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I saw Ai Miyazato hit 1 shot at the 2013 Wegmans LPGA Championship, a beautiful fairway wood on the 11th hole at Locust Hill, her 2nd hole of the final round and 20th of her day. At the time, I had no idea she had just doubled the difficult downhill 10th, or would fail to birdie the par 5 but would go on to make her 8th, 9th, and 10th birdies of the day over the course of the back 9 to move from +5 to -2 and into contention yet again in Pittsford, or would falter over her final 9 with 3 bogeys and only 1 birdie to extend her streak of non-wins at LPGA majors to 34 starts.
Nope, I was with onechan at the time, following Paula Creamer, Lydia Ko, and Jennifer Rosales. We had wandered over from the 17th fairway to the 11th against onechan’s wishes because I had figured out that Ai-sama’s group had just hit their drives, but she made the best of the situation by calling out “Gambatte-ne!” to Ai-sama before she started sizing up her 2nd shot. The wave we got from my favorite golfer was one of my high points of the day, but for onechan it was just one of many cool moments, like the chances she and imoto got to ride a shuttle bus, the smiles she got from Paula Creamer (whom she had followed for 15+ holes during last year’s final round) at different times while she and I followed her for most of the back 9 of the final round, the golf ball Mika Miyazato rolled to her on the 1st tee a little while later after onechan had seized the opportunity to send a “Gambatte-ne!” her way, the signatures she got from Kristy McPherson, Moira Dunn, Ya Ni Tseng, and others on her floppy pink hat towards the end of the day, the chance to see Ai-sama again at our favorite Korean restaurant in Rochester early that evening, or, her favorite moment, when Paula stopped to ask her her name, age, and favorite color.
Sure, I could have gone straight to find Ai-sama on the front 9 when we first arrived at Locust Hill and the girls were having fun at the play area and Wegmans loot tent with their mom, but by the time I realized what a great 3rd round she was having, I had already committed to following Chie Arimura (who got it to -2 with 19 holes left to play, but doubled 18, tripled 4, and sprinkled 3 other bogeys into her final round to plummet out of contention), Michelle Wie, and Shanshan Feng on the back. I had thought the Full Metal Archivist would take both girls to follow imoto’s favorite player, Ji-Yai Shin, when she and Amy Yang and Sarah Jane Smith had hit the 11th tee, so that I would get more time with the Arimura threesome, but the FMA wasn’t handling the heat well and understood the flow of play worse, so had ended up tiring the girls out walking up and down the 10th and 18th hills after they had gotten bored with the free shopping and eating. As a result, I had to backtrack back to the loot tent sooner than I expected go meet up with them and decide what to do next, which was for imoto and the FMA to camp out in the shade by the 17th green while onechan and I caught up with Paula’s group. By the time onechan and I returned to 17 from doing just that, the FMA and imoto had taken the opportunity to follow Shin’s group up 18, gotten Shin’s autograph and a ball from Yang, and booked down the hill again and crossed Jefferson Road to rendezvous with us.
Again, I could have had us all wait for Ai-sama’s group to reach us there at 17, but Mika Miyazato, Caroline Hedwall, and Belen Mozo rolled in just as we got settled in and onechan and I decided to follow them on 18 and 1, before peeling away back up the #2 and #3 hill to get back to the FMA and imoto, who was getting stir-crazy at the 17th green (but had gotten a chance to see Ai-sama, which is more than I could say!). Given that Mika was -2 on her final round, had just missed a short birdie putt on 17 (I just realized it would have been her 9th in her previous 21 holes!) and made a great up-and-down from about 100 yards out on 18, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I could always get the ladies situated by the putting green to collect as many autographs and balls as they could while I caught back up with Mika and then followed Ai-sama for her closing holes on the front. But even that plan didn’t work out all that well, as the FMA was feeling exhausted by the time onechan and I got back to the 17th green and needed to get out of the sun, so we wasted almost an hour trying to figure out where to pick up the shuttle to take us back to the back-up media lot before realizing we were better off hitting the loot tent and just staying on the course as long as the FMA and girls could hold up. By the time we made it back to the putting green area, and I could look for Mika’s group, they were finishing up #6, so all I got to see was Mika missing 2 short birdie putts in a row on 7 and 8 and making a great par save on 9 to preserve her 72 (she had been done in by a bogey on 1, a double on 4, and those 3 missed short birdie putts I saw). After taping the Japanese media’s interviews with Mika, I was all set to finally backtrack to Ai-sama’s group, when I thought I’d better drop by the putting green on the way to see how everyone was doing.
