124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

At 18, disaster awaits at every turn

August 13, 2011

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- By 9 o'clock this morning, when the CBS sound man showed up, the 69-year-old grandmother had been there for an hour and a half. No better place to be, she said, than alongside the pond at the 18th green.  They all went splash there the day before. "Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, everybody hit it in," Bonnie Johnson said. "A very challenging hole. It makes golfers actually have to work for their money."


*Dustin Johnson was one of many players to find trouble on the 18th hole. Photo by Getty Images

The morning sun sat low behind Atlanta Athletic Club's giant loblolly pines. The 18th green was serene in the shade -- until you noticed where the PGA Championship officials (read: sadists) had cut the hole. It's at the bottom right corner. It's five paces off the edge. The only safe second shot is to the middle of the green, which leaves a 30-foot downhill putt that, if struck by a feather, might attain a speed of 71 m.p.h. as it whizzes past the cup and . . . into the pond.

Of course, before you try that putt, you must get there. From the tee, the par-4 will play 484 yards on Saturday. From that tee, the landing area to a fairway turning left appears to be as skinny as Scarlett O'Hara's famous 18-inch waist. Miss the drive left, you're in an extended finger of the pond that stretches all the way to the green and within 50 feet of Mrs. Johnson's folding chair. Miss the drive right, you're in a bunker from which the only escape is to declare yourself dead and chip it sideways. A perfect drive leaves a 220-yard shot over that pond to that green. Oh, joy.

The players who made the cut made 11 birdies at the 18th. They made six triple bogeys, one of them by the big hitter Gary Woodland, who sampled all of the holes delights. His 3-wood tee shot went left into the water. His 5-iron third shot fell short into the water. He had come to the tee three-under-par, two shots off the lead. Later, talking to reporters who hadn't seen that work, he said, "The triple on the last hole hurt . . ."

Wait. Triple? Bounces you to even par? And you're calm about it?

"I'm playing good," he said. Then, with a smile: "(Expletive) happens." My new hero.

Four hours before golf would happen in her field of view, Bonnie Johnson pointed to a man placing a microphone on the stone wall at the pond's edge. "See that?" she said.

Then Demian Padron arrived in a golf cart marked CBS Audio 10. With an 816 microphone in hand -- a fuzzy thing two feet long -- he left this Earth and descended over the stone retaining wall into a bed of plants growing from the pond muck. They were tall, purple plants with pink blooms. You'd never notice them over there - unless your second shot falls right and . . .

"All day there were guys throwing it in the water," Padron said. "The idea with his microphone is to let viewers hear the ball as it goes in."

Small wonder, then, that Mrs. Johnson chose her position early. By afternoon, all the folks who gawk at car wrecks will be standing behind her. Every Sunday for years, at her home in suburban Atlanta, she says she has watched a tournament's final round. "But I have nine grandchildren and every Sunday I make dinner for everybody. So I'm always in the kitchen when they're playing the last hole. Not this time. I'm going to be right here."

My new heroine.

-- Dave Kindred