By Gregory Ball
Michael Major has been teaching golf lessons at Torrey Pines golf course for nearly two decades, and he has seen the ebb and flow of interest in golf throughout the years and even within each calendar year. There's little question, though, that having the U.S. Open played at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, will increase interest in the game locally.
That could be a boon for Major and his fellow teaching pros, as the excitement of hosting the country's national championship and Tiger Woods' playoff victory has positively affected business on the golf course and pro shop, and could spill over to the lesson range. Major is hoping the increased interest will compensate for the time he and the course's other teaching pros were shut out of work while their "office" was taken over by the United States Golf Association.
"We were unemployed, and we'll never make up for that," Major said. "The tournament was in our way.
"It hurts the teaching pros, because we're basically independent contractors. It's like retail - once you're down for a while, it takes some time to build it back up."
The Torrey Pines driving range, located on the North Course along North Torrey Pines Road, was used during the U.S. Open for parking the courtesy vehicles driven by players and tournament officials. In the weeks leading up to the Open, the lesson area was moved to a part of the North Course not being used. According to Major, no area on the course was available for lessons from June 1 – eight days before the tournament's first official day – until June 19, three days after Woods won in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.
That clearly hurt business for Major and the 23 other teaching professionals employed at Torrey Pines, especially during a normally busy time of year.
Still, Major has seen a surge in interest since the U.S. Open. He is hoping the full days of lessons he is experiencing now, which he said are typical for any summer, continue into the fall – a typically slow period – based on local residents catching golf fever from having the U.S. Open played so close to home.
He said he has talked to plenty of people, who, once the Open was over, went out to the golf course as soon as they possibly could, having caught the itch.
"There's never enough business for me," Major said.
While Major admitted he was disappointed about losing the opportunity for business during the U.S. Open, he and some of the course's other teaching pros did get an opportunity to witness the grand event up close. Major volunteered during the tournament and was assigned to announce players on the first and 10th tees during their practice rounds on the Monday and Wednesday of tournament week.
Major was inside the ropes on the tees, and found himself casually chatting with many of the players as they came through. He also made sure to take plenty of photos and shoot some video, all of which was allowed during the practice rounds.
"That was good stuff, for sure," Major said. "I got my picture with Angel Cabrera, last year's U.S. Open winner, and with Trevor Immelman, who won the Masters this year."
Major didn't venture out to Torrey Pines for any of the competitive rounds of the tournament from Thursday to Sunday. He stayed away from the crowds, caught some of the coverage on television and made the most of his forced vacation by taking care of projects around the house, working on his Web site - MajorGolfLesson.com - and spending time with his wife and three teenaged children.
However, when Woods birdied the 18th hole on Sunday to force an 18-hole Monday playoff with Mediate, Major couldn't stay away. He said his kids convinced him to go out to Torrey Pines for the Monday playoff, and, despite getting a late start to the day, they got to Torrey Pines in time to watch the final five holes and the sudden-death playoff that went one hole.
"People were talking about it all around town, and there was some excitement at the house," Major said. "My girls were like, 'Can we go, Dad?' So I said, 'Yeah, let's go.'
"That was great to go down. We got to see Tiger, and saw him grimace a couple times (over his sore knee).
"Being out there was really cool for all of us."