Where were you? Recalling Sept. 11, 2001

Twin beams of light mark the site of New York's World Trade Center towers, toppled on Sept. 11, 2001.

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Golf was about the last thing on our minds the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were in ruins, the Pentagon in Washington had been attacked, hundreds were dead and the nation’s sense of security had been shattered. Golfweek spoke recently with members of the golf industry to see what they remembered from that day nine years ago.

• • • 

Bob Rotella, renowned sports psychologist, was at Washington Dulles International Airport with his wife the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. They were heading to Pebble Beach, Calif.

“The plane was half full and I was happy because I would get to lie down and sleep in the back. Before we got on the plane, we had tried to switch planes because I saw something in the weather and we could get in earlier and leave in 10 minutes. I remember arguing because they wouldn’t let us on. The plane we tried to get on was one that went down.

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Bob Rotella

“When we deplaned, thousands were standing around watching TV monitors. It was a stunned, quiet state. The line to get your luggage was a mile long. Getting a cab was difficult.

“Our daughter was a freshman on the Notre Dame golf team and she was trying like crazy to get hold of us. She thought we might be on a plane that went down.

“A few days later the FBI or CIA called and asked me if I saw anyone suspicious. I said, ‘No, I wasn’t looking.’

“My other memory is the first Tour event after 9/11 was in Pittsburgh, not far from where another plane went down. I don’t think I have ever seen how people were responding. I remember golfers saying that playing well and making money didn’t matter with all that was going on. It caused everyone to take a look at their life.

“A lot of people have asked me if our situation (not getting on a plane that went down) was life-changing. I don’t know if it was life changing. It was an unbelievable moment. We were lucky. Very lucky. I’ve been lucky twice. When I was 21, I flipped a Volkswagen without wearing a seatbelt and got out with minor injuries. It was the first time I had borrowed my aunt’s car. I remember saying, ‘Wow, I was lucky.’ Now I’ve been lucky on two occasions.

“The main feeling was sadness for people who got killed. It was a moment of feeling lucky. The rest was sadness for people who died. People were stunned. There was unbelievable sadness.”

– Jeff Rude

• • • 

Scott Verplank and caddie Scott Tway were preparing for the WGC-American Express Championship in St. Louis. Tway was at Bellerive Country Club on Sept. 11, 2001, and Verplank, who had won the week before at the Canadian Open, was scheduled to fly from Oklahoma City to St. Louis that morning.

TWAY: “I got up and I was going to go walk the course and I just flipped on the TV, which I never do, and was watching the news and saw the stuff going on. I flipped it on in time to actually watch the second plane crash and (Verplank) was supposed to come in that day. I went out to the course and it was real weird out there. Really eerie feeling. Everybody was just kind of mulling around really not knowing what to think or what was going on. I finally got a hold of him and obviously he wasn’t going to be able to fly in that day, and he said, ‘Well, I’m just going to stay here at home and see what happens, because who knows.’ And by the end of the day the event was canceled and luckily I had a rental car and I could drive back to Jacksonville.  If I hadn’t I would have been stuck there forever.

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Scott Verplank and Scott Tway in May 2001.

“It was an interesting trip because you know how it is driving by yourself – you got a lot of time to think and reflect. I just found myself driving along thinking about life. It was kind of a good trip but it was obviously it was a sad trip, too.

VERPLANK: “I went home from Canada, and it was a weird deal for me because the next day they were having a fundraiser tournament for a kid that grew up at Oak Tree (Golf Club in Edmond, Okla.) who died in a plane crash. He was one of our neighbors. I played in the event, then the next morning I was getting ready to go to St. Louis. I was just getting ready to walk out the door when I was watching the news. I saw the plane crash into this building, so then obviously I stopped and five minutes later I had a phone call and said that everything was grounded. That was a weird.

“I’m sitting there watching for however long – 30 minutes, an hour – and they’re talking this plane is headed to the White House and this plane is heading here, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ Nobody knew what’s going on. I just went up to my kids’ school. They were 9 and 6. I just felt like I should be there. I didn’t know if I should take them home because nobody had an idea. We hadn’t been through that.

“I still remember as clear as yesterday. I wish everybody else still remembered it.”

– Alex Miceli

• • • 

Brad McMakin, now the head coach at Arkansas, was the head coach at Lamar in 2001. His team was playing in the final round at the Fairway Club Invitational at Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln, Neb., on Sept. 11. McMakin’s team won the event by four shots over Missouri.

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Arkansas coach Brad McMakin accepts the runner-up trophy at the 2009 NCAA Championship.

