John Predovich’s first trip to the Memorial golf tournament left him so awed that he knew he had to find a way to repeat the experience.
He had gotten tickets from a friend, and seeing the emerald grounds of Muirfield Village Golf Club was like Dorothy getting her first glimpse of Oz.
“I was talking about how beautiful it was, and I just fell in love with the whole place — the ambience of it all,” said Predovich, 68, a Springfield barber. “He said he’d been a marshal and that he could hook me up. They sent me some stuff. I signed it, and here I am.”
Predovich is in his 26th year serving as a marshal for the tournament this week, and he’s worked his way up to captain of the crew at the par-5 11th.
He’s part of an army of about 3,000 volunteers who help run the event, a group that also includes ticket-takers and badge checkers, pairing-sheet distributors, leaderboard operators, day-care workers for the players’ kids and even those who make sandwiches each day to stock the concession stands.
But few get as close to the golfers as the marshals, which is part of the appeal. They station themselves inside the ropes, watch as the players get into address position and then silence legions of fans by raising their hands.
“It’s a totally different world — they just murder the ball,” said Predovich, who watches from the 11th tee. “And I have a passion for the game, so it’s pretty easy for me to get hooked. I keep saying this going to be my last one, but I keep coming back.”
So does good friend Joe Brumfield, a retired contract inspector at Wright-Patt who also lives in Springfield. The two are such golf nuts that they played at least one round together every month over a 10-year stretch, even traipsing through snow on occasion.
Brumfield became a marshal when Predovich did and plans to stay at his post at least through the Presidents Cup at Muirfield in October.
“Where would guys like us be able to get involved in something at this level?” he said. “It’s a pleasure. It’s beautiful.”
Brumfield, 66, is the captain of No. 9 and supervises about 10 other marshals on the hole. And while he instructs them on how to keep fans from distracting players, he sometimes fails to follow his own advice.
“I’ve kind of interrupted their swing a couple times,” he said with a chuckle. “I say I have a commanding presence, but I’ve been accused of having a very loud voice.
“They get over their ball, and I’d be talking to a marshal about something … and the next thing I know, the caddy has my attention to shut up. You’ve just got to be careful.”
Like every tournament, the Memorial has its top draws, and there’s none bigger than Tiger Woods, who’s won the event five times.
He is a favorite of the marshals, too. Although he’s not known for being chatty, he’s unfailingly polite.
“Tiger is good for the game. His personal life is his personal life. Who knows what we all could bring up?” Brumfield said. “People will follow him — hundreds of them — and I know most of them don’t get to see him make a shot.
“They’re walking outside the ropes, and he’s walking down the middle of the fairway. By the time they catch up to his next shot, the crowds are 10 deep. He’s coming into No. 9 green, and the next thing you know, it looks like ants coming over the hill with Tiger.”
Memorial officials said their volunteers logged about 31,000 hours last year (the equivalent of more than 3.5 years) and helped the tournament donate nearly $950,000 to its designated charity, Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Anyone working at least eight hours gets an all-week pass for the event (those putting in 12 hours or more earn two badges). But that doesn’t help the marshals, who generally report for practice rounds Monday and aren’t finished until the last putt is dropped at their hole each day through Sunday.
But being inside the ropes pays in other ways. Brumfield brings his ball-retriever to the course, which comes in handy at the end of the day since there’s a creek guarding the ninth green.
“Once the last group goes by, everybody is gone until the maintenance people come in. Being the captain, I know where the balls are and whose they are,” he said.
“I’ve got Tiger’s Titleist with ‘Tiger’ stamped on it. I’ve got Tiger’s Nike with ‘Tiger’ stamped on it. I’ve got Jack Nicklaus’ golf ball. He was in the rough above the green and tried to chip it down, and it went in the creek. It’s got ‘Jack’ stamped on it. It’s a Maxfli Revolution. And I’ve got Craig (The Walrus) Stadler’s. He’s got dark glasses with two tusks sticking out stamped on his ball,” he said.
But Brumfield hasn’t saved all of his souvenirs.
“I got one of Fuzzy Zoeller’s with ‘Fuz’ on it. I gave it to one of my marshals,” he said.
Moe Spees of Dayton, who is finishing a 25-year career as a marshal this year, has gotten to play the course a couple of times after winning a lottery within his group. As much as he likes the city courses he frequents such as Madden and Kitty Hawk, strolling down the manicured fairways at Muirfield is a special treat.
But for the 77-year-old former salesman at a tool-and-die company, the best part of being a marshal may be the memories. He works No. 18 and has seen some fantastic finishes.
Asked which one stands out, Spees said: “How about Paul Azinger out of the trap on 18?”
Azinger found the cup from a bunker on the final hole to edge Corey Pavin and Payne Stewart for victory in 1993.
“I’m standing behind the trap on the left side — and bingo! It was a great feeling,” Spees said.