Bethesda, Md.—When the United States Golf Association put out the call for volunteers to work the 111th U.S. Open, thousands of golf lovers responded. One was Steven Williams, a marshal on the third hole at Congressional Country Club who is just as adept at moving spectators out of the way as the famous caddie of the same name.
When Kyung-tae Kim hooked his drive into the trees in the second round, Williams quickly detached the gallery ropes and cleared a path to the fairway. Since trees blocked the view to the green, Williams thought Kim would be pitching out. Instead, the 24-year-old Korean hit a low hook that bounced onto the green. Kim made birdie, and Williams was still marveling about it hours later, having had the best view of the difficult shot.
The father-daughter duo of Dan and Hannah Williams (no relation to either Steve) from Berkeley County, W.Va., raised their hands, thinking that it would be a special way to bond. He was a marshal, and she was a standard bearer for the Luke Donald-Martin Kaymer-Lee Westwood grouping. The top three players in the world each gave her a ball.
Three friends from Hampton, Va. – Thomas Sroczynski, Timothy Stryowski, James Wainwright – wanted a twist on their annual golf buddies trip. Instead of teeing it up somewhere, they have worked five-hour shifts at the USGA Merchandise Pavilion, watching the championship when not on duty.
They are just a few of the 5,300 volunteers from 46 states and 17 countries who provided more than 100,000 hours of service to ensure the smooth operation of the 2011 U.S. Open. “Volunteers are the backbone to the championship’s success,” said Matti Dubberstein, the volunteer and player services coordinator. “Without the dedication of the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to have such an incredible event from year to year.”
Accentuate The Positive
Besides their commitment, U.S. Open volunteers share a passion for golf. But few have had golf impact them the way it has changed the life of 17-year-old Nicole Feaster, who served as a standard bearer. The hilly Blue course at Congressional is a difficult walk, even more so for Feaster, who was stung by a stingray on the top of her right foot four years ago.
The accident left Feaster, who is from Leesburg, Va., highly susceptible to infections, which flare up every month or so. She has had 21 surgeries and numerous hospital stays, sometimes for as long as a month. She can’t run, so she had to give up a promising tennis career. “A lot of my surgeons were against me playing any sports,” Feaster said. “They just wanted me to be locked up in a bubble in my room.”
That’s when one of her doctors – one of nearly 100 she has seen – suggested the athletic teenager try golf. “She said, ‘Don’t look at what you can’t do. Look at what you can do,’ ” recalled Feaster.
That was three years ago. Feaster made the golf team at her middle school and shot 105 in her first tournament. She now carries a 4.6 USGA Handicap Index and is one of the top junior players in the area. “I’m a really competitive person,” she said. “When I dive into something, I have to learn all about it. What I love about golf is that you can never really reach perfection.”
When Feaster found out about volunteering opportunities at the U.S. Open, she couldn’t wait to experience and learn about the national championship. Inside the ropes at Congressional, Feaster intently studied the players. “Some of the ways they practice is the same as what I do,” she said. “But they have a different mentality. They’re much tougher.”
Actually, Feaster probably could give the players a couple of shots a side when it comes to fortitude. For her, walking 18 holes isn’t easy. There is always pain, and there have been times when her foot swelled so much during a round that she had to go from the 18th green to the hospital.
Once, Feaster wanted to play a big tournament not long after an infection flared up, so an understanding doctor – a golfer – rigged up an intravenous line that wouldn’t interfere with her swing so she could take her antibiotics. Despite having to replace the line three times during the round, Feaster finished second.
During a recent stay in the intensive care unit, she practiced putting in the hallways. “I challenged everybody to matches,” she said. A certified emergency medical technician, Feaster wants to go to medical school and become an emergency-room doctor. Her long-term goal is to be the U.S. Surgeon General.
Feaster recently began a series of hyperbaric oxygen treatments which the rising junior at Heritage High School hopes will allow her to compete in a full schedule of junior events this summer. She also hopes to play in college – Brown University is her first choice – and is not concerned about the physical demands of playing 36 holes a day, which is common in collegiate golf.
“The more people tell me there’s no way you can play golf,” she said, “the more it gives me motivation to prove them wrong.”
Faith Tanner, a volunteer in the Merchandise Pavilion, isn’t looking to prove people wrong. She just wants to encourage them. The Suttons Bay, Mich., resident is on a special journey. While most of the volunteers at Congressional took a week off from work, Tanner has taken off an entire year.
She took a sabbatical from her job as a real-estate appraiser, cashed in part of her retirement fund and bought a white Honda Civic hybrid so she could be a volunteer at 37 PGA Tour tournaments this year – every week from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii to the Tour Championship in Atlanta. The only event in which she couldn’t volunteer was the Masters.
“My goal is to promote the rewards of volunteering and to encourage others to volunteer,” said Tanner, who has logged 22,000 miles in her car and 5,000 air miles. Gregarious, enthusiastic and optimistic, Tanner is an ideal advocate. After five minutes of conversation with her, anybody would be ready to sign up immediately.
During her odyssey – the U.S. Open is her 24th event – Tanner has been a walking scorer, made sandwiches, driven players around in carts, marshaled numerous holes and once picked up a player’s girlfriend from the airport.
She has made hundreds of friends, visited with her 21-month-old granddaughter, watched whales frolicking in the Pacific Ocean, cheered a hole-in-one at the famed 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale, driven through a blizzard in Arizona and had NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West whisper encouragement into her ear. Remarkably, she has not been cited for speeding, but did receive a parking ticket – this week.
It’s not just a love of golf that motivates her. Tanner originally intended to make this voyage with her husband, Larry. They were volunteers together at the 2008 Buick Open and loved the experience. They bought a trailer and checked a map of the United States. But soon afterward, Larry was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in September 2009.
Tanner decided that the best way of honoring his memory would be to finish the trip they had started to plan together. “This is a healing process,” said Tanner, her eyes tearing up as she thought of her late husband.
It was early Sunday morning, and she was standing in the middle of the Merchandise Pavilion, which had just opened and was starting to fill up, in her misty eyes, with plenty of prospective volunteers.
The prospect caused her to brighten. “Is there mascara under my eyes?” she asked playfully. Then she gave a huge smile before walking way, ready to start the next leg on her remarkable journey.
Hunki Yun is a senior staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.