, and it was a full day.
Myself and colleague Brentley Romine, also a first-timer at the Masters, decided to get up to Augusta as soon as possible for no other reason than to soak it all in. So that meant a sleepless night, a half-hour ride to Brentley’s house at 1 a.m. to park my car for the week, and then a spot in the passenger’s seat while he drove six hours through the wee morning hours so we could reach the grounds well before noon.
It was worth the lack of rest. We were at the Masters.
From there, the rest of the week went by quickly of course, but every minute was indelible. And I say that without even seeing the whole course! Never stepped foot on at least five holes on the front nine. But on Tuesday evening that week, Brentley and I were the only people walking the back nine, and the beauty of those nine holes in person matches the hype you hear on TV.
Some other observations from a Masters rookie:
Augusta is more wide-open than I thought. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve seen the trees through the screen and figured the course was pretty conventionally enclosed. It is in spots, but there are plenty of spaces where it kind of feels like you’re in a large pasture. Mosey across No. 1 near the tee box and No. 9 fairway, and you’ll reach a wide open field. From there, you could walk in a straight line and watch action on three or four more holes before running into a tree.
The Par-3 Course is unbelievably gorgeous. My favorite spot on the entire Augusta property was honestly not on the 18-hole course where they play the Masters. It was actually the amphitheater that is the closing two holes of the Par-3 Course. Yes, it was even more incredible than Amen Corner. I went down there Wednesday to check out the Par-3 Contest and it’s hard to describe how cool it is to look down at those two holes, surrounded by water with fans hugging every inch of available land with the sun splashing down. Pretty surreal and a lot to take in. Definitely don’t miss out on being somewhere in that amphitheater during the Par-3 Contest if you have the opportunity.
Masters Sunday is cool wherever you are. Definitely didn’t picture myself on the final day where I ended up. I was chasing down a story on Smylie Kaufman’s friends, who’ve created a cool fan following by dubbing themselves “Smylie’s Army.” Of course an obvious ode to “Arnie’s Army,” just with more alcohol involved. Anyway, it actually took me some time to find them, first going to concessions (because that’s where the beer is) but no dice. Then to the driving range and putting green before going back to concessions and finding the crew there in the end. Very fine group of people and I feel a cool story that I was able to write as Spieth commenced on his eventual demise. Not exactly being there shot-by-shot as Spieth shockingly lost the Masters, but I honestly enjoyed doing this just as much. Whatever you’re doing on the grounds on Masters Sunday at Augusta National, you’re on the grounds at Augusta National on Masters Sunday. I don’t take that for granted.
• • •
The Masters experience was most memorable, but there was definitely more to my year. I went to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., for two weeks and that was a blast. OK, so the house the Golfweek crew stayed in was, uhh, interesting? Beth Ann Nichols will have more on this in her own retrospective tomorrow, what I remember most from that strange house was when we took showers upstairs, we did so in a bathtub that honestly could have been nabbed from a medieval castle.
But this crib was cool.
Loving my crib in Eugene this week (h/t to @GolfweekNichols for that line) pic.twitter.com/hNqoiRGwjM
— Kevin Casey (@GolfweekCasey) May 21, 2016
As for the actual action, I don’t need to expound too much on either final, because if you paid attention, they were both unbelievable. The Oregon men’s win had the cooler vibe, I think, just because there was the home crowd there fiercely cheering on and rushing the green at the end. But Washington women’s victory was more surreal, considering the miracle hole-outs the Huskies pulled off to win it all.
Honestly as amazing as the final proved to be, the semifinals were slightly more dramatic. I was out there, UCLA was top-ranked and appeared to have the slight edge for most of the match’s final hour, until Washington unbelievably turned the tide. And this is how the match ended: UCLA’s Bronte Law, the best player in college golf, holes a putt to win a crucial point and screams in excitement. Basically 30 seconds later about 100 yards away, Washington freshman Sarah Rhee jars a greenside bunker shot to basically seal the Huskies win and move them to the finals.
Even a Hollywood scriptwriter would be like, “That’s a bit much.”
Ying Luo running down 10 fairway to join the celebration! @UW_WGolf #NCAAGolf pic.twitter.com/StXGA4nyo0
— Kevin Casey (@GolfweekCasey) May 25, 2016
Unreal. Moment of the two weeks for me was the group standing together and after they’d won it all, with freshman Wenyung Keh blurting out, “Did we just win?” She could’ve honestly been asking, it was that unbelievable how Washington did it.
Wenyung Keh exclaiming “Did we just win?” As she teared up was absolutely the best part right after the win. pic.twitter.com/19Obv5IWqp
— Kevin Casey (@GolfweekCasey) May 26, 2016
• • •
I’ll close this out before I get too long-winded. Those were my main two events of note covering this year, but I get excited covering any level of golf at any level of exposure. There were several others I went to this year that I was eager to cover and thoroughly enjoyed.
One of the most underrated is the Jones Cup, an elite amateur event in a really cool place at Ocean Forest Golf Club. I like to wear shorts even when it’s cold out, part of my Massachusetts roots, and even though this was Georgia, it was really cold there the first day. I got plenty of looks with khaki shorts on in 45-degree weather with constant winds, but I don’t regret it and would do it again.
One that stood out from the fall was the Golfweek Program Challenge. Yes, maybe shilling for my employer here, but really cool college event in South Carolina and I liked getting to know coaches and players that maybe weren’t with top-5 programs but had their own fascinating tales. Also spending a few days bunking with Lance Ringler is always nice and brings guaranteed laughs.
My last event of 2016 was the PNC Father/Son Challenge. Not going to say much more than being there and able to interview legends like Jack Nicklaus, Bernhard Langer, John Daly and Curtis Strange was pretty cool.
I’ll stop here. It was a wonderful year when I went on the road and even when I didn’t in 2016. I think we made great strides at Golfweek.com this year and will make many more quickly when 2017 hits.
Hopefully you’ll agree, because I’m looking forward to it and am excited about the future.