“We teed off and for some reason I had to come by the clubhouse and the former Missouri coach started screaming and telling us all that the towers were hit. We all gathered around inside and we decided not to say anything to any of the players until the round was over. It was a shotgun start and they all would be finishing at the same time.”

“It was so shocking. There was no celebration at all. There was not even a trophy presentation.

“We were all concerned about how to get home - we had no way home.

The Lamar women’s team was also playing in Lincoln, Neb., at the time.

“We rented a 12-passenger van. We had two teams, two coaches and all of the luggage and golf bags and jammed into the van. Nobody had taken a shower. We drove to Oklahoma City and spent the night and then drove the next morning home to Beaumont. It was basically silence for the entire trip, and imagine that with a men’s and women’s team in one van.

“It’s one of the worst days you could ever imagine - being on the road with a bunch of kids and have something like that happened. Nothing was important with what we were doing compared to what was going on.

“We took some time off and golf became un-important. We didn’t play for a week.

“It was Chris Stroud’s first trip and he still talks about it from time-to-time. When he missed PGA Tour Q-School he said to me, ‘Remember my first trip in college?’ That is how I think he sometimes deals with missing a cut or playing bad.”

• • • 

Dick Rugge, senior technical director of the U.S. Golf Association, heads the department that is in charge of testing and evaluating golf clubs and golf balls to determine if they conform to the Rules of Golf. On Sept. 11, 2001, though, neither he nor anybody else at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., was thinking of golf.

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The South Tower collapses as smoke billows from the World Trade Center.

“Far Hills is about 30 miles from Ground Zero, as the crow flies. What was happening wasn’t that abstract to us. I don’t think any employee of the USGA lost any family members that day, but a lot of people had friends (who died in the attacks). People here felt very personally about it, like it had happened in our backyard.”

“That day had kind of a tough start over here at the Test Center. The night before, both parents of one of our longtime employees were killed in a car accident. The department was already under a cloud. Barely an hour later, we were all watching television because of the attacks.

“It was hard to believe all of this could happen. Outside it was brilliantly clear. It was a once-a-year kind of clear day. Yet it turned into the worst kind of day.

“What’s the relative importance of your job when something like that is going on? Working on golf equipment and the rules didn’t seem very important. We were trying to make some kind of sense out of this.

“Shortly thereafter, David Fay (executive director of the USGA) put out an e-mail to the USGA staff. It was incredibly eloguent and incredibly inspirational. It was leadership 101, and I felt extremely proud to be working for someone who rose to the occasion as he did.

“You don’t have to drive very far on the highway to the place where the Twin Towers came into view. It is a very vivid reminder to all of us.”

– James Achenbach

• • • 

Kelley Hester, now the women’s coach at Georgia, was preparing her UNLV team to compete in its first event in program history.

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Kelley Hester

“I had arrived into the office very early – 5:00 a.m. or so – that morning because we were set to leave for our very first event in UNLV history that afternoon. New Mexico had been kind enough to invite the fledgling Mountain West newcomer. My mom called me on my cell and told me to look at a TV. I turned on the one in my office and saw the towers burning. We were supposed to fly to Albuquerque that afternoon.

“As a new program, you really couldn’t be picky about what events to go to and how they affected class schedule. We made the decision not to drive to Albuquerque and to skip that one and just make it out to Nashville the following week for the Mason Rudolph.

“On Sept. 15, I think the first day the Las Vegas Airport was open, it was a nightmare. Tons of people were stranded in Vegas and trying to get home. We were flying Southwest and got to the airport before the sun came up. We ended up spending over 10 hours trying to get on a flight. We finally made it but it was quite an experience. I think we arrived into Nashville well after midnight.”

– Lance Ringler

• • • 

James Achenbach has been contributing to Golfweek since 1975 and joined the magazine in 1991 as a senior writer. On September 11, 2001, he was covering the week-long USGA Senior Amateur Championship at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis.

“Norwood Hills is very close to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. All day long the planes would land and take off. The commotion became part of the environment. Most players, growing accustomed to the noise, didn’t even stop their pre-shot routines or their swings to wait for the clamor to die down.

“After the attacks, airplanes from all around the central portion of the United States were ordered to land in St. Louis. The pandemonium increased, as planes filled the sky.

“Then suddenly there was silence. All the noise completely stopped. All planes were grounded.

“It was one of eeriest scenes I have ever witnessed. It was unreal. It almost seemed the earth had stopped turning on its axis.

“Down the road at Bellerive Country Club in Creve Coeur, Mo., the WGC-American Express Championship of the PGA Tour was scheduled to be played. It never started. Stranded players rented or shared cars to leave the area.

