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Bridgestone Invitational Golf Tournament

In Akron, it's all a matter of course

By jim Published: August 6, 2010

Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer

The South Course at Firestone spans 7,400 yards this weekend. The number of names, faces and stories behind Bridgestone soars even higher.

From the high-rent district of catered meals and expensive villas to the $3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, from the standard bearers and shuttle drivers to the caddies who are often unlicensed psychologists, everyone has a story.

The high life

Stan Janicki is holding his drink and watching golfers tee off on No. 17 from high above Firestone. It's days like this that make him thankful he is a commercial banker for HSBC, one of the title sponsors of the Bridgestone Invitational.

Janicki is watching from one of the course's Ambassador Suites, which sell for $90,000 for the weekend. When he's bored watching tee shots, Janicki can walk through the double doors of the glass-enclosed suite to the other side and watch Phil Mickelson putt on 18.

''It's a great facility,'' said Janicki, who lives in Lockport, N.Y., and is attending his second Bridgestone Invitational. ''You can watch everyone come in and you don't have to fight the crowds.''

At Bridgestone, $90,000 buys 100 tickets a day for admission to the suite, another 100 Championship Club tickets, eight valet passes and preferred parking — along with a complimentary shuttle — for everyone else, according to the tournament's Web site.

The suite's interior provides exceptional views from any of the six tables inside. HSBC banners line the tables and the ceiling and a chef inside prepares fajitas across from the open bar, complete with a private bartender. Later in the day will come chicken skewers in peanut sauce and a side of tomato and garlic bruschetta.

So who enjoys the luxuries? Only the finest HSBC employees and their most important clients.

''We bring our large customers we have good relationships with and have been with us for awhile and appreciate this,'' Janicki said. ''Most of the people in here now I have constant contact with.''

Cash for chow

So what if you don't have a villa or a suite with free catered meals?

Bring your wallet and financial documents. Food at Bridgestone isn't cheap.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cost $3, a bottle of soda pop is $4, beer is $6 and a candy bar is $2.

Driving for stories

Bob Prybis and Geraldo Rivera instantly became friends.

It must be the mustache.

Prybis has the signature 'stache that curls on the ends, much like the famous journalist. He is the media shuttle driver for Bridgestone, has been for the past five years.

Prybis, who these days works as a driver, sits in his passenger van from early in the morning to 9 p.m., constantly making the short drive up Warner Road to take the media to and from the golf course.

He brings his Sudoku puzzles and DVD player, but mostly enjoys the conversations. At least the ones he understands.

The Asian media contingent continues to swell every year at Firestone, and many in the group can't speak English.

''I always talk to them and they always smile and nod,'' Prybis said. ''But I don't think they have any idea what I'm trying to say to them. They just smile and nod.''

Prybis, who repaired cables for a telephone company for 31 years before becoming a driver, was most fascinated by the day he drove Rivera to the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle.

The Gravelles were convicted of child endangering last year for locking their kids in cages; Rivera headed to Huron County in 2006 shortly after the story broke. Prybis spent the day with him, even persuading Rivera to let him follow around the house.

''He was the nicest, easiest-going guy you'd ever want to meet in your life,'' Prybis said.

Dressed in a long, black leather trench coat, Prybis retreated outside the Gravelle house to smoke a cigar and chat with the neighbors after he had seen enough. All of them had one question: ''How long have you been his bodyguard?''

Prybis laughs at the memories, but never gets tired of sitting in the driver's seat.

''I really enjoy this,'' he said. ''I enjoy talking to people, so I never get bored.''

Media mecca

Need proof the international contingent is growing?

Japan alone is represented by 26 media members from 16 countries. Ireland has two representatives — one each from Irish Golf News and the Irish Sun — and the United Kingdom has eight media members from six outlets.

Korea, France and Australia also have media representatives present this weekend.

The big scores

The standards — or large scoreboards — the junior volunteers carry from hole to hole weigh about 10 pounds each and get awfully heavy as the rounds near a conclusion.

But when you're carrying for guys like Tiger Woods and Mickelson, suddenly keeping the signs straight is second to keeping your knees straight.

''That was pretty nerve-wracking,'' said Allison Biro, 17, who was the standard bearer for Woods on Friday. ''It's not so bad when there aren't a lot of people watching. But it's pretty bad when the gallery is big and everyone is watching you.''

The standard bearers at Firestone are selected through a lottery. Of course, everyone wants to carry for golf's biggest stars.

Biro, a member of the Norton High School golf team, chose her ticket last on Friday. She already knew who was on it.

Woods introduced himself to her before the round and thanked her after. He didn't say much during it — his 2-over 72 left him 13 shots behind and tied for 72nd entering the weekend. Afterward, he cheerfully signed Biro's hat.

''He didn't say much,'' she said. ''He was frustrated.''

Biro was thrilled to carry for Woods, but since she's left-handed, her first choice would've been Mickelson.

That assignment went to 14-year-old Joel Gerberich, who attends Revere High School.

''Right when I drew it out of the cup, that was awesome,'' he said. ''There were a couple groups in there that would've been nice, but he was the main one everyone in there wanted.''

Mickelson signed his pass and gave him a ball after the round.

Calming influence

James Edmondson deserves a lot of the credit for the 2-under 68 Ryan Palmer shot on Friday. As Palmer's caddie, it was Edmondson's job to clear his golfer's head on Thursday when Palmer was 3-over through five holes.

''My most important job is to make sure he is as comfortable as he can be inside the ropes,'' Edmondson said. ''Whether that's crowd control, keeping him under control or staying in his head. The hardest part is when they're playing bad to keep them on task.''

Edmondson is always searching for new phrases and sayings to keep Palmer focused. It obviously worked on Friday — Palmer enters the weekend 2-under and tied for 17th. It might not sound like much, but he is 5-under through his past 31 holes.

''We went from basically last at one point to top 20,'' Edmondson said. ''He's going in the right direction.''

Staying on track

Golfers' routines often vary, but typically they're on the driving range one to two hours before a tee time.

Josh Allard, caddiemaster at Firestone, has noticed that golfers coming off great rounds typically head right back to the range. Golfers who struggle through bad days leave quickly.

''You'd think it'd be the other way around,'' Allard said. ''But the guys who played well want to keep doing what was working. The guys who didn't play well just want to get home and forget about it.''

Bubba Campbell and Kenny Perry, who carded two of Thursday's better rounds, went directly back to the range. Woods, after his disastrous 4-over 74, went directly back to his room at Glenmoor Country Club in Jackson Township. That's not unusual for Woods, who often leaves immediately after rounds to work privately on his own.

Some golfers might hit the gym before an afternoon tee time ''to get the blood going,'' Edmondson said.

Palmer typically wakes up around 6 or 7 a.m. for a tee time between 8:30 and 9 a.m. After breakfast, it's right to the course. Palmer and Edmondson don't spend any time going over strategy or the nuances they observed from the day before.

''My guy is a feel player. He's not a technical player,'' Edmondson said. ''He gets out there and plays golf. He tries to stay out of his own way, if you know what I mean. Try to act like you're 12 and don't think about anything.''


Jason Lloyd can be reached at jlloyd@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow the Bridgestone Invitational blog on Ohio.com at http://firestone.ohio.com/.
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