Local Volunteers Played Key Role at U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club

OAKMONT, Pa. (EYT) – With Dustin Johnson walking up to the 17th tee box Sunday on his way to his first major championship at the 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, a group of Clarion County and Jefferson County volunteers had a catbird seat for history.

(Photo: Members of Pinecrest, who volunteered to marshal at the U.S. Open, pose for a picture at Pinecrest after training in early June. Submitted photo.

That’s because under the direction of Lou Tripodi of Shippenville, a member of Pinecrest Country Club in Brookville, over 25 local residents were key volunteers at the Open serving as hole marshals on No. 17 at the famed Western Pennsylvania golf course.

“This was my fifth year of being a marshal,” Tripodi told EYT Media. “My first experience marshaling was in 2010 at the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont. From there, I spent three years marshaling at the Constellation Seniors Player Championship when it was at Fox Chapel Golf Club. While I was marshaling at the Constellation, I talked to my friends like (Rick) Rathfon, Brad Johnson, Lee Krull and a few others and told them we had an opportunity to marshal at the Constellation and that the U.S. Open was coming to Oakmont in 2016. If we did that, it would open the door for us (to get to marshal at the U.S. Open) because they look for people with experience. Low-and-behold, we did that, and we got asked if we wanted to volunteer at the U.S. Open. So we developed a letter and sent it out to all of the members of Pinecrest, and we got 26 people from Pinecrest and Clarion to sign up. I also got seven guys from the Pittsburgh area who were with me during the Seniors Players Tournament, who stuck with me. So, we had 34 marshals designated as the Pinecrest Group.”

(From left) Lou Tripodi, Ben Rathfon, Rick Rathfon at the 17th green at Oakmont Country Club during the U.S. Open Sunday. Photo by Chris Rossetti.

(From left) Lou Tripodi, Ben Rathfon, Rick Rathfon at the 17th green at Oakmont Country Club during the U.S. Open Sunday. Photo by Chris Rossetti.

The Pinecrest group was paired with a group of marshals from St. Clair Country Club from Pittsburgh to give the 17th hole a group of 70-plus marshals, who worked in two shifts – a morning shift and an afternoon shift – with a hole captain from each country club. Tripodi served as the hole captain from Pinecrest.

“There is a lot more than the common person would think that goes into being a marshal,” Tripodi said. “A lot of people think they just stand along the ropes and say quite when the golfer is ready to hit. That’s one of your responsibilities. The primary responsibility is, as I call it, spectator control. It’s also ensuring the safety of the players when they are walking between holes or when they have a stray shot making sure the area is cleared. Another thing is spotting the ball in case there is a stray shot. We were on No. 17 at Oakmont, and these guys were pulling out the drivers. I can’t tell you how many times (the shots) went to the left and outside the ropes. We would be spotting and protecting the balls. Marshals also have to take care of certain security and medical emergency situations as well.”

Lou Tripodi of Shippenville served as the hole marshal captain on the 17th hole during last week's U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club

Lou Tripodi of Shippenville served as the hole marshal captain on the 17th hole during last week’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club

Being a marshal isn’t an easy task.

The volunteers worked shifts that sometimes started as early as 6:45 a.m. and lasted until after 1 p.m. or started at 1 p.m. and lasted until dusk, especially on Friday and Saturday when the tournament got behind schedule because of Thursday’s rain. The entire time, the marshals are on their feet and walking the hole they are assigned to with 20 marshals per hole.

“In four days of working the tournament, I walked over 34 miles,” Rick Rathfon, who worked the 17th hole with Tripodi, said. “Seventeen is straight uphill, too. Going down the hill isn’t bad, but then you have to go back up.”

Tripodi noted that he was tracking his steps during the week, and he took 91,027 steps while walking 33.9 miles.

“And it wasn’t on flat ground,” Tripodi remarked.

Despite the physical strain of the being a marshal, both Tripodi and Rathfon really enjoyed their time at the U.S. Open.

“It’s amazing,” Tripodi said. “Here are the ropes and you are a spectator on one side here, and we are a marshal over here just on the other side, and the experience is so different. Like being on the tee box where our tee box was isolated from spectators because of the nature of it. You are on the tee box, and you are standing there with Jason Day (the world’s No. 1 golfer), Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and all of these people, the big-game golfers. Just having the opportunity, particularly during the practice round, either getting up on the greens area and watching them practice and plan their strategy or being on the tee box and listening to them exchange information between their coach and their caddy about where to put the ball, what’s the distance to this, what’s the distance to that and just listening to all the technical stuff that goes into what these guys do.”

Rathfon echoed Tripodi’s thoughts about the difference that being inside the ropes makes.

“I’ve been involved in golf all my life,” Rathfon said. “I’ve gone to tournaments and gone to big tournaments, and I’ve always been outside the ropes. To be inside the ropes, especially at the end of the tournament on the 17th hole, to be there Sunday afternoon at the end of the whole thing and here come the final groups down the stretch and you are right in the middle of it, it was just really exciting to be part of it, to be part of what was going on. It was a great feeling to be there and be in the middle of it.”