“The USGA Senior Amateur, though, continued. The USGA thought long and hard about this decision, with both players and officials voicing their opinions. In the end, the championship was not cancelled or postponed because competitors from around the country had flown to St. Louis and had no immediate means of leaving. 

“I think everybody had mixed feeling about this. On one hand, people believed they should be focusing their attention on our country and the casualties of 9/11. On the other hand, they felt our way of life should not be completely disrupted by an act of terrorism, as grievous as it might be.

“So the show went on. Kemp Richardson of Laguna Nigel, Calif., whose father John had won the USGA Senior Amateur in 1987, emerged as the champion.

“It was a week like no other. It was a USGA championship like no other.

“Of the hundreds of golf tournaments I have covered in my 40-year career, this is the one that made the biggest and most lasting impression on me.”

• • •

Jim Wise was the head professional at Rogue Valley Country Club in Medford, Ore., on Sept. 11, 2001. Wise flew 266 combat missions in the Vietnam War and was one of two U.S. Navy pilots that shot down the last MiG 17 enemy fighter plane in the war. He spent Sept. 11 watching television and talking calmly with his members.

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Jim Wise

“There was no doubt in my mind that we find out quickly who did this. The extent and the quality of our intelligence services is really amazing. I knew this from my experience in the Navy, and part of what I wanted to do (on 9/11) was reassure people.

“I still can’t believe we were attacked like that, but it shows you how this country can pull together. I am just as proud now of our country now as I’ve ever been. If I weren’t 64 years old, I’d be ready to go back out there and fight for what we believe in.”

(Beside the first tee at Rogue Valley is a large rock with a plaque embedded in the middle: “Jim Wise, Countryman and friend, in appreciation of your service to our country and R.V.C.C., your years of dedication and professionalism are recognized.”)

– James Achenbach

• • • 

Pete Kowalski, media relations manager for the USGA, was at the association’s Far Hills, N.J., headquarters, 30 miles from Ground Zero, when the attacks occurred.

“My colleague Suzanne Colson said something’s going on at the World Trade Center and to check it out on the Web. My first thought was that this is really going to throw NYC for a loop because I thought it was a fire. But, that was obviously unfounded.

“Personally, my life was altered because we had to explain to our boys (who were 8 and 6 at the time) what this meant to their world and our world. I knew one person who lost his life, someone I coached when that was my job. Overall, I had to acknowledge that we were living in a different world. With work, I was not on-site at one of our championships as several of my co-workers were. But, as traveling staff, we obviously began looking for alternate arrangements for future travel that was based on driving. All said, there was a seismic shift in approaching all things in our life.

“In the time after 9/11, I had a double-edged reaction to the aftershock. First, I became more wary of everything in my life and the life of my family. Secondly, I grew to appreciate, even more so, how lucky were are to be citizens of a country that provides all things that make life worth it. Those being freedom, liberty and a sense of self-worth.”

– Ron Balicki

• • • 

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Emma Talley

Emma Talley, Golfweek’s seventh-ranked junior, was 7 years old and in a second-grade classroom in Princeton, Ky., on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The teachers wouldn’t let us watch it on TV. Of course we didn’t know what was going on. The teachers were freaking out and we were all wanting to cry and we didn’t know what was going on. My brother had just gone off to college (Western Kentucky) so I was scared for him. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I think everybody was scared. I was in a small, small town, and that’s all everybody was talking about. It was just a scary time. Nobody knew what was going to happen next. I can’t even remember anything about second grade but that.”

– Julie Williams

• • • 

Phillip James, senior promotion manager of player development for Acushnet Company, was in Eugene, Ore., working at a Nationwide Tour event on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I woke up that morning and turned on the TV to catch the news like any other morning. When I turned on the TV I remember saying to myself, ‘Why the hell is Godzilla on this early?’ Then it hit me what was happening. I called my co-worker Skip Haugen and told him to turn on TV and that our lives as we know it have changed. Skip and I went on to work and it was very surreal when we arrived at the course. The players were in shock, as were Skip and I. We attempted to work as if every thing was fine. About 30 minutes later the PGA Tour canceled all the tournaments for the weekend.

“Then my phone rang and my boss asks me to go to Portland to cover for LPGA representative Ann Cain. She was stranded in Salt Lake City because all air traffic was grounded and nobody knew when they would get to their destinations. I jumped in my car and drove to Portland and waited as long as possible to see if the LPGA was going to cancel the event before I passed out product to the players lockers. I placed all the product in the lockers and then they canceled.

“How did 9/11 affect me? It still does every week of my life.”

– Ron Balicki

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