Online Extra: Volunteer tracks flight of golf balls
By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
HONOLULU — The Sony Open is known for the royal palms that blow gently in the Pacific breeze, the endless ocean, the rolling surf behind the 16th green and along the 17th hole, and the lady on No. 9.
Hardly anyone knows her name, but they sure know her moves.
Liz Taga is the volunteer on the tee at the par-5 ninth hole at Waialae Country Club. She monitors the gallery movement and uses an orange paddle to show the flight of the tee shots so the marshals in the fairway have an idea where the golf ball is going. That’s simple enough. Volunteers at every PGA Tour event do that.
But none like Taga.
“It’s the best pre-shot routine in golf,” said Grant Berry, the caddie for Carl Pettersson.
“She’s intense,” Scott Piercy said.
Taga keeps the orange paddle tucked between her legs as the player gets ready to tee off. When he stands over the ball, she holds the paddle over her head, not unlike a samurai warrior, the base of it nearly resting on the bill of her visor. She is a picture of concentration. Once the ball is in the air, Taga goes to work.
She takes a couple of steps forward, slowly, and then the pace quickens, like a cat ready to pounce. Her fingers work their way down the paddle as she moves the orange board slightly to the left or right, depending on the direction. Finally, she lowers the board as the ball descends and gives it a demonstrative jab toward the ground when it lands.
“My supervisor came in and told me, ‘It’s a little dramatic, Liz.’ But it’s so exciting,” she said. “But my facial expressions, I need to tone that down. I just feel so bad when the wind starts to blow the golf balls.”
Taga isn’t trying to bring attention to herself, and she opened her mouth in surprise when told all the players know who she is, even if they don’t know her name. She loves the civility and respect of golf. She thinks the world of the players. And all she wanted to do was the best job she could.
That’s where Bo Van Pelt comes in.
“My first time was in 2005 and Bo Van Pelt and three other pros came to the tee,” Taga said. “I was asking questions of my bosses, and they teach you left, center and right because we track the ball. That was basic training. But I wanted to be a good volunteer. So I said to him, ‘Excuse me, sir, could you show me want you want me to do.’ And he said, ‘I’d love to.’ They went back to the green and showed me every step of the way.”
Van Pelt was contacted at his home in Tulsa, Okla. He was asked about the Sony Open, and a volunteer, and that was all he needed.
“The lady on No. 9?” he said. “She’s awesome.”
Van Pelt remembers the day Taga asked for a little guidance, mostly on where she was supposed to stand. Van Pelt used to caddie as a boy, and he recalled getting chewed out for standing behind his player in his line of sight. So he shared with Taga what he learned that day.
“I told her to stand where you’re looking at my back or looking at my chest,” Van Pelt said. “Stand right in line with the tee markers, and no player will ever move you, and people down the fairway can see you.”
As for the moves?
“That same year on Saturday, somebody said, ‘Did you tell the lady at No. 9 to do that?’ And I hadn’t paid attention to her because she’s behind me,” Van Pelt said. ‘She has flair, pizzazz. I give her all the credit for that.”
Taga takes her job so seriously that she had her eyes checked to make sure she could sufficiently see the ball. But she cringes at the thought of her first day on the job during the tournament. The first player to hit, she never saw the ball. She just stood there.
“My boss came running down and said, ‘Liz, what are you doing?’ And I told him that he hit it so fast I never saw it. He asked if I knew who that was and I didn’t know anybody. They called him the ‘Walrus,’” she said.
It was Craig Stadler, one of the quickest players in golf.
She knows them now, particularly Van Pelt for showing her where to stand, and Bubba Watson. The Masters champion was so intrigued by Taga that he had a special paddle made for her so that she could sign it.
How popular is Taga?
Pettersson was on Facebook earlier in the week when he saw a posting from Jarrod Lyle, who played the Sony Open last year. It wasn’t much longer that Lyle discovered his leukemia had returned, and he faces a life-threatening battle back home in Australia. Pettersson said Lyle had one comment about the Sony Open that made him smile.
“Is the lady on No. 9 still there?”
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