Rathfon’s nephew, Ben Rathfon, a 2001 graduate of North Clarion High School, and the son of Mark and Sheila Rathfon, who now lives in Oakmont and is a member Longue Vue Club in Verona, had possibly even a better view from his marshal’s spot on the 18th hole.

“My wife and I were marshaling by 18 green when Dustin Johnson hit his approach shot Sunday,” Ben Rathfon said. “That roar was louder than anything I’ve ever heard.”

Volunteers like Tripodi and the two Rathfons were really the backbone of the U.S. Open.

“There were 5,027 volunteers,” Tripodi said. “The marshal group was the largest with 1,500, and the grandstand marshals (marshals who controlled flow in and out of the grandstands) had 600. There were also volunteers a lot of other areas like merchandising and on the scoreboards.”

One of the volunteers on a scoreboard between the fourth tee and the sixth green was Punxsutawney girls’ basketball coach Mike Carlson.

“It was great,” Carlson said. “I was about 10 feet on Saturday from all the leaders. I was able to watch them play two full holes between No. 2 and No. 6. It’s definitely something I would consider doing again. It’s definitely something I’ve talked about. I think the leaderboard was a pretty good spot to be at. I talked to some guys who were in merchandising and stuff like that and it wasn’t quite the experience I had.”

When EYT Media ran into Carlson Friday, he was enjoying some golf between the second and third holes with fellow Punxsutawney resident Mark Curtis, who was volunteering in merchandising.

Carlson said he was late in getting his volunteer information in but got lucky when the organizers decided to go from electronic scoreboards back to manual scoreboards.

“The fact there were over 5,000 volunteers shows how strong the golf community really is,” Ben Rathfon remarked. “All you heard about is the decline of golf, but this week completely contradicts that notion.”

While Tripodi and Rick Rathfon had a blast working as marshals, they said if they are still able to when the Open returns to Oakmont in 2025, they won’t marshal again.

“It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” Tripodi said. “In 2025, I’ll be 77. Maybe I’ll do an easy task like merchandise or grandstand marshal where you just stand there and do nothing really.”

“In 2025, and God willing I’m still here, I’ll be 71 years old,” Rathfon said. “That’s a lot.”

Rathfon remarked about how friendly the players were.

“At the Constellation, the senior tour guys, for the most part, were really friendly,” Rathfon said. “They would come up to the tee box and be like thanks for helping out guys, we couldn’t do it without you. That kind of thing. I wondered how the regular tour guys would be. But literally, every PGA Tour guy I interacted with in four days, they were all gentleman. If you had a flag spotted there, they would pick up the flag and hand it to you and say ‘thank you sir. Thanks a lot.’ If you were moving people around and you asked them if that was ok, do you have enough room, they were like ‘yep, I’m good. Thanks a lot.’ Everyone was classy, very gentleman. It’s a gentleman’s game.”

Chip Ins

Both Tripodi and Rick Rathfon had a couple of memorable stories about their time as marshals

Rick Rathfon

“A guy shows up with one of the big TV cameras on a tripod to get some different angle shots, and he goes up there by the green and sets up his camera. He was from Fox Sports. And I hear ‘hey chief’ and I look up, and this guy (a spectator) is like ‘come here.’ So I go over, and he goes ‘tell him he’s got to move.’ I’m like ‘tell what guy he’s got to move?’ And the spectator is like ‘the camera guy. Tell him he’s got to move.’ I just looked at him and was like ‘really sir? That’s Fox Sports. They pay millions of dollars for this tournament. That’s not going to happen. I don’t have that kind of power.’ The guy looks at me is is like ‘you have a radio. Just get on the radio and call them and tell them to move it.’ I’m like ‘it doesn’t work that way, sir. I’m sorry, I can’t help you.’ Then, as the final groups were coming up, and when Dustin Johnson’s group gets to the green, there were a lot of photographers up there and other video cameras and this guy was getting irate. He was ‘man you have to get these people out of here.’ I’m like I can’t do that. They have inside-the-rope access, and they can go anywhere they want to go. ‘If they are blocking your line, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.’ He just didn’t want to take no for an answer, but he had to.”

Lou Tripodi

“On Saturday morning, when Sergio Garcia’s group was leaving the tee box, he had to use the rest facilities at our hole. Now, the crosswalk people didn’t see that, so they opened up their gates. You had masses of people crossing, and I knew he was in there. I walked over there and waited for him and when he came out said stay with me and I will get you through the crowd. So, I escorted him through the mass of people, and we exchanged salutations, and he said thank you very much and we had a quick little handshake. That was pretty awesome to me.”

The Pinecrest Group of Hole Marshals

Lou Tripodi – Hole Captain
John Alcorn
Dick Atzeni
Brian Dougherty
Al Exton
Ann Farley
Dave Farley
Bill Gatehouse
Judy Gatehouse
Bob George
Ed Hinkofer
Brad Johnson
Jan Johnson
Lee Krull
Diana Neiswonger
Mark Neiswonger
Jim Painter
Dave Pfaff
Rick Rathfon
Tom Ray
Judy Roberts
Rick Robers
Mary Schuckers
Mike Schuckers
Rod Silvis
Dave Stell
Bill Sherman
Marge Tripodi
Rick Ulery
Alan Wein
Nelson Whitling
Russ Wieszczyk
Don Wray

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