SCARSDALE, N.Y. — When Phil Mickelson putted out on the fourth hole at Winged Foot on Thursday, a roar went up from the crowd.
Golfers are used to that. Just not so used to looking up into the trees to find those cheering.
Well, among the trees, anyway.
But this week’s U.S. Open is like no other. Fans are not allowed. At least not allowed on the grounds of the historic golf course.
But there’s nothing wrong with off-site cheering, including from a seven-foot-high, roughly 20-foot-long scaffold erected behind the fourth green.
That’s where Mickelson threw his ball in appreciation after feeling the love from about 10 fans perched there in the backyard of Drs. Muhammad and Asma Naeem.
The family was one of several around Winged Foot with makeshift grandstands in their yards — including Iona basketball coach Rick Pitino, who watched from his backyard behind hole No. 3.
For the Naeems, the scaffold wasn’t something hastily thought of.
Muhammad, a golfer and huge golf fan, knew the U.S. Open was coming to Winged Foot three years ago when he took a stroll in his neighborhood. That’s where he spotted a realty sign on a house bordering the fourth green.
He had no plans to move. Until then.
Hurrying the two blocks home, he excitedly told his wife and kids about the house, suggesting a move.
“My family said, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” he recalled. “They were just totally against it.”
Then they took a look for themselves.
Their response? Well, eldest child Saadia, who played four years of girls golf in high school and two years with the men in college before the formation of a women’s team, started issuing scaffold invitations long ago.
“I got my invite in 2017,” Elliot Witdorchic said.
Saadia, who has a spreadsheet with times the family’s golf-fan guests are slated to arrive and leave through Sunday, figures about 30 people will climb the scaffold before the championship trophy is awarded.
“We’re not at a loss for people,” she noted, but also lamented that more would be there were it not for the pandemic. That has kept some out-of-staters home, including her college freshman and sophomore year golf captain, who lives in Colorado.
Saadia temporarily left the mid-afternoon crowd that included high school and college friends, friends’ parents and two golf pros from the The St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Hastings, where her family are members, to retrieve the Mickelson ball. It had sailed over the scaffold and into the yard.
The scaffold is self-policed, but a sign near the ladders leading up to it make it clear that, while fun is allowed, golf etiquette is required. Spectators are told to keep quiet during putts, that they must wear masks, and to be mindful of the time they’re up there and space they’re taking up.
Lastly, it notes, “We all want to see Tiger.”
Her dad, an internist, was at work in Yonkers by the time Mickelson threw his ball. But he’d had a good morning, in part because he got to see Tiger.
He lives and breathes Tiger Woods and had gotten a “Thank you” from Tiger after displaying a large sign reading, “WHEN WE STAND WE STAND W/ TIGER.”
While jumping the fence that separates his yard from the fourth green might be tempting, Dr. Naeem has played the hole the legitimate way as a guest.
And, as he explained, he knows all about the fourth green, which proved troublesome for golfer after golfer on Thursday, particularly those with putts of 10-plus feet.
“I know where the break is,” he said, then grinned when responding, “Of course,” when asked whether he would have more success holing out than the pros he’d watched.
He noted he has no patients scheduled the next few days, so he’ll be a steady presence on the scaffold, no doubt with his Tiger sign.
On Thursday, that was one of multiple signs. Jack Minton, was, in a sense, the odd man out. He’s a skier, not golfer, but he clearly enjoyed his role as white-board sign creator.
Earlier in the day, when a group of Canadian players came through, he scrawled, “We love Canada, eh” on the board. “All three caddies took a picture,” he noted.
Then, they and the golfers laughed when told to, “Have a nice and polite round.”
After he held up the board reading, “Ian Poulter Fan Club,” the Brit quipped, “I didn’t know I had a fan club.”
“We (told him), ‘Recently formed,’ ” Minton recalled with a laugh.
“You and those signs are like Rembrandt,” joked buddy Jared Fineberg, another former Wesleyan golfer.
Greg Bisconti, who was on the scaffold with fellow St. Andrew’s pro Ambry Bishop-Santillo, noted his club had lined up 30 “pretty excited” volunteers to work the course this weekend. That was until it became closed to the public and, in turn, volunteers were limited to Winged Foot members.
Bisconti, who has played Winged Foot multiple times, including many times years ago with his dad, is a three-time qualifier for the PGA Championship who was the low club pro in 2009. He wasn’t unhappy with his bird’s-eye view Thursday, which afforded him good sight lines of not only the fourth fairway and hole but also of the fifth tee box and fifth fairway.
The squirrels appeared to be having fun darting around, playing their own game of chicken.
“This is awesome,” Bisconti said, gazing down.
He plans to return Friday afternoon but said Saturday and Sunday he’d have to miss for work.
But, then, he chuckled, saying, “For me, this is work.”
Several feet over on the scaffold, a discussion of golf favorites was quietly going on.
Non-golfer Kaitlyn Doyle, who went to high school with Saadia, was talking about how Bryson DeChambeau had just crushed the ball.
But the most impressive golfer to Fineberg was Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.
“His hair is just luscious and he’s a ball striker. He knocks down (short) shots. I want his approach game. I want his hair game. I’m a little closer on one front than the other,” laughed Fineberg, whose fine mane of hair apparently outshines his golf game.
One can only imagine what sign awaits Fleetwood on Friday.