long island was my Childhood home, so it was nice to be able to head back again for this year's U.S. Open at shinnecock hills out in Southampton. Okay, so southampton is about 2 hours and a tax bracket or two from where I grew up, but there was still a familiarity to it that brought back memories of my youth.
Maybe it was the salt-filled sea breeze (albeit off of the dunes of the Hamptons, rather than Atlantic Beach), a fescue-lined, old guard golf course (albeit Shinnecock, rather than my boyhood haunt of Garden City), or the, um, positive attitudes of the friendly New Yorkers I encountered (albeit rather enthusiastic golf fans lining the fairways rather than the harried Dashing Dans I encountered on my high school commute to Manhattan).
Shooting for the United States Golf Association, this was an assignment that comprised nine long days on a tough walking course. They say that the U.S. Open is golf's hardest test, and while I know that's supposed to be directed at the golfers, that might as well be true for a golf photographer as well. Shooting a U.S. Open for the host organization requires every club in your bag, metaphorically speaking--from long lenses on monopods to wide angles on 25-foot extension poles, from a peaceful dawn shoot with a solitary groundskeeper mowing a green to jostling your way along with the traveling circus of a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson gallery, from setting a camera flat on the green at sunrise as a hole is cut, to hanging a remote camera in the grandstand on the 18th when the last putt drops on Sunday.
Here are some of my favorites from the week.
One unexpected treat awaited me at the course. I made the complete switch to Sony equipment at the end of last year--at least, as far as Sony's equipment lineup would allow. For example, I've still been using my old 400 2.8, only having heard rumors that Sony was developing one, and that it would be out soon.
The rumors were true. The folks at Sony Pro Support brought a couple of the soon-to-be-released 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS lenses along with them, and let me try one out for the week. For those of you who prefer the short version of a review, here it is:
If you'd prefer something a little more in-depth...
This lens is amazing. Light as a feather, and sharp as a tack. The weight is one thing; at just under 6 1/2 pounds, that makes it 2 pounds lighter than its Canon counterpart and almost 4 pounds lighter than Nikon's, based on the manufacturers' published specs. But it's the balance that does the trick, really. Sony has designed this lens with its main (read: heaviest) elements exactly where your hand would/should rest on the barrel in its natural handholding position, tucking your left elbow in against your body. The result is nothing short of game-changing; I (in the midst of rehabbing a left shoulder injury, no less) spent the entire week hand-holding this lens, never touching a monopod with it once. I walked around the golf course with it slung over my shoulder on a strap as effortlessly as I would carry a 70-200mm zoom.
The benefits of being able to work this way--from not having to worry about a monopod, to not having to physically place the camera/lens on the ground to shoot with another camera/lens combination, to having the increased mobility that such a setup provides, cannot be overstated. Plain and simple, this lens allows for a better, more efficient, and less physically taxing way to work. And when "work" involves walking about 10 miles over uneven terrain for 6 or 8 hours at a time, well, you can see what I'm getting at.
And the sharpness? As the New York golf fans would say, "fuhgeddaboutit." Unreal. I was blown away by the quality of the images, most of which I shot wide open. Bokeh was beautiful (see the frame of Phil Mickelson's tee shot below) and the contrast and color rendition flawless (have a look at the Rory McIlroy frame that follows in particular). I shot hand-held down to 1/250 of a second at some points, and the image stabilization functioned perfectly.
Have a look at the next couple of images for some real-world examples of what it can do.
For the second year in a row, Brooks Koepka prevailed, which meant that for the second year in a row I had the chance to document his post-round activities, which included a stop at the engraving station to see his name etched into the champion's trophy yet again. Not that he minded. 'This never gets old," he said as he and his family watched the proceedings.
Who knows, maybe we'll all get to do it again next year, too.