And that’s when my plans went out the window. Turns out while I was awkwardly interviewing Mika in English, onechan had incited imoto to make a dash across the empty putting green, so by the time I got there, the FMA was furious, onechan was crying, and imoto was trying to blend into the background to minimize the trouble she was in with her mom. A volunteer graciously brought ice cream bars for the girls and we got them away from Golf Channel’s interview booth, but the damage had been done. One look at the FMA’s face was enough to convince me I wasn’t going back out on the course. No way I would get a chance to see Tiffany Joh or Ayako Uehara or Mina Harigae hit a shot or 2 as I made my way back to Ai-sama’s group. No way the family could even hang out together in the 9th- or 18th-green grandstands and watch the rest of the groups come in. Nope, it was time to back up my wife’s disciplinary strategy, get everyone back to the car and into a restaurant, and get us all fueled up, cooled off, and calmed down.
So, yeah, not only did I miss Ai-sama, but I didn’t even know there was a playoff going on until the end of our meal (and I didn’t even find out its results until after we got home, woke the girls up for a quick bath and teeth-brushing, and got them to bed). But what a meal it was! It started with us getting seated right behind Se Ri Pak, waving hi to Ai-sama midway through our meal as she and her manager Takumi Zaoya walked into the restaurant, trying hard not to react as Ji-Yai Shin joined Se Ri a few minutes later and Amy Yang walked right by us, and it ended with us convincing the girls not to bother the Hall of Famer or the former world #1s, or the sure-to-break-through-soon star. Sure, imoto made more visits than strictly necessary to look at the fish in the ornamental display at the front of the restaurant (and try to catch Ji-Yai’s eye!), and onechan decided as we were leaving to bring me with her to the bathroom area at the back of the restaurant (passing by Ai-sama’s table in the process), but we didn’t initiate contact with any of the players. It was actually Zaoya-san who started talking to onechan and I as we were passing by them on the way to leaving the restaurant. Ai-sama was relaxed and friendly, but I was embarrassed and incoherent and onechan had lost her voice, so I missed a chance to have a real conversation with them, although I did accidentally find out that she wouldn’t be playing the Manulife in Waterloo.
So it was all worth it, right? Well, of course! Not to say I won’t do things differently in the future, like maybe bring the ladies on a Saturday afternoon after Japanese school and come alone on Sunday, or stay overnight Saturday so the girls could get their fixes with their favorite players on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning and plan to split up so I could focus on covering the closing hours of the tournament. But this year was different, and not just because of the washed-out Thursday round or the 36 holes on Sunday. We needed to be together, for reasons I won’t go into here. And except for one big mistake and blow-up at the end of the day, the girls had a great time and the family had another memorable vacation in Rochester. They got to see a decent proportion of the 76 women trying to be the best on the planet that day, focus on a couple of players they both really admire, and spend some quality time with their parents and each other. Sure, the FMA suffered and I sacrificed, but it was definitely worth it. We even got to visit an Asian market before we hit the Thruway, although not the Korean market we usually love to raid when we’re in Rochester.
Maybe someday I’ll break down and get a smartphone, so I won’t have to rely on walking by the many electronic scoreboards or hiking back to the media center to fire up my Chromebook to find out what’s going on outside my immediate vicinity. Maybe someday onechan and imoto will be more interested in the actual golf than in being fangirls, so they’ll learn something they can apply to their own games. Maybe someday the FMA will enjoy walking the golf course more, so she can appreciate the sport more. But given what we had and where we were and how young the girls still were, last Sunday may not have gone according to plan or supplied me with all the golfy and bloggy material I was hoping for, but it was still a great day!