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Follow Cliff Kresge

Words have meaning. They're not mere trifles, to be scattered aimlessly about like so many range balls. When you write something, you need to stick behind it.

Yesterday, I told you all to join the Cliff Kresge movement, before it became standing room only. I promised you that there would be fragrant scents and complimentary honey roasted peanuts and the communal spirit of human progress. I told myself that, with a four-shot Round 1 lead over Tiger, odds were strong that Cliff Kresge would enter the weekend ahead of the man of the tight shirts and overflowing gallery and Style section feature stories.

I chose Kresge largely because he gave me a funny one-liner about a mixed drink called The Killer Kool-Aid, and because he has a pleasant name. The thing I didn't realize was, Cliff Kresge was scheduled to tee off at 7:10 this morning. But like I said, words have meaning, etc., and so I was on the 6:50 a.m. media shuttle, ready to walk 18 with Kresge and his legion of supporters.

Well, supporter. That would be Judy Gosselin. I doubled his gallery. I asked Judy whether she was his wife; "no, she couldn't make it, I'm his girlfriend," she said, and I laughed. "At least you got it," she said.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When I got to 10 for their tee time this morning, there were about 70 fans lining the fairway. I figured my "Follow Kresge" movement was already taking off. Kresge, along with playing partners J.P. Hayes and Brian Davis teed off to mild applause. About 20 of us followed them toward the green. By the time we got to the 11th fairway, there were about a dozen spectators, including a father-son team whom I was positive were Kresge supporters.

"We're going to go up there and get a seat in the grandstand and wait five or six groups so we can get a good view of Tiger," the father, former American women's basketball coach Jeff Thatcher, told me. After they left the 11th grandstand, they were going to run ahead to the 15th or 16th. To wait for Tiger to reappear, of course.

Kresge missed birdie putts on 10 and 11, and cruised onto 12, where two guys named Charlie and Les were trying to figure out where best to wait for Tiger. Bear in mind, he was playing 75 minutes behind us. When we got to the 12th green, there were a total of eight spectators, including me and Judy. The other six stayed behind as the golfers left. Which meant that by the time we got to the 13th green, there were exactly three non-staffers watching Cliff Kresge putt: me, his girlfriend, and some guy named Tim Guy who wandered over to see what was going on.

Around then, Tiger teed off, and the spectator bomb he detonated shot off smaller fragments of spectator shrapnel, who lodged into various patches of the back nine. Still, Judy and I appeared to be the only ones actually following our group. But here's why you want to follow Cliff Kresge: because his girlfriend will tell you all sorts of entertaining stories, like how she wanted to get him a head cover featuring Clifford the Big Red Dog, but couldn't find one anywhere, and how she even called Scholastic and asked for help, and how she finally gave up and bought a giant Clifford stuffed animal and then brought it to a friend who knew how to sew and asked her to decapitate the stuffed animal and turn it into a head cover.

"I said, 'I just can't watch you cut its head off'," Judy recalled.

The Clifford head cover has a little bow tie and floppy red ears; the kids love it. Kresge's caddie sometimes waves it toward the gallery.

Or how they met, about three and a half years ago, when Judy (who works in insurance in Tennessee) won a trip to the Heritage in Hilton Head, and how she went out to a bar with some friends but how none would dance with her, and so she approached a group of guys, and one guy ("Patrick") was really cute but she was too intimidated to ask him to dance, so instead she tapped Cliff Kresge on the back and asked him if maybe he'd like to dance. Then he turned around, and she said she gasped at his "beautiful blue eyes." He says she's making that part up. She says his eyes really are beautiful.

[The other reason to follow Cliff Kresge, especially if he tees off at 7:10, is you get a perfect view of every shot. Perfect. No competition whatsoever. You can understand what's happening so much better than if you're standing behind 817 people trying to catch a brief glimpse of Tiger's hip. I will say that this is partly because of the time of day; "I mean, I'm his buddy and I didn't post at 7 a.m.," pointed out Peter Calafiura, who joined us on the final nine.]

Plus, if Cliff Kresge goes on a little run, as he did at the end of his first nine today, you can hear Judy do her "Birdie Call," a high-pitched, high-volume "whooooop." She whooped at 17, when he hit a 40-foot putt with many breaks to get to one-under for the tournament, earning a very nice cheer from the growing crowd. She whooped again at 18, when his second shot died eight inches from the hole, moving him to two-under for the tournament. Judy tried to tell him it was a nice shot as he came up the fairway, but he was too busy trying to convince her to take his bottle of water; "nice and cold," he promised.

Kresge and I talked about those shots later, after our gallery had been joined by four of Kresge's friends--including Calafiura, who yelled "That-a-way Big Red Dog" and talked about things like "short stuff" and "inside right putt"--and after those friends had told me about their match with Kresge and his caddie at Avenel this week--"we took money out of their pockets, put that in your blog," John Rosenbaum told me--and after we had all made friends with J.P. Hayes's wife Laura and her sister Stacey and her mom Mildred--who had missed the first nine because they had to put the kids in day care which didn't open until 8--and after Kresge had finished his round at even par, leaving him one-under for the tournament, tied with Tiger. There's plenty more I could write about the Hayes family--did you know Laura has an MFA in creative writing?--but I just haven't the time right now. Next year.

Kresge, you should know, has bounced from the PGA Tour to the Nationwide Tour and back, several times. Whenever he does well, you read about is claim to fame, the time a few years back when he fell into a pond during Q School. He seems to have attracted the anti-Tiger journalists over the years; Joe Blundo once wrote this in the Columbus Dispatch: "While thousands followed Tiger Woods around the Muirfield Village course yesterday, three people followed Cliff Kresge. Four, if you count me." He'll be 40 in October, and he has a six-year-old son, and he loves rock music and he and Judy have gone to see Earthy Wind & Fire and Kenny Loggins and Rascal Flatts and so on. Anyhow, finally, I asked Kresge about his round, and his gallery.

"Doesn't bother me at all," he said. "We're still going to get paid no matter what. I mean, [family and friends] complain a lot about me not catching TV, because I've done a lot of great things this year. It's not for me, it's for my family and friends that would like to see me on TV, and they only show a select few people....Seems like they're always showing up when I'm doing something bad, they don't like to show up when I'm doing something good."

"That's the media for you," was his general response, although it's not like he doesn't understand why people want to watch Tiger. Even his buddies understand; I made my argument about it not being worth fighting through the eight-deep Tiger crowds; about how the differences between these guys are so incredibly minute to laypersons; about how a Tiger drive can't be all that much different from a Kresge drive, at least from a spectating standpoint.

"It is, without a doubt," insisted Rosenbaum, Kresge's buddy. "You know who he is, you know the allure he brings. Get close to him for a shot or two. You'll understand."

But I didn't. I just stayed with Kresge and Hayes and Davis, and their girlfriends and wifes and mothers-in-laws and buddies, all the way to the scorer's tent, when Judy had to run off to Dulles to pick up Kresge's college teammate. Kresge was staying behind to get treatment for his sore back. Davis and Kresge were both one-under for the tournament, and Hayes was six-over. Some kids were waiting for autographs.

"Do we want any of these guys?" one of the smaller kids asked.

"J.P. Hayes is pretty good," one of the older kids said.

By Dan Steinberg  |  July 6, 2007; 1:40 PM ET
Categories:  Golf  
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