Read to be missed on U.S. Open’s 1st tee
BETHESDA, Md. — When the 111th U.S. Open Championship gets under way Thursday at Congressional Country Club, the first tee will have a different look to it for the first time in more than 20 years.
That’s because the duty of first-tee U.S. Open starter has been transferred from Ron Read, a longtime USGA staffer, to members of the volunteer USGA Executive Committee.
Read was the starter for the first time in 1986, did it parttime the next two years and then fulltime for 22 straight Opens starting in 1989. This was back in the day when the Open sent all players off the first tee, which helped separate it from your run-of-the-mill Tour event.
For those who never had the pleasure of being there to see Read get the Open under way, it was a thing of beauty - five of my favorite minutes of the year and never, ever to be missed. He had an exquisite 60-second introduction to the Open that he gave before the first group, noting that in the previous two months, some 8,000 or 9,000 players entered the championship and this was the start of the final phase for the fortunate 156 players who made it into the starting field. He simply, succinctly and professionally conveyed the very special nature of the U.S. Open.
Read’s first gig as a fulltime starter at the U.S. Open didn’t get off to a particularly rousing start. It was in 1986 at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island. “The first player I introduced was Scott Williams, a club professional from Seattle,” Read remembers. “He missed the fairway by a foot, then needed 4 minutes and 58 seconds to find his ball. So here I am, I’ve got one group off the tee and already I’m behind schedule.”
Twenty years later, Read was in Seattle for a charity golf tournament. As his golf clubs were being loaded onto a cart, he said to the club staffer, “You look familiar. Did you ever play in the U.S. Open?”
“Yes,” came the response. “Once, in 1986. I’m Scott Williams.”
“Shinnecock Hills?” Read exclaimed. “You were the very first person I ever introduced at the U.S. Open. Let me ask you, was I nervous?”
Answered Williams without missing a beat, “Not nearly as much as I was.”
Read did more than just ensure players walked off the first tee at their appointed times. Even the most avid golf fans would be shocked to know how many Tour players get to the first tee of one of the most prestigious events in the world, unaware how many clubs are in their bag or whether all of their golf balls are such that the player will be able to conform to the so-called “one-ball rule.”
Read’s insistence to help players avoid unnecessary penalties got to the point where players and caddies knew his suggestions were coming. “I know. Count my clubs,” was the customary response of players and caddies even before Read said anything.
When Dave Eichelberger won the U.S. Senior Open in 1999, he inadvertently walked onto the first tee one day on the weekend with his putter AND that of a friend, Joe Inman, who was playing in the group in front of Eichelberger. Only some quick thinking by Eichelberger and his caddie, and Read’s persistence, saved the day.
Who knows how many players had their day saved, or made, by Read.