A Match Play traffic director sized up the green Saturn with one hubcap and its occupants just outside the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Dove Mountain early Monday morning.
"Caddie?" he asked.
"No," we replied. "We're with the media." Lower life forms than caddies.
Not sure who was caddying for whom – me, the publisher / editor, the only guy wearing a tie within miles of the course, or Randy, the photographer, wearing too-cool, two collars-up on a brisk, breezy Monday morning. He's got the caddie look.
We're in search of "color," as we call it in the media. "Color" is code for "there's not real news going on, so let's just tell people what we see and take pictures" at Monday morning's practice day at the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play Championship.
Jennifer Pelczarski, the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain public relations director, walks up to us in the media "tent." She's wearing a winter-ish Ritz-Carlton stocking cap. It's almost cold. She's been up since 4:30, helping the TV folks do a "Live at 5" shoot. 5 a.m. shooting? That's called "color with a cost."
The media has assigned seats in the Match Play tent. There's Irish Independent Newspapers. The Arizona Daily Star. The Arizona Republic. And, beyond those, names a little more obscure. Resort Video and Photo. Beyondship. Waggle. And a favorite, Jupiter, seated next to … Saturn, right? No. Next to the Yomiuri Shimbun, a national newspaper in Tokyo. This is an international event. Interplanetary, even.
It's 8:05 a.m., and cool, but there are people in shorts, and short sleeves, folks immediately identifying themselves as being from someplace else. Cold? "Well, not for us," said Lorna Watts, who watched with Marie McLean from the bleachers, both in shorts.
They live near Eloy in the wintertime. In the summer, home is Stetler, Alberta, between Calgary and Edmonton. They came on Wednesday a year ago, and decided for a different, practice day experience in 2010.
"We thoroughly enjoyed it last year," Watts said. "It was wonderful, just wonderful." This year, "we've come to see what this is all about." That's "abowt," as our dear friends North of the Border say it.
Both like the practice round. "It's so open, and you're not fighting the crowds," Watts said.
Both love to play golf. "It's something you can do well into your elder years," Watts said.
"It's good exercise," McLean said. "You walk seven miles in a day. Maybe we'll learn something."
"We just enjoy watching a fine golf swing," Watts said.
Justin Leonard is most immediately demonstrating a fine golf swing. Like so many golfers, he's got a club on the ground, between his feet and the ball, the iron parallel to the desired flight path. Flight path? Leonard, and all the pros, could run air traffic control towers if they desired. In contrast to a public practice range, golf balls at the Match Play practice range are very specifically clustered around their targets. There are no strays. The skill and accuracy of this moment's 64 best active golfers are nearly indescribable.
Rose Sverdrup of Oro Valley and her three sons are seated near the roped-off player access to the practice tee. Each of the young men – Austin, 16, Andrew, 14, and Nathan, 12 — has an Accenture Match Play flag, and they're gathering autographs, "as many as we can," offers Austin. Chad Campbell was the first to sign.
It's a school day, and Mom is good enough to let the boys play hooky. Wednesday, too. "We get to see all the players," Rose said.
Is this better than school? Do you have to even ask?
"We all play golf, and we like the sport," Austin said.
"Here comes somebody," Rose says, and the boys scurry into position, markers in hand.
Alex Noren, the Swede, walks the chutes, checks his phone, willingly signs autographs and has his picture taken, all with a smile. His golf shoe laces are untied.
Next onto the practice tee is none other than … Mike Stoops. The University of Arizona football coach is more readily recognized than most of the golfers. An autograph-seeker immediately takes notice.
"I'm a Hawkeye fan," he says to Stoops, who played football at Iowa. "I've got to have your autograph."
Stoops is clearly friends with Scott Verplank. It might be a connection from Oklahoma, where Stoops coached at OU. Verplank is an Oklahoma State guy, and big supporter of the football program there. "I told him I was going to bring him an Oklahoma State shirt," quips Verplank, whose OSU club head cover shows his loyalties.
"Any trouble getting in?" Verplank asks Stoops.
"No," Stoops replies. "Three years ago I might have."
"You're not going to need that sweater very long," Stoops tells Verplank, and within minutes Verplank has shed a layer, and pulled out a screwdriver, one of those short screwdrivers with hand-friendly handle. Verplank puts the screwdriver to his enormous driver head, adjusting the loft. The ball flies.
Francesco Molinari, one of the Italian brothers in the field, places a plastic stick flat on the ground between his feet and the ball, parallel to the flight path … and another behind his right heel, stuck into the turf at an angle that extends it to the front of his left knee. Francesco and his brother Edoardo look at the Japanese phenom, Ryo Ishikawa, and remark in Italian. Young talent, with eyes on one another.
Maybe it's Ryo's bright yellow shirt, or the head cover that is an unsettlingly accurate image of … Ryo Ishikawa, right down to the hair. Ryo, 18, the future, already in doll form. An Asian media horde in the dozens watches his every step. Ryo warms up with something resembling a baseball fungo bat, long, golf-gripped, red and white, weighted at the end. When he tees off, 40 follow, many of them in the media, and some, apparently, just Ryo's entourage from halfway across the planet.
A foursome that includes Lucas Glover, U.S. Open champion, heads onto the course. They drive. Second shots are hit, and re-hit. Verplank hits three approaches from the same spot on #2. Glover works on his sand game, three shots at a time. Caddies and golfers walk in front of one another, disregarding chip shots and putts. There are balls all over the green. This is practice, after all.
Two guys walk away from the concessions stand. Each is carrying a freshly tapped beer. It's 9:41 a.m.
Volunteers with the Conquistadores raise their hands, asking for quiet. They'll do so hundreds of times over the next five days, until their shoulders ache. The World of Golf has come to Marana, and it's a glorious day.