For Youngest Volunteers, A Brush With Greatness

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For the youngest volunteers at the 68th U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Sebonack, there was one task specifically designated just for them.

The standardbearers, who carry the large signs with the names of the players in each group and their current scores, are mostly teens and pre-teens who signed up to volunteer at the Open because of a budding love for the game. It wasn’t necessarily an easy job, as they followed the players across hilly and sometimes rough terrain for hours at a time, but they said it was worth it, getting them a front row seat to the action and putting them inches away from the players they admire.

Mackenzie Tyler, who just finished seventh grade at Hampton Bays Middle School, worked as a standardbearer at the Open from Thursday through Sunday. Her eyes lit up when she spoke about what she saw and how close she was to the players. On Saturday, Tyler was with the group that included South Korean Chella Choi, Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand, and American Mo Martin, while on Friday, she was with Cristie Kerr’s group.

“It was really cool, and most of the players give you a signed ball after the round, so that was pretty cool too,” a smiling Tyler said as she unloaded her equipment in the golf cart barn beneath the Sebonack clubhouse after her job was done on Saturday afternoon.

Tyler started playing golf last June, when her father, who she said was a “really good” player in college, would take her to Indian Island in Riverhead to play. Mackenzie played on the Hampton Bays varsity team as a seventh-grader, and she said that being at the U.S. Open has been a great experience. So great, in fact, that she wasn’t even able to single out a favorite part.

“Just being so close to the players and being able to literally poke them you’re so close,” she said when asked what the best moment has been for her. Chris Gaffney, the chairman of the standardbearers, said that Tyler’s experience mirrors that of many of her young counterparts on the course.

“The kids had a really good time,” he said. “One of them was with Paula Creamer and they had to walk back in together alone and she said that [Creamer] was talking to her and telling her about golf. [The players] were really personable out there, so it was really nice.”

Gaffney added that he’s worked as a volunteer at men’s events as well, and that the general consensus is that the female players tend to interact more with the young volunteers.

“They’re very personable,” he said of the players. “Even during the practice rounds, they would go out of their way to introduce themselves to the standardbearers and get to know them and make them feel comfortable. So the players have been great out there.”

That kind of extra attention goes a long way and means a lot to the volunteers who dedicated their time and energy to work at the Open. And it certainly left an impression on Tyler. When asked what she’d like to accomplish in her own golf career, the middle schooler was ready with an answer, saying: “I kind of want to play on the LPGA Tour too.”

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