U.S. Open: Poignant round for Michael Tobiason

They stood around the first tee and thought about the man who wasn’t there.

Under a tree, Kyle McMahon juggled his cell phone, two half-full bottles of Gatorade and a pack of Marlboro Lights. He fought back tears, then raised the cell phone to snap a picture of his best friend’s first swing at the U.S. Open on Thursday.

Joan Tobiason, a slight woman swallowed by her blue windbreaker, stood nearby. She cried, too, as her son, Michael Tobiason Jr., ambled to the tee with a driver in hand and the collar of his polo shirt turned up.

He tried to focus on where to place the ball on Congressional Country Club’s 402-yard first hole. But thoughts of his father, Michael Tobiason Sr., rushed back.

Eleven months ago, he died of bile duct cancer. He couldn’t witness his son’s whirlwind journey from anonymous teaching professional at Applecross Country Club in Downingtown, Pa., through U.S. Open qualifying to the 9:12 a.m. tee time Thursday. This wasn’t a normal round.

Tobiason sent the ball whizzing through air so thick it hung on you like a wet sweater.

“I want to cry every time he hits it,” one friend whispered.

“Me, too,” McMahon said.

None of the gang who gathered Thursday quite believed any of this was real. To Joan Tobiason, who signed her son up for golf lessons at 7, it felt like a movie. She bounced up and down on her white Reeboks and pumped her fist in the air and softly said, “Yes, yes, yes” on the second hole. Her nerves already were shot. Then she pulled out a video game for Tobiason’s 5-year-old son, Aidan, who raced around in Spider-Man socks collecting green leaves and pulling bark from trees.

“Daddy’s playing golf,” she said. “You can’t make noise when daddy’s playing.”

McMahon looked on. Tears formed again.

“They needed this,” he said. “They needed it.”

Tobiason’s best friend for 11 years, McMahon jokes he’s been his manager since Tuesday. That’s not much of an exaggeration, as media requests, sponsorship opportunities and logistics exploded after qualifying for the U.S. Open. He used to do promotion work for Warner Brothers. But this has him lighting more cigarettes than usual. There’s little time to sleep.

The group is holed up in a $29 per night hotel in Fairfaix that Tobiason’s cigar-chomping caddy, Gerry Thornton, wrangled. They haven’t spent a dime on food, loading up instead at Congressional’s hospitality areas. Tobiason thanks anyone who asks for his autograph. And he rolled to the course in his familiar Honda, never mind the brand-new Lexus courtesy car the tournament loaned him. When Tobiason woke up Thursday, before his bowl of Frosted Flakes, one phrase hung in his mind: “It’s go time.”

Stuck in traffic an hour, Tobiason and McMahon listened to Lady Gaga and Santana sing on a mix CD McMahon made called “Win this tournament.”

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