Ryder fans experience 'mecca' of golf at Medinah
All Judy and Mike Strejc had to do to begin their Ryder Cup fan experience Saturday was look up.
The sky above the couple's Bloomingdale home was a canvas for planes spelling out messages in the clouds like the one the Strejcs saw while cooking bacon outside.
"I looked up at the sky and it said 'Rory's gonna get you! Go Europe!'" Judy Strejc said. "It's just awesome to be this close to a world event."
Fans of the American and European teams of professional golfers squaring off in the second day of the Ryder Cup experienced glimpses of fame, roaring crowds and friendly displays of patriotism — all on a sunny, fall day.
"If you're a golfer, this is Mecca," said Ron Anderson of Hanover Park.
Golf's temporary mecca at Medinah Country Club was bustling Saturday with face-painted fans, volunteers keeping crowds in order and 12 elite golfers from each side of the Atlantic teaming up in foursomes and four-ball play.
"I'm a coach, so the team atmosphere is really neat to me," said Laura Duncan of Florida, who has been strolling Medinah's acres watching the Ryder Cup with her husband since Wednesday. "These guys play each other individually every week, and to see them come together as a team is really cool."
Trying to catch the action presented mental and physical challenges. Being in the right place at the right time to see a match get decided on the 18th hole, for instance, required some strategic planning on the part of fans.
"As long as you know how many holes are left and what the score is, you can kind of know where to go," said Jacquelyn Lacy of Rochester, N.Y., as she awaited an 18th hole showdown between Americans Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson and Europeans Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. "You always have to try to get ahead of the crowd."
For 9-year-old Ella Stoterau of Iowa and other Ryder-watchers her size, that meant squeezing into a first-row spot along a fence and using binoculars to zoom in on the athletes.
For other fans, staying ahead meant camping out in the grandstands at a certain hole for hours, sipping Bloody Marys or beers, and listening to the play-by-play on mini radios available throughout the course for $15.
"It's just so hard to tell what's going on without the radio because you hear a roar four or five holes over and you want to know what's going on," said Jeff Baltruzak of Chicago, showing his patriotism in a white USA T-shirt.
Groups often relied on one radio listener to clue them in, which created spotty conversations interrupted by interjections of golf lingo, score updates or the long-awaited, "All right, here they come!"
Crowds lining fences along the greens would grow to six or seven people deep as golfers and their entourages approached. The quiet as pros aimed their putts was punctuated only by the hum of generators that kept hospitality tents temperature-controlled, fan food like burgers and pizza hot, and beverages icy-cold. But crowd responses to successful shots became known for their relative rowdiness with chats of "USA, USA," or "Red, white, blue!"
Some fans strolled the course looking like tourists at a theme park, scouring the map to choose their next hole. Others looked like old pros, holding 2-foot tall cardboard periscopes, which used double mirrors to allow fans to see over crowds or over slight hills on the course.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was among the big name attendees Saturday. He said the Ryder Cup makes the area "the sporting capital" of the world for the weekend and joked that he cued up the ideal weather by "executive order."
While a few complaints arose about the difficulty of seeing through the crowds and of getting a prized spot in the bleachers to watch the afternoon pairings tee off, fans said the thrill of being present for a high-profile international event made all the challenges worth it.
"You can see it more on TV than you will live," said Hanover Park fan Anderson. "But it's the experience."
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