By Alex Podlogar

For once this week, they are perpetually motionless.

They stand sentinel, the men and women who maintained the week that was, who worked the ground to allow these players the opportunity to display their artistry to produce this electric duel, a duel not seen here for a quarter-century. They stand here still led by John Jeffreys, to whom Pinehurst Resort Director of Golf Course Maintenance Bob Farren years ago handed the reins as Superintendent of Pinehurst No. 2. In these last few months Farren, honored as the USGA’s Green Section Award winner this year, receded every time from any spotlight that tried to find him, actively deferring all of the credit and the praise in advance of what the world just witnessed over four rounds at the 124th U.S. Open. He faithfully gave it to Jeffreys.

In a line along the right grandstand exactly 55 yards – that distance would become important well before the sun settled behind Pinehurst’s majestic clubhouse – short of the famed Sunday hole location on the 18th green, the Pinehurst No. 2 grounds crew nervously paced in place as the final two groups came up. In front of them, on the grounds they meticulously prepared each long and laborious day, they would witness devastating heartbreak and uproarious triumph.

It was the best seat in the house. It was one they deserved.

John Jeffreys and the Golf Course Maintenance Staff
John Jeffreys and the Golf Course Maintenance Staff

A group with remarkable work ethic and weary faces few would know or recognize watched ahead in unison with everyone else as Bryson DeChambeau used their bunker to get up and down to etch his name deeper into golf’s history and lore while having it engraved into the U.S. Open trophy for the second time. Around them thundered an arena unlike any ever seen at this venerable place that has set the standard for American golf, thousands of spectators seated and soon standing full-throated in a temporary coliseum cradling the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 2.

Clouds hovered overhead most of the day, shielding the sun above for welcome periods of time. That’s a golf course superintendent’s best friend in conditions like these, conditions that are meant to toe the razor’s edge without ever so slightly going over and becoming, as this championship’s defending champion considered earlier in the week, “borderline.”

A decade ago, in a fortnight that celebrated two U.S. Opens and two U.S. Open Champions, the glow shone brightly and golden hour descended as trophies were raised skyward, making brilliant silhouettes of Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie. Those walks were strolls, and the maintenance crews of those U.S. Opens could settle into place and wait for the glory to commence casually.

This one, obviously, was different.

As this afternoon wore into evening, as Rory McIlroy stumbled behind them and then directly in front of them, the sandy stage was set for DeChambeau, who chopped his second shot from under a magnolia tree left of the fairway and into the bunker parallel to the crew. Their phones at the ready to record history, DeChambeau treated them to a brilliantly played bunker shot from 55 yards to 4 feet, making the putt to win and cement his destiny at Pinehurst.

Thirty-three minutes later, the trophy cradled into his arms, the champion found Jeffreys, who had his own trophy, the distinguished E.J. Marshall Platter, awarded to the superintendent of the course hosting the U.S. Open, which was engraved with Jeffreys’ name. The two shook hands, locked together, and DeChambeau looked into Jeffreys’ eyes.

“Awesome job on the bunker,” DeChambeau said to him. “It was perfect.”

Music. Sweet, sweet music.

Bryson DeChambeau with Golf Course Maintenance Staff
Bryson DeChambeau with Golf Course Maintenance Staff

Jeffreys strikes a figure among his crew. Arriving after many of them had already been led onto the course – their course – with play still going on, Jeffreys walked the line and shook hands with each worker. He found his wife Stacie, who had their kids Rylee, 12, and Reid, 8, in tow. Jeffreys simply mixed in with the others, half of them lined to his left, the other half lined to his right.

He took in these scenes with his hands on his hips. His cap pulled low, his beard crisply cropped befitting a man who has had plenty of rest. The only thing missing is his regular toothpick protruding from the right side of his mouth. It’s a good disguise.

He’s had neither rest nor comfort really, for months. Years. Everything this last year progressed fine. It progressed well. Spring came early. Weather always cooperated, especially in the week that mattered most. The USGA was plenty pleased. The team was dialed in.

But Jeffreys never let up. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. And yet you would never know the churn inside him.

His crew is around him now. This is the crew he himself personally arranged for daily police escorts to traffic equipment from the maintenance shed across highways and onto the property that normally only needs one service road, telling them this was the only time they should ever want blue lights following them. He stays here in the middle amongst them, puts Reid on his shoulders so his boy can see better on Father’s Day. But the back is tired. The shoulders are worn. He puts Reid down and motions him to move a little further from the structure and into the sandscape and wiregrass. There’s room there, and Reid can see around the crew. Jeffreys kneels with him to watch history.


Each of these men and women had a hand, a rake, a mower in the triumph of this championship. They made a mark by leaving no discernable trace they had been there. No. 2’s Assistant Superintendents are around. Eric Mabie is at 17, awaiting a potential playoff. Andrea Salzman. David Chrobak. They were leaders, too. Usually they have 20 people who work Donald Ross’s masterpiece each day. This week they had an army of 130 turfheads at their beck and call.

Hands are on shoulders of others in front, or at the side. Phones are held high into the air trying to capture grainy remembrances. When the drama has finished unfolding, the formality of things begins. Speakers make speeches. Interviews are done. Jeffreys and his crew are waved onto the front fringe of the 18th green and out of the shadows of the corporate grandstand. The mood is jovial relief. There’s the infectious patter of laughter, the cherubic tones far enough away from the historic golf action surrounding them to be muffled by the towering pines to their right. Behind them, the ground beneath their feet is browned to dormant bermudadust, worn by the soles of thousands of spectators who crossed here for seven days. That will take days and weeks to recover. Some of the people clustered here will do it. They will begin tomorrow.

It takes a while for the crew to disperse. DeChambeau is celebrating with fans who remain. Will McCoy walks up to Jeffreys and offers his hand. “Thank you for this opportunity,” he says. The sun is fading, but the memories have just begun.

The moment is winding down. There are smiles creasing into the crow’s feet that burrow across the temples of some, some too young to have crow’s feet. But that’s the nature of this business. The collective exhale is perceptible. This is it. This is the close. They have done it.

Their work was done.

This evening is what every morning has been for.